Annie Bananie en Europe

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Honeymoon in Japan – BONUS POST!

Of course seven posts weren’t even enough to fully document the amazing honeymoon trip to Japan, so I decided to write a final bonus post. Whereas the other posts in the series were location- or theme-based, for this post, I went through all of my photos again and picked out some unposted ones that I particularly liked, in no specific order. Hope you enjoy them too!

The sun was preparing to set moments before landing in Seoul Incheon Airport in South Korea, where we were scheduled for a connecting flight to Tokyo Narita. With the help of Google Maps, I have identified the horizontal island in the middle as Seonjae-ri and the large one on the right as Yeongheungdo by their shapes and location πŸ˜‰

Lake Ashi in Hakone was one of the highlights of our trip and we especially enjoyed exploring the surrounding areas on foot. After we descended to Lake Ashi from Owakudani by ropeway and before we walked the Ancient Cedar Avenue, we made a detour to Onshi-Hakone Park (“onshi” means heavenly/divine gift), which offered a great panoramic view of Lake Ashi. There was also a beautiful path in the park that was lined on both sides with old trees that I don’t know the names of, making it almost a tunnel. We spent quite a lot of time there even though it was an unexpected find along the route.

Before the boat tour on Lake Ashi, we stopped for lunch at Togendai Lakeview restaurant, where we got a curry omurice and an order of sausages with rice. Even though it was a tourist area, the food was surprisingly not ridiculously expensive and the quality was still up there!

An experience that I wrote about in the Hakone post was eating Wagyu beef at Itoh Dining by NOBU. This was my second wagyu beef experience (Kobe beef the first time in 2018) but the first for my husband J, so we made reservations to sit right by the counter so we could see the chef’s every move. The anticipation was building long before the raw ingredients even appeared on the grill…

…and there he was, preparing the wagyu beef like a piece of art. I definitely wouldn’t mind another serving…heh. For the full description of how the food tasted, please read the Hakone post.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that this trip became much more interesting with a selfie stick, which I was using for the first time – I know I’m behind the times. I never liked selfies but having someone to share precious moments with changed that. (1) J and Annie at the Ancient Cedar Avenue near Lake Ashi; (2) J and Annie at Odawara station before taking the slow train to Tokyo; (3) J and Annie at the entrance of Waraku in Otaru, where we had conveyor belt sushi for lunch; (4) J and Annie at Otaru station before heading to Sapporo.

We really had a nice surprise with the snow on our last day in Hakone – look how pretty the snow made everything!

Pre-flight meal at Narita Airport terminal 3, while waiting for our flight from Tokyo to Hokkaido. The terminal itself was designated for low-cost carriers but there were still a variety of food options – another plus for Japan. J and I ordered different types of noodles but we both got gyoza as a side. I love gyoza but they’re essentially dumplings and I feel like I can get them all the time in my daily life, so I don’t go out of the way to get the Japanese type very often. But they are so delicious that I can’t resist sometimes!

Little figurines sitting on a bench in Hakone-Yumoto, near Tenseien, a hot spring resort. They were connected to a wire so I assumed that they’d light up during the evening. It was too bad that we didn’t stay in that area after sunset – the light displays would have been quite lovely, I bet.

While window-shopping on Sakaimachi Street in Otaru we came across more “figurines” – sake in bottles in the shape of little snowmen?

Here’s a more humble landmark of Otaru aside from the canal or Sakaimachi Street – a statue of Bunko the firefighting dog. When Bunko was a puppy, he was rescued by firefighters during a fire and ever since then, grew up with the firefighters. During his 24 years on Earth, he would participate in firefighting missions as part of the heroic team that guarded the city. This statue commemorates the story of Bunko and look – someone put a sweater and hat on Bunko to keep him warm! J seemed to like him a lot too πŸ˜›

Final photo to wrap up this bonus Japan post – sunset in the distance as I was waiting for the flight from New-Chitose (Hokkaido) to Dalian (where I’d end up stranded for two months because of COVID-19). Starting the post with a sunrise and ending it with a sunset would have made it a perfect circle but alas, both were sunsets, which were lovely just the same.

