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Tokyo / Hokkaido trip report

Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:29 PM
  #21  
Kat
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It was already all dark when we finally got to Sounkyo at 8:30pm. Just when we were worrying about the way to our hotel, we were greeted by a smiling gentleman right at the bus. He said our name and immediately we knew he was actually sent by our hotel! Now, you must understand that we had never told the hotel by which bus we would arrive. This gentleman must have tried coming to the bus-stop to meet us more than once! That was really thoughtful of them. Then of course, they might have just come to greet the buses that arrive after dark. It was a 7-minute walk to the hotel, and not well lighted at all, so the pick-up from the bus-station was a life-saver!

We were given a warm welcome at the Sounkyo Grand Hotel. http://www.sounkaku.co.jp/english/index2.htm There were obviously a HUGE group (or several groups) of other tourists on premise. All clothed in their comfy kimonos, they were playing a game of Bingo in the lobby organized by the hotel! A staff with some English explained that (after a lot of apologies) we should hurry to the restaurant ASAP as they’re closing. (Our rate included two meals daily.) So off we went after checking into our room.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:30 PM
  #22  
Kat
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It’s a Japanese-style restaurant and we had to take off our shoes. Some folks were finishing up their meals in the large room of the restaurant as we passed by. And to our surprise we were led to a small private room at the end of the hallway! What a treat! We had the “Couple’s Menu” dinner which went on and on with all sorts of dishes. We had appetizers made with clams and smoked salmon, a hotpot filled with seafood goodies and vegetables, salmon & assorted sashimi, giant crab legs (served cold), a small tempura dish, rice cooked with mushrooms, soup and desserts. It might very well serve 4 people!
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:31 PM
  #23  
Kat
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We had requested a Japanese room. They didn’t have non-smoking rooms but we didn’t find the room smelly at all. The room is very big and the futon beds were already made for us while we were eating in the restaurant. It has a seating area overlooking the river and gorge (and unfortunately also the highway – as the highway is built along the gorge…). To be honest the beds were not very comfortable but we had the best sleep after the long day.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:31 PM
  #24  
Kat
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DAY 7 : Sounkyo

Breakfast was cafeteria (or should I say dorm-food?) style, a real turn-off and let-down comparing to last night. It was a buffet served in a gigantic, rather run-down “ballroom” with long tables – ideal for tour groups or company retreats I guess. We went in at 8:30 and the remaining food did not look appetizing at all… There were mainly Japanese fare and some simple American stuff. At 9am SHARP everything was quickly taken away.
The short walk to the onsen street in the morning would have been pleasant, but we were even more pleasantly surprised when the same gentleman from last night offered us a ride upon seeing us in the lobby. The owner of the only bike shop in town was a nice enough fellow, and he even offered us a discounted price of 1000 yen (normally 1500 yen) for a daily rental until 5pm. The season must have passed. He had a nice hand-drawn map with sights marked in Japanese. However he could speak some basic English and told us the ride to the twin falls would take 20 minutes.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:32 PM
  #25  
Kat
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It was a very flat and wide road (separate from the highway) to the falls, and the weather was just perfect! There’s grasshoppers everywhere though, and – don’t laugh, it’s not until then that I realized grasshoppers could fly! That’s a scary thing when you’re passing by on a bike. The river was on our right all the time, and we made frequent stops to take pictures of it and also of the beautiful mountains on our left. The bikeway led to the twin-fall park, where one could climb up the mountain a bit (10 minutes) to a nice viewing platform to see the twin falls. We left our bikes at the entrance of the walkway, just as told by the bike shop owner. It’s interesting that people here are all very trusting, and it’s obvious that thefts are not very common, at least in the daytime. And to our relief, there were also two guards at the entrance and they said (I guess!) they could watch the bikes for us. The falls aren’t huge by any standard, but they do look quite artistic (and curiously in a Japanese way) together.

Just when we were about to leave there came a busload of Japanese tourists. One good thing about Japanese tourists is they usually do not make loud crowds. But a non-smoker like me would have a lot of opportunities to frown though.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:36 PM
  #26  
Kat
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We returned to the bike shop and asked the owner to let us leave the bikes there when we ate. There’s this family-run place right at the other end of the little bridge, and at that time we thought it was the only place to have lunch. Their "don", bowls of rice with different kinds of meat were terrific though. He had pork cutlet curry and I had rice with deep-fried oysters. Yum! I noticed they carried these dark-red eggs, which were actually cooked with water from the hot-spring!

By now we’ve exercised and we’ve had our stomach filled. What better things to do than a hot bath in the outdoor bath? (Well, actually you’re not supposed to take hot baths right after meals. Oh well.)

