Sunday, 8 May 2016

Placeholder post - I am updating the blog but...

I have slackened off over the last couple of years. I have dozens, or more probably, posts half written or ready for posting. I'll post them a few at a time over the next few months. I'll have to finish the 2013 Japan trip first then we've got the 2015 trip to look forward to.
So keep an eye on the post below this one...

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Breakfast and sayonara to Kokuya

It snowed over night so there was a light dusting of snow over our balcony. This bodes well because we had decided to go see the snow monkeys again. Our next stop will be Matsumoto and it's not more than a couple of hours there from Yudanaka so we reckon we have enough time to see the monkeys again. Having said that we still need to give ourselves some time to get to Matsumoto because the last time we did this drive we drove into Matsumoto in near blizzard conditions and struggled to find the car rental drop off before it closed. That time we got to the car rental place within five minutes of closing but the guys were cool enough to drop us back at our hotel. I'm pretty sure they'd have found our frozen corpses in the Spring thaw if we'd attempted getting to our hotel by ourselves. Sometimes the service in Japan can be extraordinary. We're not dropping the car at Matsumoto this time so we won't be as stressed about getting there at certain time.

P1010358 P1010359

But before we go off gallivanting over the countryside we had to have our last dip in the onsen, breakfast and then check out of the ryokan. There's never enough time in the mornings for us sleepyheads to have a long soak in the tub. We have to have breakfast over and done by 9 AM and checked out by 10. With the breakfast spreads as they are you do not want to miss breakfast under any circumstances.

P1010362 P1010374

Again, breakfast is special. I actually struggle making a reasonable attempt to try everything. I'm usually just a toast and cereal kind of guy and I really have trouble coping with more than that. But you have to try. Michelle has no problems. I think she loves Japanese breakfast more than just about anything.

We thanked our delightful breakfast, and dinner, servers. Those women are extraordinary. They're there first thing in the morning serving us breakfast and still there last thing in the evenings serving us dinner.

P1010377 P1010393
After breakfast we finish packing and load the car which has magically appeared in front of the lobby again. Georgia got to say hello to a little doggy that belongs to one of the staff or the ryokan. After a few photos in front of the Ryokan we wave bye bye to our wonderful hostess and drive about 100 metres up the road to a small shrine and stairway for more photos. At this rate it will take us about 3 hours for the 10 minute drive to the snow monkey park. But Georgia in her parka and little red boots is worth a photo or two at every opportunity.
P1010396 P1010397
P1010404 P1010435
P1010428 P1010442 P1010444

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Private onsen and dinner

After a long hard day watching monkeys in the hot tub it was time for this group of primates to wash off the day's grime in our hot tub. Or rather, we thought we'd give one of the ryokan's other onsens a go. They have a couple of these onsens in the hotel available for all the guests. Guest without private onsens on their balconies I suppose. We do have a private onsen but we still wanted to sample what else was a available. We chose Gessen. It is indoors but it has a couple of big screen doors that can be opened to the outside. We thought it would be better to take the opportunity to have an indoor bath. No cold wind blowing up your... back. Gessen was a beautiful large stone bath. Very hot water which did need some cooling down. When you sit in the water for few minutes you notice that the lower half of your body is bright red and the top half normal skin colour. Michelle was only half way through her pregnancy and we worried the little fella she was carrying would be cooked early if we didn't cool down the water just a little.

Georgia had a ball splashing around in another big bath. She has taken to all the different onsens like a monkey to a rotenburo.
Family fun time in the tub
After the bath there was nothing to do but go to dinner. Don't you just love being holidays? Seriously, I could get used to this lifestyle. Dinner was again in the private dining room downstairs. Another feast. Similar to the night before, multiple courses, yet quite different. There is no danger of you getting the same meal two days in a row. It would be interesting, and very bloody expensive, to stay here a week and see how many days go by before you get the same menu again.
Snow Monkey sake

P1010318 P1010319
P1010344 P1010329 
The futon fairies had been in our room  while we were out stuffing our faces. So the beds were made up and ready for us to crash into. Firstly though, Georgia had to finish watching a weird little show on TV about bananas. Then she went to bed in her porta-a-cot. I don't think I've mentioned the Phil & Ted's  travel cot yet, but even if I have it is worth mentioning again. It is an extremely light, 3kg, portable cot. It is designed for camping but can be used anywhere. At 3 kgs it adds almost nothing to your baggage limit when flying and it folds up very compactly. It is a bit of a bitch to put together, it is like putting up a tent, but once you get the hang of it you can get together in a couple of minutes.
P1010352 P1010349 
After a hard day's monkeying around, and soaking in hot tubs, and stuffing ourselves silly at dinner there's only one thing left to do. Yeah, that's right. Take a bath in our private hot tub on the balcony. It was snowing lightly tonight so there couldn't be a better place to finish our last night at Kokuya than in our onsen.

Jigokudani Monkey Park - snow monkeys with out little monkey

Snow monkeys.
But first we have to trek for weeks along an icy trail. With a pram. Then there are stairs. Up. Lots of up. Maybe we should have made Georgia walk? No that wouldn't have worked. Her little cute red gumboots are cute but she refused to put them on properly so they kept coming off.
"All we have to do sweetheart is push them on properly..."
Sigh. So we pushed the pram along the icy path. It takes about half an hour to get to park. The last 50 metres or so is up a steep staircase. The pram, a Peg Perego, was pretty good considering. I doubt it was designed for going bush like this. It was light enough to carry up the stairs fairly easily too. Did I mention that Michelle is pregnant? Is that enough ominous foreshadowing? Pregnant partner, icy trail, what could go wrong? She did very well too considering the load she was carrying. Georgia wanted to climb the stairs herself. Icy and steep. Yes, we were thrilled. I kept having flashbacks to the last time we came here. That time I slipped on the path, came down heavily and my expensive video camera bounced over the edge into the ravine. Hence my paranoia about icy paths and steps. I think I only screamed and swore in frustration once or twice. Eventually we got to the top safely and paid to go in to the park.

