This is the first in a planned feature of posts about travel, mostly our travels here in Japan, though when we go to other places, they'll pop up here too. A trip to Australia is in the works, for instance...
This first post is cheating, a bit. Back in February, we went on a big adventure to Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. I had written most of this post and then not posted it, I can't remember why. Anyhow, here it is, just 7 months later. ;) Enjoy!
We left on our trip to Sapporo on the night of Sunday, February 5th. The day started with disaster when, while packing, I learned that our camera would not turn on. After much troubleshooting and discussing options, we ran to the BX (Base Exchance, sort of a small department store on base) to check out their options. We ended up buying a new camera, hours before departure.
The tour bus was going to pick everyone up at the library, a 20 minute or so walk away from our house, and we decided to walk there. We were going to be traveling light, each of us with a backpack, so we started the trip by backpacking to the library.
Once on the bus, we were taken to the ferry terminal in Hachinohe city. We waited in the terminal for a bit, then we all loaded onto the ferry. It was - by far! - the biggest boat I'd ever ridden on.
Here's the route of the ferry ride, as pictured on a sign once we were onboard.
It is also called the "overnight ferry" as we departed at 10pm and would arrive at our destination around 6am. We later learned that the ferry runs 4 times a day, each an 8-1/2 or so hour trip.
We would all be sleeping on the ferry and were given key cards with our room numbers on them. The size of our room was surprising, it was so tiny, haha.
A Jeff for scale:
On the back of the door were the usual hotel type instruction one might expect.
An emergency exit route:
How to put on a lifejacket....?? We're not in a hotel on land anymore!
Jeff decided to be adventurous and go out on the deck to watch the ferry leave the port. I went with him, bundled up (it was COLD), and camera in tow.
Here you can see a truck (semi!) driving onto the ferry. (I just could not get over how huge this boat was - yes, I know they get a LOT bigger, haha)
There's the walkway from the terminal and the ramp we went up to get onboard.
The ramp for cars, trucks, and buses, to drive on started folding up.
Crews came and cast off the lines.
As we watched the ferry smoothly slide sideways away from the port, Jeff blandly stated, "If only the Titanic had bow thrusters."
To which I replied, "I'm trying really hard not to think about the Titanic right now." As we slipped off into the cold sea at night.
He certainly keeps my life interesting.
And we were away!
Bye bye, Hachinohe port.
I spent way longer than I would have expected on deck as we headed out. I discovered that watching the foam from the wake of the bow spread out into the dark water and fade away was oddly mesmerizing. I tried to get pictures, or even video of it, but nothing worked.
Finally I tore myself away from the sight and we went inside to the restaurant area. There we found a bank of vending machines. Vending machines are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e in Japan, but there were a few here we hadn't seen yet. They had frozen meals inside and when you paid and selected one, the machine cooked it for you before dispensing it!
Jeff chose the rice triangles - a safe bet for him since he doesn't like a lot of Japanese food.
They were very good!
Chewie even had to check them out. ;) Yes, he tagged along on this adventure too!
Aside from the life jacket instructions in our room, and the fairly frequent swaying of the floor under our feet, there were other signs that we were in a different type of structure, on a different type of surface. For instance, everything was chained down.
After our rice triangle dinner, we shoehorned ourselves into the room and tried to get some sleep.
Pre-dawn the next morning, we mustered in the main lobby area and made our way down to the cargo hold! There sat our bus.
Everyone piled on and eventually the trucks around us started leaving, then it was our turn.
A quick look back at the BIG boat we'd ridden through the night.
We rode the bus for a couple of hours from Tomakomai to Sapporo. There we had breakfast buffet at the hotel we would be staying in... but we couldn't check in until after 3pm. So after breakfast, we all got on the bus and the tour took us to Otaru city.
Our tour guide explained some history of Otaru and that one of the places of interest is the "music box shop".
After we hopped off the bus, a group of us followed him to the music box shop. It is in a beautiful brick building. (there are many beautiful brick buildings in Otaru)
Inside we did find a LOT of music boxes, but in addition to a "shop", it is also a museum. They had a lot of neat things inside.
Some of the neat things were for sale.
A quick and handy trick to roughly convert yen to dollars? Take off the last two zeros...
We found a large room that had a huge and fascinating diorama of historical events around the world. I took many pictures in that one room and decided they wouldn't fit in this post. I hope to do a separate post about just this diorama room at some point - it certainly warrants that.
A few of the shop from the second story balcony.
Outside on the streets of Otaru, we did find many snow sculptures. Though the official Snow Festival is in Sapporo, Otaru was certainly in the spirit of things as well.
Thanks for the advice, cute, and.. kind of creepy little snowman.
In addition to cute there were... interesting things to see.
Okay, we'll try not to:
Another beautiful brick building:
Another helpful sign:
Our tour guide also told us that the Otaru canal is a famous place. We walked along the canal and found several snow and ice sculptures. This one was my favorite, because of the leaves and flowers used in it.
My favorite part of my favorite sculpture:
There is a bridge across the Otaru canal that is a famous spot to take pictures. Sure enough, there was a huge crowd there. I don't like having my picture taken, but figured I should go for it for this famous spot.
Here's the view without me (better, haha):
Random sighting: a sea otter manhole cover!
After wandering around Otaru for a little while, we got back on the bus, went back to the hotel, checked in, and finally made it to our room.
This is all I wanted to do:
However, our day was not over yet!
Next up on the itinerary was a trip to the Sapporo Beer Garden, for dinner. Back on the bus, back off the bus.
The entire Beer Garden/Beer Museum area was full of big, beautiful, brick buildings.
Here was our table, all stocked up and ready to go.
Jeff takes a quick pause from grilling dinner to drink, what else, Sapporo beer.
A view of the restaurant:
The day ended with us getting back on the buss, back off the bus, and into our hotel room about 10:30pm.
It was an action-packed first (night) and day!