Honeymoon in Japan, part 5 – What to eat in Otaru

If you noticed that I didn’t mention food in the previous post, you’d be right. That was because I decided to dedicate an entire post to food in Otaru! I don’t think Otaru is particularly known for its food scene, but the meals we shared in Otaru were anything but boring. As we were staying at a hostel, we prepared simple breakfast both mornings and had the chance to talk to the students who ran the hostel while we were eating in the common room. This left us with four dine-out meals – two lunches and two dinners.

We arrived in Otaru in the evening and wanted to head straight to our accommodation, but not before eating dinner because we were hungry!! It was super cold outside, so we decided to find somewhere near the hostel and grab a quick bite, whatever it was. Turns out that there was a yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) place nearby, so we wasted no time getting there. The place was called Daikichi Yakitori and the exterior looked…spooky? Hmmm…

We entered and were greeted by a server, who seated us by the counter. The restaurant was very small and cozy, being able to seat perhaps no more than 20 people. The owner and server spoke very little English, J and I spoke almost no Japanese (aside from the customary beginner’s phrases), and there was no English menu!! Hmm, this would be interesting and would require some coordination and a lot of pointing. As a result, we relied on Google Translate and educated guesses based on photos on the menu. We did realize, of course, that this was a restaurant specializing in grilled meat (mostly chicken), and we noticed later that there was a diagram on the wall that summarized exactly what part of the chicken each item referred to. Very helpful!!

So then J and I pointed to items on the menu and ordered a bunch of random stuff, some without knowing what the item was. Fingers crossed that they’d be good…and they were delicious!!! In fact, we liked the food so much that we went back to the same place on the second night, and it was the only restaurant during the entire trip that we went to TWICE! Minimum order was three sets per item, and our choices included (from both nights) but were not limited to: chicken thigh, chicken skin, pork belly, shiitake mushroom, green peppers, grilled potato, grilled chicken on rice, and tea-soaked rice.

On the second night, we were seated at a table as opposed to the counter on the first night. This seemed like quite a popular place among locals, what I imagined a typical izakaya would be like. The chef was the only one behind the counter and the server was his only helper. Even though we were unable to communicate efficiently, we really adored this old guy!

We invited the chef to join us for a photo on the second night, after the other diners have left and he was relatively free. I made sure I told him “honto ni oishii!” (meaning “really delicious!” in Japanese) before leaving the restaurant, and he was glad that we enjoyed the meals!

Now, onto the next meal – lunch. We were told that Otaru had some excellent sushi restaurants, and I had looked up some beforehand and shortlisted three conveyor belt restaurants. Not being able to choose wisely between them, I asked the students at the hostel for a recommendation, and one of them mentioned “Waraku”, which was one of my shortlisted options. Well then, no need to choose, Waraku it is! We arrived just at the right time to be seated – if we entered five minutes later, there would have been a 25-minute wait!

The conveyor belt sushi experience in Kyoto was unforgettable for me so I had pretty high expectations for this one. It was J’s first try at conveyor belt sushi, and while he found it a fun experience, he was not nearly as excited as I was. In total, we had 15 plates of various prices, but I’ve picked my top three as follows:

#3: egg & mayo gunkan! This was even a surprise for me because I don’t usually order it, but the sweet egg just dissolved in my mouth and it somehow became one of the highlights of the meal!

#2: unagi (grilled eel) sushi! This gem is a classic at any sushi meal and I certainly didn’t want to miss it in Otaru, where supposedly some of the best sushi in Hokkaido is found. Amazingness on a plate!

#1: fatty salmon belly!! The salmon belly was actually also my favourite last time I had conveyor belt sushi in Kyoto, and there’s a reason for it. The melt-in-your-mouth feeling is one of the best sensations ever, so much more enjoyable than regular salmon. I liked this so much that I wanted another plate, and after waiting for a while without seeing it on the conveyor belt, we asked the chef directly, only to find out that it was sold out!!! It was THAT good that even though it was on the expensive end, it was gone too soon. So then I got a plate of salmon belly (not fatty, slightly cheaper) and while it was still good, it was lacking that oh-my-goodness factor that the fatty salmon belly offered. Ultimate delight, indeed!