After the long walk we thought it would be best for all our sakes to stop and have a bite to eat. Family Mart sandwiches we'd bought earlier it was then. And some green tea flavoured Kit Kats given to me by a couple of young women visiting from Australia.

The last time we came here the whole area had been dusted with snow and it looked quite pretty. Today it has been days since it snowed so the area around the hot spring is pretty much snow free so it looks quite stark. But the monkeys were there soaking in the hot water.

A little monkey came up to Michelle, stopped at her feet and then pooped. What's with monkeys welcoming Michelle this way? Last time we came a little fellow ran up to Michelle, flipped himself over and dry humped her leg. Hilarious.

One of the monkey keepers told us to either hide Georgia's Teddy bear or hold on to it tight because the monkeys are known for taking stuff from the tourists. Some things, like phones and cameras, don't take well to being dunked in the pool. There was no way Georgia was going to let the bear out of her sight though, she insisted on holding it.

A good day with the monkeys. We're considering coming back again tomorrow before we head off for Matsumoto.

Sangers before monkeys
Wants sangers too
Hello little fella, what are you doing?
Oh, poop.
It's not all laying about in hot springs you know
Sometimes it is all about laying about in hot springs though
Monkey jump
See, it says snow monkey livecam
Buddy, you are too close
Oh yeah. That's it.
Little red boots
Tired out.
Back on the trail.

Breakfast at Kokuya and, hey, where'd they hide the car?

Breakfast isn't served in the room. In Ryokans breakfast is generally served in a large buffet or in private tatami mat rooms. Breakfast at Kokuya is in a private tatami mat room and is every bit as good as we remember. All the usual type stuff - fish, rice, pickles and the most delicious onsen eggs. We keep forgetting to get them, but out the front of the Ryokan is a small hot spring fountain. In it they keep a basket of eggs for sale at about 50 yen each.
Breakfast spread
Delicious onsen egg

Surprise Daddy!
Georgia enjoying her breaky

Onsen eggs in the hot spring outside of the ryokan

After breakfast we ask for our car. It was whisked away to car parks unknown when we checked in the night before. Like magic it appears at the front door of the lobby. Within minutes we're off to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park which is only about 10 minutes drive from our Ryokan.
The car back where we left it

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Kokuya Ryokan - Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen

From one luxury ryokan to another luxury ryokan. This time we're staying at Kokuya Ryokan in Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen. This will be the second time we've stayed at Kokuya. When we stayed there back in 2010 we'd been looking for ryokans with the great food and private onsen experience. We'd short listed a couple but the thing that swung it for us in the end was the review by Billy Law on his A Table For Two blog. Billy Law is now famous for having been on Masterchef Australia but back then he was a reasonably popular food blogger. It was his description of the food at Kokuya made us book. Of course now that we were back in Shibu Onsen we'd try and see if lightning could strike twice.

Like our visit 3 years ago we got a room with private onsen on the balcony. The first time we stayed at Kokuya we had room Sagano. It is an average sized room but has a large balcony and one of the larger hot tubs. This time we stayed in Ayame. A larger room but a smaller balcony and a slightly smaller tub than Sagano. Just enough room for the three of us though. There's also a couple of reservable onsens in the ryokan for all guests that we thought we'd try this time as well - just for a bit of hot water variety. The downside of the upside of having a private onsen on your balcony is the shower is outside too. A bit chilly in the middle of Winter when you're rinsing off before and after soaking in the tub. Dead set though, when you're sitting in the tub there could be blizzard and you'd be toasty. There's also a TV behind a glass screen outside with the tub just in case you get bored chillin' in the tub and looking at the stars.
P1010104 2013-03-12 17.02.59
After the check-in ceremony of green tea and snacks under the heated table blanket we dressed in the supplied yukata and made ready for dinner. Oh yeah, it was a feast. Again. Oh the humanity. I don't know how I lose weight travelling because these dinners put the sump in sumptuous, the X in glorious excess and the F in feast. 12 or 13 courses, but who's counting? There's tofu, meat, fish, crab, rice, soups, assorted appetisers and dessert. Dinner and breakfast are taken in private rooms in the dining room downstairs. The first time we stayed it was some of the finest dining we've ever had. It wasn't quite up to the same standard this time but it was on a par with Michelin starred restaurants we've eaten at. Every course, and there were many courses, was delicious. I recommend the local cloudy Snow Monkey sake with your meal too.
P1010116 P1010120

No special kid's meal for Georgia this time but she was more than happy sharing ours. If there is raw fish she eat it hand over fist. Bring noodles to the party, and we had soba, she will happily slurp away. You don't always need special kid's meals. With a bit of luck they'll try almost anything before spitting it out with a resounding "YUCK"! Actually it wasn't quite true that there was no kids meal. She did get rice with a packet of savoury powdery flakey stuff that kids love to sprinkle over their rice. Japanese kids at least. I can't recall seeing anything like it in the supermarkets at home. Reason #247 for moving to Japan.

2013-03-12 18.33.42
P1010146 2013-03-12 18.35.22 P1010122

After dinner we had an early night and went to sleep. Ha! As if. Did I mention we had a hot tub onsen rotenburo thingy on the balcony? No, after dinner it was time to nude up and soak in the the tub.

We booked direct with Kokuya. The link to their English language website is here.