Monday, March 31, 2014

Free Chocolate is Nice, but Free Whiskey Is Better: Hokkaido Days Zero & One

Alright. It's epically epic train adventure time. The plan for my friend Pat and I's trip to Sapporo, Hokkaido was simple: it was (in theory) marginally cheaper to get a special train pass and ride a zillion trains to Hokkaido from where we lived. I'm all for cheapness, and I enjoy trains, so I said why not let's do it. Who needs a plane? To give you an idea of this trainventure, let me show you just how far exactly, I went:

I live in the bottom circle; waaaaaaaay not near Hokkaido. There was no way I was making it from Shizuoka all the way to Sapporo in one day, so Thursday night after work I took 4 trains (and a good 5 hours) up to Gunma where my friend Pat lived so we could head out from his house in the morning, where it was logistically possible to make it to Sapporo...via 13 trains, one of which included a sleeper car. But! When we woke up on Saturday morning, we would be in Sapporo! Plan: execute.

There's not much to say about the trip up on Friday; the weather was nice (besides my allergies basically exploding) and we had zero problems when it came to changing trains. Like, we only almost missed the very first train because we were walking slow, but other than that we had no trouble whatsoever getting to our final train, the sleeper car, easily and on time. Nothing went wrong; weird right? Just wait for it. Remember this.

So let's take a moment to talk about the 13th train on our journey: the Hamanasu, a (slightly janky looking) train that has some cars you can lay down and sleep in as it travels overnight. You buy a ticket for a bed (in a pod of four) and you pull a curtain around you for the night. The way to Sapporo there was no snoring, the bed was pretty comfortable, and I managed to sleep most of the time. I woke up at 2:30 and at 5, which was okay because the train was arriving around 6. At this point I also attained Master Level status at using the Japanese toilet by using it on a moving train. Yes.

So we made it to Sapporo! Yay! Let the super long day of adventuring begin with breakfast! We needed breakfast. So we waited for McDonald's to open, haha. Breakfast eaten, we headed out very slowly for the Chocolate Factory that was opening in the morning. At said Chocolate Factory, they make these:

Delicious cookie chocolate things. So we got to see how these were made, which is nifty. And the strange chocolate factory also had a gramophone museum and a toy museum, because Japan. So it was fun to explore and take pictures of. Next, we tooled around for a little bit because it was definitely too early for lunch, (and we got Resees from the Japanese version of WalMart we found) and we headed back to the main part of town to see some Clock Tower of Significance. We didn't go in, but it appeared to be one of the original buildings of Sapporo and important and all that. It was interesting! We also did some shopping around, feeling out the souvenirs of the area. At lunch time, we decided to start the eating of the Famous Foods of Hokkaido. 

Famous Hokkaido foods I knew of / Coveted: Ramen, Sushi, Lavender Ice Cream, Soup Curry, and the Chocolate pictured above. Chocolate done, we decided to hit up some Sapporo style ramen for lunch. And of course it was delicious. I personally didn't taste a huge difference compared to non-Sapporo ramen, but it was still good ramen. Win. 

Next we headed for a (sort of) nearby city called Otaru, where near that was another baby city that had a famous Whiskey Distillery we wanted to explore. We had about a half hour before our train left in Otaru, so we poked around a bit. Mind you, until this point I had yet to see any evidence of lavender ice cream, and my determination was increasing to find said ice cream. (First thing that made Rosie want to go to Hokkaido: Lavender Ice Cream) So while we waited we searched, no luck. We found the tourist center who gave us a map to hopefully lavender ice cream, which we planned to explore after whiskey.

So we headed to the Whiskey Distillery, and we saw how whiskey was made which was cool (and also cool that it had an English button on the explanatory TVs). But the best part was that not only was the factory free, but the free samples at the end were also free. You could get a pretty decent couple sipfuls of 10 year old whiskey, 17 year old whiskey, and apple wine. I've never had straight whiskey before, and damn, so I only had one of the whiskeys. But the apple wine was really good. I did not buy any, but I did get a shot glass. Heck yes.

After returning to Otaru, we began the quest for lavender ice cream in earnest. We followed the directions of the tourist center, and despite passing many many ice cream places (one of which appeared to be Bertie Bott's: Kimchee, Sesame Seed, Potato?! I considered going there instead, but I must have lavender) I was about to give up, when Pat found it! Yay~! It was...lavender tasting. Haha. Like, I've never eaten lavender, but it was good. And the cows are in Hokkaido (because space) so the milk in the north is really good; hence the vanilla ice cream was awesome. And melon is also a thing, so my ice cream was threefold. And the melon tasted like sherbert.

Success! Dreams fulfilled. Next we started to head for the street of sushi, because the sushi of Hokkaido is said to be the most awesome. After stopping in some stores along the way (got some fancy hand-blown Hokkaido glass of win) we made it to the street of sushi...and searched for some that didn't cost a million dollars. Both my friend and I are pretty choosy with our sushi (meaning we didn't want the fish eggs one), but we managed to find one that had a decent portion of sushi that we both could manage to eat. And it was SO. good. Hands down best sushi I've ever eaten. Even the squid one. Yum.

At this point we were ridiculously tired; by the end of the day it seemed as if we had been in Hokkaido for days. So we got on the train, headed back to Sapporo, found our hotel, checked in, and passed out. Day one: Complete!


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