Saturday, 16 March 2013

Road trip to Mount Fuji - Kukuna Resort and Spa

It's a fairly straightforward drive from Matsumoto to Kawaguchiko (Mt Fuji) of about 2 hours. Mount Fuji is visible from the road from about 100km away. I can't recall anything I've seen from a 100 kays before? Certainly not from ground level.
We're staying at the Kukuna Resort and Spa. It wasn't our first choice, we left booking too late, but our room has a tub on the balcony. That was the main thing we wanted, a tub with a view, and, oh my, it did not disappoint.
We were issued with "resort wear" for out stay. Unlike most ryokans this place is set up like a tropical resort so instead of the usual yukata we have loose fitting smocks and trousers. Loose fitting is very good for the very pregnant Michelle. Georgia got a mu-mu type thing.
In the foyer outside our room is a bar set up with snacks and drinks for us to have during the day. We also get the traditional welcome snack and tea when we get to the room.
The room is a typical tatami mat room but one entire wall is a window. Apparently there is a bloody great volcano out there. And a lake. The view is quite amazing. The balcony has privacy screens either side so we can nude up no worries for the onsen. If I have one complaint it is the glass door is too clean. I was going in and out when Michelle closed the door, I didn't notice and walked right into it. Hard. I left a face imprint on the glass. P1020030
The room has a bathroom, actually a sink room, the bath is on the balcony, and the usual Japanese Starship Enterprise heated toilet. So even if it is freezing, and there is some ice on the ground outside, you have to tub it in the onsen on the balcony.
Even staying at a resort where almost everything is catered for we wanted some snacks so we went for a drive into town and went to one of the convenience stores for supplies. Even car parks have a pretty reasonable view of Fuji. P1020047

Another stroll around Matsumoto Castle

We had to leave Matsumoto today to go to Mount Fuji, but we had enough time to visit Matsumoto Castle again and see if we could snag that elusive photo of Georgia. Of course she was uncooperative again so Michelle wandered off to take photos. Somehow I convinced Georgia to pose for a couple of photos. Later between Michelle and myself and some chocolate we cajoled another couple of photos out of her. Bribing with chocolate wasn't necessarily a good idea because then we had an uncooperative two year more interested in eating chocolate than posing for the camera.

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Friday, 15 March 2013

Mirakuen Japanese BBQ, The Pungency and doing the laundry

After we got back from our stroll to the castle I grabbed a couple of beers for beer o'clock drinks. I thought they were beers. The Suntory was obviously a beer but "The Pungency" was something I took a punt on. "The Pungency" is probably not the most enticing name for a drink in history. I'm still not sure what it actually was. I think it was milk tea.
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There's no Michelin Guide to Matsumoto so we're at the mercy of hotel receptionist recommendations or the Lonely Planet for dinner. I can't recall if this Japanese BBQ place was a recommendation or if it was something we just stumbled upon. Either way it was awesome. Of course no one spoke English but the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. The menu has Yakiniku written across the top of it. It could be the name of place but I have a feeling it means something like grilled meat because we have hit the jackpot by the look of it when it comes to meat. Whatever this place is called it is a Izakaya style food joint. The menu has pictures and is bilingual but the descriptions are beautifully vague - "Beef of Ribs" and "High Quality Beef of Ribs". From the pictures the "high quality beef of ribs" looks like delicious wagyu. And it was. We tried a few different plates of meat and we cooked them on the grill in the middle of the table. Extraordinarily good it was.
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All this was washed down with sake. Georgy had a ball and even posed for some photos. Nothing quite like getting some great food in your belly to make you happy.
I painstakingly searched for pictures of yakiniku places in Matsumoto so I could get this wonderful place's name. I finally found a picture of the front of the restaurant that matched my photo. It is called Mirakuen. They're on Tabelog here and have their own website here.
Doing the laundry is one of those painful things you have to do when you're travelling. We usually try and book a hotel with a coin laundry. The laundry does build up after a few days to a week. The laundry tonight took a number of loads, and I was still doing it way after midnight. I sat on a stool next to the clothes dryer making use of the free hotel WiFi and catching up on emails and eyeing off the beer vending machine to my left. There was some sake in the vending machine. Or, I was hoping it was when I pushed the button. Some bloke came in as I picked it up and laughed and said "Japanese sake'. Waiting for the dryer to finish wasn't as boring after that. P1010841 2013-03-15 23.46.59