There’s a big indoor bath in our hotel that opens 24 hours, and it’s open to non-hotel guests who pay a onsen fee. We, of course, headed towards the exclusive outdoor bath which is open only from 6:30-9:30am and from 12:30 till midnight.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:36 PM
  #27  
Kat
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We were both lucky enough to find each of the outdoor baths to be our very own! I guess it’s just not the right time for bathing! The women’s bath was not big, but looked quite charming. The temperature was 42C while the source of this water was actually 75C! This water is said to have the curing power for aching backs and shoulders. Well, just what we needed!

The only drawback of this bath was that we could very clearly hear the cars speeding right past us on the highway! As I’ve said, most hotels here are built right on the highway. We’ve visited onsens buried deep in the mountains where the only sounds are those of birds and wind brushing through the leaves...
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:42 PM
  #28  
Kat
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While we were taking in views of the gorge back in our room that afternoon, we started counting our money (literally!) and realized a big problem – we haven’t got enough cash! We’ve been warned to bring A LOT of cash to Japan, but I guess still not enough! Getting cash right here in the gorge is out of the question – lucky us we’ve long ago checked that this hotel does take credit cards.

Well, we’ve still got 2 more expenditures to make – cable car and chairlift rides up the mountain! That’s actually the major attraction of Sounkyo. An adult roundtrip fare for the cable car would be 1650 yen, and a roundtrip fare for the chairlifts would take away another 600 yen each. Setting aside the bus fares, and that would give us… oops, 3000 yen to live till the next day! We’re lucky that both dinner and breakfast were included and we could always have lunch in the hotel.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:45 PM
  #29  
Kat
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But the news didn’t take away the fun from riding the cable car! It’s a big car that takes up to maybe 30 people. There’s seats around the edges and all the other people stand. We picked the right side to stand - the side facing downwards, and the views of the gorge and mountains opened up as the car climbed. (Pick the wrong side and all you see is trees right in front of you...)

The cable car brought us to a place called "5th Level", where hikers gathered in the visitor center for snacks, coffee or simply warmth. There’s a nice little restaurant up there, serving Japanese fare with a free view of the mountains thrown in. It was already 5pm and they were already closed. Wish we went up earlier!
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:45 PM
  #30  
Kat
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The chairlifts were a lot of fun. They were built for skiers in winter and sightseers like us in the summer. There were two parts to the ride – the first part quite boring across a gently-sloped floral bed. I guess it’s so boring that they even posted teasers on the poles and you get answers 3 or 4 poles down the ride. The teasers were all about identifying footprints of common animals found in the area, including squirrels, rabbits and foxes! Soon the gentle slope gave way to a soaring ride uphill, and trees got smaller and smaller and our views opened up. Warning: this is not a ride for those scared of heights!
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:46 PM
  #31  
Kat
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Here comes the “7th Level” station, where the entrance to the mountain is. There’s a viewing platform with wooden logs to sit on while you take in the breathtaking views. How we wish we had brought our bento up here to sit on the logs!!

We took the very last chairlifts and cable car down the mountain, and there we saw the real onsen street. It was a real charming little street. I would say it looked even a bit European. There’s gift shops and handicraft shops everywhere. We were lucky enough to find one shop that takes credit cards for purchases over 1000 yen! And the restaurants looked really appealing – but not credit-card-accepting.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:46 PM
  #32  
Kat
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We had originally ordered to have the “Couple’s Menu” for both nights. We decided to have a change and therefore went to the front desk earlier in the afternoon to have the shabu-shabu meal for tonight instead. The staff didn’t seem to understand at first, but later on said “okay” confidently enough. Fully expecting a shabu-shabu meal “of three different kinds of fresh clams”, we went into our private dining room, only to find the same kind of hotpot (but different contents) waiting for us! So either the front desk staff did not actually understand us or he failed to inform the kitchen. Anyhow, we reckoned any further conversations in English or sign-language with the waitress wouldn’t help, so we gladly tried the hotpot with crabs. Dinner was just as good as last night, with fatty tuna as the sashimi dish. Fruits choices were wonderful! The large red grapes and cantaloupes were the sweetest!
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 08:49 PM
  #33  
Kat
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DAY 8 : Back to Sapporo; my ATM quest

Before checking out we stepped into the outdoor baths for one last time. This time strangely it gave me a headache which did not go away maybe for an hour. At 10:02 sharp, 2 minutes past checkout time, we were given a call just when we were about to step into our shoes and head towards the lobby. Talk about being on time in Japan! Actually we’ve called the night before and asked if we could extend our stay maybe for an hour, and were politely turned down right away. Oh well.

Our bus was to take off at 11:20am, and we were roaming around the bus-stop for some last pictures. 10 minutes before departure I ventured into the post office, hoping to get a postcard. Postcards they've got none, but voila, a huge ATM machine was standing right next to the entrance to the post office! A sign says, "Need Cash? International cards" Our day could not have been made in any better way! So we took out all our credit cards and tried the machine – but the machine would only recognize our Diners! And the most terrible thing happened – we could not get our PIN right! The bus was departing, and we've got no choice but to leave the machine and its cash alone...
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 09:07 PM
  #34  
Kat
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So Fodors was right – at most major post offices there’s an ATM machine that takes foreign credit cards. But who on earth would have guessed that the Sounkyo branch is considered a "major" one??

