Saturday, June 14, 2014

Japan - Part 3 - Hokkaido

Snow park
So part 2 ended with the laundry fiasco where everyone ended up with wet/damp laundry. Some people resorted to wearing multiple pairs of socks or hanging them from their daypacks in hopes that they will dry. It didn't help that it was still pretty cold in the area so things don't dry very quickly, especially jeans. Anyway, we had planned to explore Sapporo that day and we did our usual routine of stuffing things into lockers at the train station and then setting off. Sapporo is known for having great parks so we walked around one of them that had really cool slides and lots of kids playing on them. Then I found a tourist center where the lady was really nice and told me that one of the parks, a garden, is free because it's Greenery Day. I would have asked about more stuff but someone rushed in and rudely interrupted. Didn't think people would be so rude in Japan! Anyway, I got enough information and took the group to this free park.

After being exhausted by touring parks, we went to a fish market for lunch. The unfortunate thing about traveling with students is that they don't want to spend very much, especially on food. So we basically looped around the fish market many times before settling on a place. The thing strange thing is that most of them are very willing to spend money on souvenirs and gifts but not on food. I think my priorities now are different. I've never really been into getting gifts for people, just postcards. And now I think it's important to try the region's specialties. Anyway, the place we went to in the end was not bad. I actually got something cheap off of the menu because I was all out of cash at this point. Getting cash was another ordeal (I'll save this for later).

After lunch, we headed to a chocolate factory. Sapporo is known for this White Lover's chocolate and the factory was highly recommended. You can see more about this factory here. We weren't expecting much and kind of just went because we had gotten a full day pass for the subway. Again, this was another one of those things were I thought the group would surely split up so that people can do the things that they wanted instead of going along with the group. There were some people who wanted to go out to an Ainu (native people of Hokkaido) thing but it's about an hour outside of the city, which practically means a day trip. They didn't go in the end because of some bad reviews. Anyway, we found the factory using our noses and the place was definitely worth the effort and entrance fee.

White lovers chocolate cookie

The factory

Minipark outside the facotry
Outside of the actual exhibits area, there was a miniature garden with lots of mini houses. I think kids can definitely spend the entire day there playing house, fort, or whatever. We stuffed the group into several houses and took videos of them coming out of the tiny houses. The actual chocolate museum was pretty small but we got to see the factory line. There were some random exhibits that we weren't really sure why they were there. But anyway, in the middle of the museum is a cafe with a good view of the garden. Every hour, the clock tower has a little dance with mechanical bears, rabbits, and owls. We splurged on desserts. Unfortunately since this was still the middle of the trip, I didn't end up getting a box of the chocolates. They would have been hard to carry back and they are actually available in HK. The wrapping is special since you can get the ones that say they come from the original factory. And, again, I was out of cash and my Capital One credit card expired right before the trip.

After this we headed back to the main train station for our second overnight train. This is where my friend and I split from the group. We had a couple of hours to kill and people wanted to look for souvenirs and such. My friend wanted to go up this tower that has an observatory level but the rest of the group wasn't so interested. Anyway, the observatory tower thing wasn't very high but I think they did a good job of presenting the place. The parking lot even had arrows pointing out the iconic things around the city in big letters. I think these observatory things are sometimes a hit-and-miss. They could be very good or not so good. And going during the day is very different from going at night. You see different things. And then, the big hunt for an ATM that works for me started.

I really needed to get cash at this point and tried out several ATMs only to be disappointed that they didn't take foreign credit cards. We finally asked someone at a help desk and she said to go to a 7-11. I had actually heard about this (that only the ATMs at 7-11 took foreign credit cards) but we couldn't find a 7-11. After the lady pointed it out, we realized that we had passed this 7-11 many times. Having cash makes buying things a lot easier and we got food for the train ride. I saw a booth selling Hokkaido cheesecake and got one for about $5 USD. It came in a box and was big enough to share. Really good deal. I shared this on the train ride with the group. I think they were really happy about this. Hokkaido cheesecake is not dense like the American kind. It's more like a sponge cake. 

Hokkaido cheesecake
The overnight train ride this time was better since we had reservations to begin with and the train was pretty empty. I was able to take up multiple seats and actually get some sleep. We arrived sleepily into the city of Omiya, which is pretty close to Tokyo. This ends the bulk of the trip.

[to be continued...]

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