Strolling around Matsumoto and Matsumoto Castle

It was a beautiful sunny day. Clear blue skies and a not freezing. It was apparent we weren't going to get snow in Matsumoto this time around. It was a perfect day for strolling around Matsumoto before heading to the castle though.
And stroll we did, down to the old historic merchant area of Nakamachi-dori, a street of restored Japanese inns, restaurants, sake breweries and shops. The giant samurai frogs used in parades were a favourite of Georgia's. In fact little statues in fountains or ceramic or toy frogs were everywhere, especially in Nawate-dori. I'm not sure what frogs have to do with Matsumoto? That would require, you know, research. But kawaii nonetheless.
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At the main railway station we found a Mos Burger. Who knew a burger franchise could be this good? Unlike Maccas or Burger King the burgers are made to order but they're worth the wait.
I was trying to take video of Georgia in Mos Burger but she waved her hands at me and said most emphatically "No photo Daddy!". Even a two year old has her limits.
By the time we got to Matsumoto Castle, Japan's oldest, Georgy was a little cranky and tired. She'd been carrying around her bag of treasures everywhere. No amount of pleading from us could make her give it to us to carry. It is a large paper shopping bag with string handles almost half Georgia's height but she insisted on carrying it. When we walked through gate of the park and saw the moat and the castle Georgia brightened up and exclaimed "Castle!".
We tried to get photos of Georgia in front of the castle but she really wasn't cooperative. Oh well.

Okay, I am a sucker for a little research. The Matsumoto Frog Festival is a thing. It lasts a couple of days every June. I'm not sure why they have samurai frogs but for the duration of the festival and beyond everything is frog themed.

Breakfast at the Richmond Hotel Cafe and a new toy for Georgia

Western style breakfast for the win. Eggs, sausages, toast and pancakes, not too mention yogurt and fruit. Now that is how I like starting the day. Throw in a slight discount for hotel guests and this cafe is a winner.


They have a bunch of touristy nick knacks and toys at the counter. Georgia noticed a little pink fake computer. It has lots of buttons that play music. Each letter of the alphabet spells out a word - "K. K A N G A R O O, kangaroo". Mostly it says words or phrases in English but inexplicably drops into Japanese occasionally. Yep, now her new favourite toy. Into the treasures bag it goes.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Horse Meat Sashimi - Kura

For dinner had some of the local speciality, bashashi, raw horse meat sashimi at Kura. Delicious. Well, the two small pieces I had were. Georgia wolfed down half the plate. Only pausing long enough between bites to say "sushi".


Technically smoking is allowed in restaurants in Japan. In practice we haven't seen it much. Not in Kura though. When some people smoke they chain smoke. Pain in the arse. Thankfully it was only one person. Obviously pregnant Michelle was really impressed (see photo below).


Otherwise we had some excellent sashimi, sushi and tempura. I've seen some horrible reviews on TripAdvisor for Kura but on the whole we thought it was pretty good. I think we found Kura in the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.

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Jigokudani Monkey Park to Matsumoto - Richmond Hotel

The last time we drove the hour and half from Yudanaka to Matsumoto it was an overcast day but by the time we got to Matsumoto the snow had begun to dump.  We could barely find the rental car agency to drop off the car so much snow had fallen. This time it was fine all the way. Beautiful clear skies. We were going to see Matsumoto not covered in a blanket of snow. That was kind of disappointing though. Everything looks prettier covered in a blanket of snow. See Matsumoto Castle on our last trip in 2010 for example.

We stayed at the Richmond Hotel in Matsumoto again. Centrally located not far from shops, restaurants, transport and attractions like Matsumoto castle. We've stayed here twice now because it is a very good reasonably priced hotel - for both couples and families.

View from our room on the 4th floor
The staff were very helpful. Checking in required using an ATM like machine but the receptionist helped us through the, easy, process. They also advised on local restaurants. The car park attendant was very friendly and helpful. Very typical of older guys in service jobs. They love kids. He gave Georgia a little hand made plastic bead cat key ring which has gone right in to her bag of treasures.

