And heading back home
26.01.2012 - 30.01.2012 -3 °C
Breakfast is traditional fare on the floor of the dining room, lots of yummy fresh stuff, some things that G likes better than others. We have the cast iron pots to cook our tofu and mushrooms, and the local pickled vegetables, all part of the experience.
The Hikage gondola base station is a fair way above the village, so this morning we go through town to the walking road. This is an escalator up the hill to the base. We have had a 20 minute walk to get here though. As we head up, there has been easily another 30cms of snow since last night – magic.
We start off on Challenger to get going and there is some great powder, up to thigh deep, light and fluffy, deeper in spots. Have to keep the tips up which is a real strain on the legs at times. Do quite a few runs in this area as we are enjoying ourselves so much.
We have lunch on mountain at Buna in the Paradise area, as recommended by Yukiko. Here there is the standard fare of soups, noodle or rice dishes and desserts. But it is very cosy and nice, we end up being here every day for lunch. They have big windows for a great panorama view – if the clouds and snow ever let up. We never got to have a view from anywhere after that first day at Akakura Onsen.
After lunch we do Uenotaira, a bit of Utopia and then we discover the Examination run. This is only 150 metres long, but it has deep powder and a lift right next to it. We circuit round, doing this about ten times until the lift closes. It is short steep and deep. G has troubles keeping his tip up and gets bogged a number of times – I have to dig him out in the worst case. But great fun.
We freshen up with an onsen in the ryokan, then we are off to a yakiniku place, but G did not rate it as highly as the one in Akakura. Still fun to fry your own though. Sleeping went the same, woke up early, turned the heater off, back to sleep.
Saturday we are out there with about ten times more people than yesterday – the weekend is here. As the crowds go up, the powder is harder to find, but I still get to dig G out. For something new we head down Schneider (black) without incident. After lunch at Buna, we head up higher going along Uenotaira (thanks for the bubble chair in this wind). Up higher to Yambiko, but the visibility is poor and the runs are crowded as they funnel into the end.
Next is the mountain’s longest run Skyline made tricky by the crowds and the narrowness at some points, but as long as the momentum is there for the uphills everything is okay. And if not, I am there to tow G up anyway. We spend the rest of the day on the Nagasaka runs before a last go on Examination – quite chopped up now.
We have a reviving onsen before dinner in the ryokan. We come down for dinner in our pyjamas – as is tradition, we are not alone – and have a multi course traditional meal. I have the menu somewhere, I’ll put it in the blog soon. We have steak – it is thick marbled meat, not a lot but it renders down well on the hot plate. G is good and will try everything, but his staple is definitely rice.
In the morning we are back into it. Rather than walking up again, we have taken a shorter route to a connecting lift which drops you off around the corner from Hikage and you can walk/skate the 500m to the Gondola station. This is fun as you are up to 15m in the air with no safety bar!!
Today we are back in the favourite areas to start with, but then head off to the Mizunashi lift which is pretty much deserted. This is because it is not easy to get to or away from. But it is pleasant enough as it is reasonably sheltered and empty. At lunch time we have to ride a long trail to get out, and I spend a lot of energy towing G along.
We take our time over lunch, including pancakes with syrup, before getting going. We briefly managed to see across to the Yunomine gondola station but the cloud quickly closed over. We spend the afternoon low down on the Nagasaka and Karasawa slopes before a last run down Champion.
After we have finished for the day, we head out to the local public onsen across the road, Kumanoteara-yu. We follow the local ways of bathing, watching and learning. There is a bit of sign language and Japanese greetings. The cooler bath is fantastic, but I can’t take the hot one. We get out and dry off, G comes a cropper just outside the baths and he gets into the Ryokan with wet and bruised knees.
To try and ease the pain, we head out for okonomiyaki. Here we are the only customers as everyone has gone back ready for work in the morning. We get a couple of side dishes as well– we didn’t need them as the okonomiyaki is huge and we are stuffed to bursting. For some reason with that lot churning around I don’t sleep too well to start with.
In the morning I am out quickly alone, as G is having a sleep in for his final day. I race around doing as many of the black runs as are open to round off this holiday. I am finding that I have to stop halfway down some runs to let my thighs recover – maybe I am getting old (feel free to write in and refute this).
I am back at the Ryokan and into the onsen for a clean up before departure. All the ski gear is bagged and tagged to go back to myoko. This has all happened very quickly, so we have time to go for a walk around the main street. As we do this, for the first time this holiday, the clouds part to reveal a beautiful blue sky with great vistas everywhere. Mind you, the locals are frantically cleaning up as there is going to be another dump tonight.
We pick up bags from the hotel, and get a lift to the bus stop. The bus trip is in brilliant sunshine and with the reflection off the snow it’s burning my eyeballs out. My sunnies are in the luggage as I haven’t used them all trip! It is a good trip, this time we get to see the landscape as we go. As we tootle along, you realise how many ski fields there are along the Nagano valleys. Back into Nagano, and back to the bullet train. In ninety minutes, we are in Tokyo station and dropping off the bags while we head back to Akiba for a change.
In Akiba, we pick up the things I did not want to cart around for a week, and then we head up to Unasho, an eel restaurant on the 8th floor of the Yodobashi electronics store so I can be happy. And happy I am, the eel is great, G was really getting into his too. The hitsumabushi is a generous serve of unagi with four different ways of eating it, just great. I had mine with a milky sake which was very smooth and almost sweet. The waitress was lovely and managed to hide her exasperation at my poor communication very well.
Eeled up, we picked up the bags and headed out to Haneda airport on the monorail. Not particularly fast, but a novel change. Got some Wasasbi flavoured Kit Kats at the airport, then the plane journey back to OZ. Again, got the wrong planes – a modern flash one as we slept through the night, and a crappy old one with a tiny scratched video screen during the day. Economy fliers can’t be choosers.