Friday, 15 March 2013

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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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

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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.
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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.