Georgia running down the hall
Like most Japanese business hotels the rooms was tiny. We had just enough room to squeeze in a travel cot for Georgia in a deluxe double room. We probably couldn't fit a cot into a double room. The rooms were spotlessly clean and the beds were very comfortable. The rooms have the usual hotel mod cons; WiFi (and Ethernet), TV, Air con and mini-bar. Video on demand is available too if you need to see that Japanese tentacle porn. Coin laundries are on a couple of floors. The laundry rooms also have a couple of vending machines. I just had to buy a small jar of sake from the vending machine for 200 yen.

Plenty of room. Travel cot and desk behind me
The bathroom was tight but fine.

A good western style breakfast was available at the restaurant / cafe downstairs at a discounted rate for hotel guests.

Parking is available at the hotel for about 1200 yen per day.

Laundry and beer/sake vending machines
The Richmond Hotel is a very good option for a couple of days. We'd stay there again if we visit Matsumoto. It is very cheap. Most of the business hotels are cheap. We paid about 10000 Yen per night.That's around AU$100 depending on the exchange rate. We've rarely stayed in hotels or motels in Australia of this standard for as little as this. Japan can be surprisingly cheap. I think most people expect that Ryokan rates are standard. We don't often pay as much as 50000 Yen *cough* per night like Kokuya the night before. To be fair Kokuya is a luxury ryokan with private onsen on the balcony and Michelin standard dinner and breakfast included. Why, if you say it like that it sounds like a dead set bargain. Ahem. Anyway, the Richmond Hotel is cheap.

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Watching a movie

Richmond Hotel Matsumoto

Hotel from street at night sans snow. Last time we were here there were snow drifts everywhere

It snowed so of course we have to go see the snow monkeys again

The path to the snow monkey path is usually icy and muddy at this time of year. Today the path is icy, muddy and snowy. We did happen to have a dump of snow overnight.
"The path is very slippery Michelle, take care", I said.
I did mention ominous foreshadowing in a previous post didn't I? The last thing we want to have happen is a pregnant woman slip over.
Extra snow does make for a prettier walk, but a very cold walk. More snow gently fell as we walked. Georgia was safely ensconced in her plastic cocoon so was spared the worst of the not too horrible conditions.
On arrival, again, we sat down and had our 7 Eleven sandwiches before going out to the Monkey baths. You never get sick watching the monkeys cavorting, frolicking and... I'll have to look up a thesaurus if I want to use more verbs to describe what the monkeys were doing. But you get the idea. Monkeys are kawaii (cute) and are well worth a diversion if they're not already on your itinerary. I suspect we'll come back one day. Maybe when Michelle's current passenger has arrived? But that is in the future. Today was a good day. Playful monkeys and beautiful snow covered scenery.

Like the adage says, all good things must come to an end. Apparently Chaucer first wrote that. Anyway, for this trip we had to farewell the monkeys. Of course this meant taking the treacherous icy path back to the car park. It isn't as if I'd ever slipped and fallen on that path and watched my video camera bounce into the ravine. Something like that couldn't happen again could it? Not if we are very very careful.

As we arrived at the final stairs to exit the track to the car park I reminded Michelle that it was very icy and to take care.

So what does she do?

Michelle slipped over at the end of the path.

See the sign in the picture below warning of the slippery path? Ironically Michelle slipped over off the bottom steps a metre or so from the sign. Hilarious.
She did manage to land on her back and not break her waters so she is still pregnant. I was hoping not to use that extra pregnancy coverage we'd paid for with the travel insurance if we could help it. Handy tip for pregnant travellers - get travel insurance that covers you for pregnancy issues and premature birth. It is amazing how limited the coverage is for may insurance companies.

After all the excitement it was back to the road. Next stop Matsumoto.

Entrance to the park - sort of. It is about half an hour's walk from here.
Snowy path and pram.
Sangers in the visitors centre.
7-Eleven sangers.
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On the way down to the monkeys.
Snow monkey!
It really is amazing how close you can get to the monkeys.
A break from the cold.
I went back out for a little while while Michelle and Georgia got warm in the visitor's centre.
Oh yeah, that's the spot.
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The monkey's paw. That's from the Simpson's isn't it?