I’ll end this post with something that may seem too ordinary, but is anything but ordinary during a trip. First up is our final breakfast before departure. After his morning run, J returned with a bunch of stuff from the nearby supermarket (mini-croissants, apples, soy milk, instant noodles, cheese), which served as a meal in itself. Then, while waiting for the afternoon train to Sapporo, we got something very simple for lunch…a two-piece meal at KFC!! We almost never eat western-style fast food during our travels but this was one exception πŸ˜› Then it was bye bye Colonel Sanders, bye bye Otaru!

Next up: Sapporo in two posts, with a must-have experience that was new to both J and I. Can you guess what it is??

Honeymoon in Japan, part 4 – Otaru, a winter wonderland

The second part of my honeymoon in Japan with J was in Hokkaido and the first stop was Otaru, a port city 45 minutes away from Sapporo by train. Several friends recommended Otaru as a day trip from Sapporo, but we stayed there two nights as we wanted to take it easy and enjoy the city to its fullest. From Tokyo, we flew to New-Chitose airport and immediately the cold hit us. It was mid-winter in the northernmost part of Japan, alright!

Like in Hakone, we stayed in a hostel/guesthouse in Otaru, but it felt more like a homestay as the hostel was a large house in a residential area. Otaru itself had a quaint small-town vibe but there was no shortage of tourists, even during the winter. In fact, many people come specifically during the winter for the Snow Light Path Festival, which happened in February and which we unfortunately missed. Still, Otaru had its own charm to offer.

Perhaps Otaru is most well known for the canal that runs right through the city. All of the points of attraction are pretty much within a 20-minute walking distance from the canal, making it where most tourists are concentrated. During the Snow Light Path Festival, the area surrounding the canal is supposedly decorated with hundreds of candles and lanterns that radiate during the night!

To be honest, I’ve seen my fair share of canals so this one in particular wasn’t anything new or fascinating for me, but J and I still had to take the obligatory selfie πŸ˜›

Aside from the Otaru canal, Sakaimachi Street is another main tourist attraction lined on both sides with small shops selling food and souvenir, especially hand-made glass crafts, which Otaru is known for. There were also several museums for people who enjoy browsing museums, but neither J nor I was museum-minded, so we skipped most of them.

The exception was the music box museum. Actually, I’m not even sure if we went into the museum part because what we saw was a huge area with perhaps thousands of types of music boxes on sale. They were so colourful and pretty and instantly put me in a delightful mood! I could tell that the quality of the merchandise was top-notch, with a lot of attention to detail on each music box. But of course, the prices were proportional to the quality and we were happy with just browsing around, thank you very much!

Around Sakaimachi Street, there were also some snow sculptures of well-known characters, including Snoopy and Totoro. Also this happy snowman seemed to be completely ready for winter with its blue hat and scarf πŸ˜€

I mentioned in one of the previous posts how grateful I was that we brought a selfie stick along with us, and we certainly took full advantage of it in Otaru. Well OK, maybe J got a bit tired of my constant request for taking selfies together but in the end he gave in πŸ˜› Walking by Otaru canal by night, it already seemed sparkling with light and we thought that it was gorgeous the way it was, so missing the Snow Light Path Festival wasn’t that disappointing after all!

I randomly noticed a block of snow floating in the water and remarked that it looked like a heart. Not long before it disappears completely…

Slowly we made our way back to the hostel, which was a bit of a distance from the city center (approximately 20 minutes on foot). Daylight at least provided some warmth but the temperature dropped quickly and drastically as night fell!

The area around our accommodation was extremely quiet and deserted, with not a single person in sight. It even felt a bit spooky at times but we rather enjoyed the silence and serenity and much preferred them over the bustling lights of city night life.

And here are some bonus photos, again from J’s morning run. The things I miss by not going running with him…bah!!! But then again running outdoors in the coldest days of winter, in the snow…again I send my admiration and respect to my beloved husband. He managed to capture some really great views of Otaru on his phone!

Bonus #2: pre-departure from Otaru, at the train station. From Otaru, we would take the local train to Sapporo, where we’d stay for our final three days in Japan. Goodbye, Otaru, it’s been a fun time!

But something else is missing, no? Could it be possible that I didn’t write about Otaru’s…food? Aha, I figured this is enough for one post and saved the better part for the next entry. Coming up next – yakitori and sushi, spoiler spoiler πŸ˜‰

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