Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hokkaido 2014 Part 3 - Sapporo and... Chitose?!

The original reason why I wanted to visit Hokkaido was to take a look at the Sapporo Snow Festival. It has always been my dream to visit since knowing about it many many years ago. Every time I see it on TV I tell myself I must be there to see it myself. (The other must-see dream event for me was Tokyo Game Show, which I realized 10 years ago~)

The same bus service from Toya to Rusutsu also brought us from Rusutsu to Sapporo. I must comment that the Donan buses do come with a toilet and there's no smell. Having said that the bus will make a stop midway through the 2 hour ride from Rusutsu to Sapporo. Its perfect for someone like me who sometimes need a pee at the wrong time~~

After checking in to our hotel at the Monterey Sapporo we decided to walk to the Odori Park for the Snow Festival. This being our 2nd trip to Sapporo, everything still seemed very new to us. Perhaps it is because our last trip there was purely for transiting between Otara - Jozankei and Sapporo - Tokyo.

The Snow Festival was everything I saw on TV, except that on TV they manage to have everything in a 15-second reel but in real life its actually situated in 3 different venue! We skipped 1 venue given its all about the snow rides which we had already done plenty of in Rusutsu. Odori Park was full of massive snow sculptures and they were awesome! My favourite got to be the Audi show. It was awesome watching it in real life!

After Odori Park we walked to Susukino, the red light district of Sapporo, to look at the ice sculptures. They were just as wonderful although I must admit my eyes were distracted by the advertisements from all the hostess club in the area :p

By the time we finished Susukino we were exhausted, tired and in need of food. We found this sushi place near our hotel, which came recommended by our hotel, and had some really great sushi! It was so good we returned to the same shop on the second night!

Hokkaido have some really beautiful old buildings and this clock tower below is in its 135th year! Its tired to just count its construction year, but its great to be able to admire its grand beauty in the flesh.

There was a Singapore team represented at the Sapporo Snow Festival's International Snow Sculpture competition. They came in 4th after being stuck in 5th for the last 2 years. This should be their highest ever placement. They got no support from state or corporate sponsorship, yet they toiled over several days in the grueling cold to finish their piece. Respect! Hope some ice-cream company will subsidize their trip next year!

See here for their 4th-place winning snow sculpture!

Our intention was to watch their prize presentation before heading to the airport and hopefully catch an earlier flight to Tokyo because I watched the news the night before and knew a snow storm was going to hit Hokkaido. Unfortunately we only managed to change our 8pm flight to 4pm and the last flight that successfully made it to Tokyo was at 2pm! Long story short, we spent that night in Chitose Airport, the following night in Grand Terrace Chitose Hotel (thanks to a Singapore tour agent who booked the room for us) before flying to Kansai 2 days later.

Little did we know that our transit that night wasn't confirmed and we nearly had to spend another night in another airport (this time Kansai instead of Chitose!) until the last minute when someone didn't make it and we got the last few seats on the flight back to SG. Both of us wanted to hug the lady who broke the good news to us! I refrained as I didn't want to get 2 slaps,one from the lady and one from my wife!

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Hokkaido 2014 Part 2 - Rusutsu Resort

For the 2nd leg of our journey I planned a 2-night stay in Rusutsu Resort. Niseko was heavily booked and I suspect there will be another time when I will bring the entire family there.

In order to reach there we had to take a train (Super Hokuto) from JR Hakodate to Lake Toya. The journey was approximately 1hr 40mins but we had to stand throughout as it was the peak season and the designated seats were all taken! And when we reached Toya we had just missed the connecting bus to the actual lake area so we roamed around the area for a quick ramen before the next bus came around.

When we reached Lake Toya we were blown away by the view of this crater in the middle of the lake. It was simply magical. Unfortunately as we missed the earlier bus we didn't have time to walk along the lake but we made a promise to come back and stay in the future. The next bus from the bus terminal at Lake Toya brought us along the lake towards Rusutsu. Every chance we got we tried to take in as much of the view in front of our eyes as possible. The lake was simply amazing... no wonder they chose such a secluded spot for a G8 summit many years ago.

By the time we reached Rusutsu resort it was around 5pm and we went for Genghis Khan BBQ. Thats what they call the BBQ with lots of lamb~~ I loved it~~ That washed down with beer was the perfect way to end the day~

For the next 2 days we enjoyed all the fun the snow had to offer us~~ Automobiles, horses, dog sleds and even rubber tubes down the slope! We had fun without having to go on the ski slopes. Of course the rides weren't for free and didn't come cheap but they were all amazing experiences~~

By the time we left Rusutsu on the 3rd day, we had nearly decided to bring the whole family back again next year.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hokkaido 2014 Part 1 - Hakodate!

To celebrate the end of my tenure in my last job ( or the start of my job search ), my wife and I took a week-long trip to Hokkaido. The trip lasted longer due to the once-in-45-year snow storm which hit Tokyo but I thought that just made the trip even more special.

We took the ANA night flight to Haneda on the 2nd day of Lunar New Year, had 3-4 hours in transit before we flew to Hakodate. From Hakodate airport it was a 15-minute bus ride to our hotel at Yunokawa Onsen area. We had a sea-facing room with a private outdoor bath at the Prince Nagisatei. It was one of the highlights of our trip. I had 5 dips in that bath during our 2 nights stay there. It was really something jumping into the hot bath in -4 deg weather and sea winds blowing in your direction. I had never enter any hot bath faster in my life! Our stays come with breakfast and dinner, and I must say that I look forward to every meal there~~ It came up to S$250/person/night but I think it was worth every cent. Such an experience do not come every year.

We spent the 1st day resting so the real adventure in Hakodate was on the 2nd day. We took the local tram to the morning fish market and had scallops, oyster and beer before noon! Then after more walking we had some freshly opened sea urchin, some BBQ crab legs and also a slice of melon.... I guess that was lunch!

Walked a bit more about the harbour area, taking in the sights and more food (SNAFFLES!!!) before we head up to Hakodate Hill for the famous night view of the city. We went up early and had something to eat while enjoying the scene as it turned from day into night. One of the top 3 night view along with HK and Napoli? I will rate them once I've visited Napoli...

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