After we checked back into Sheraton Sapporo, he got a bit of a sore throat. Must be coming down with a cold. While he was taking a nap, I decided to try my luck with the ATM’s! So I called home and got my password alright. The concierge was of great help. She called up a card company to see if their ATM’s take foreign cards, and if they were still open then. She even escorted me to the JR station. It was already 6pm. So off I ran and 3 machines I have tried, and none would work. Came back up to street level and tried another one at the bank. No luck. Went into a mall next to the hotel, followed the directions the concierge gave me to the very machine claiming to work with foreign cards. Still tough luck. And as I started heading back, I saw a post office! And the same kind of machines I saw earlier in Sounkyo! Well, the sounds of cash flipping inside the machine could not have been sweeter. I finally got my ca$h!
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 09:08 PM
  #35  
Kat
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And for anyone interested (but I hope you won’t end up in the same situation), the post office is in the basement of the shopping mall “Luo-1”, and it’s open until 7pm.

Dinner tonight was in one of the Japanese restaurants in the hotel. The rice bowl covered with sea urchin, salmon roe and crabmeat that I had was superb! And at a very good price! They even converted a small section of the restaurant into a non-smoking area just for us!
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 09:12 PM
  #36  
Kat
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DAY 9 : Sapporo

It’s the last full day of the trip. We had a late start and headed towards that “Racoon street” near Susukino for our ramen lunch. We went into a little shop called the Firebird and found the menu all in Japanese. The young fellow could not understand us at all but was patient enough. So we just ordered two of the most expensive items on the menu, hoping to be the best variety. So one bowl of ramen came, along with another bowl of… curry and rice??? Who would have thought you could get curry in a ramen shop? Lesson of the story: the dearest is not always the best! But anyway, the curry is not bad (not the best either), but the ramen is certainly not nearly as good as what we had three days ago in Aji No Takeidai! The bill came out to be about 1800 yen.

The street is lined with souvenir shops. Same items all carry the same prices across shops. So we just went for the one that looked nicest and have air-conditioning, hoping the edible items would be the freshest. The famous “Snow Brand” white chocolate cookies weren’t that impressive after all. But the cooked scallops are the best!
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 09:14 PM
  #37  
Kat
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We each bought an 800 yen all-day subway pass, by the way. Should’ve gotten the 1000 yen pass valid for both subway and the bus! There’s this sightseeing bus (which smells) that goes in a loop with stops at or near major sights including the Sapporo Beer Garden. The Beer Garden’s free 30-minute tour and sampling was not bad at all. And if you don’t drink beer, you can sample their sodas and juices! It’s all you can drink for free in 15 minutes!

On our way back we made a stop at the Sapporo Factory Mall which proved to be a waste of time. It’s just like your average American mall next-door with nothing too exciting.

What better way to end a Sapporo trip by having some really fresh and tasty sashimi at a really authentic place? We went to Sushi Sen downtown and had their sashimi set and hand-rolls. (5000 yen total)

Not far away from our hotel is the chain convenient store Lawson. There we had our last chance to get great-tasting but cheap Japanese groceries. We bought a whole bagful of milk (try Snow Brand!), yogurt and ice-cream for breakfast and snacks.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 09:18 PM
  #38  
Kat
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DAY 10 : flight to Tokyo for our connection back home

Hokkaido milk again proved to be really delicious! The hotel bakery did not disappoint us either. We had the best bread with chopped fruits and mixed berry danish. We would definitely go back to the hotel for their bakery but would probably stay in a hotel in Sapporo next time, not Shinsapporo.

So that's it. And thanks for reading if you've been with me to this point.
 
Old Sep 5th, 2002, 10:54 PM
  #39  
Florence
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Bonjour Kat,

Great report, full of fantastically useful informations. I'm glad you had such a good time.
 
Old Sep 6th, 2002, 06:25 AM
  #40  
Kat
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Hi again, Florence!

I must thank you and a number of others for answering a my quesions to make the planning of this trip much more pleasant! It's people like you that make this board so helpful and also friendly (especially to clueless people like me) Merci beaucoup! I just felt that it's time I give back a little.

By the way, we almost took your suggestion of walking Asakusa dori to reach Senso-ji, however we switched over to the Sumida Cruise last minute. We hope to go back soon to take that other route!

I forgot to mention, there's a youth hostel up in Sounkyo, which is supposed to be very popular (booked up way in advance). We haven't checked it out (as it is, like any other youth hostel, buried in the woods.) And there's a public hotspring bath (a supposedly nice and clean one. Looked quite nice from the outside) in the middle of the little onsen street - people from hotels without their own hotspring baths all come here. Discout tickets to this bath (~500 yen) could be purchased from that little restaurant by the bridge I mentioned (on the second floor, by the wine/beer shop).
 

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