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Published: November 11th 2015
Wednesday 23rd September 2015
2 days later than planned, we bid farewell to epic Tokyo and headed towards the Japanese Alps. From the hustle & bustle of Tokyo, Matsumoto seemed a world away despite only being about a 3hr train journey from Tokyo. The temperature seemed to drop suddenly, forcing us to dig much further into our backpacks on the hunt for warm layers. We also found ourselves in a much smaller & quieter part of Japan, managing to walk along the main road without seeing a single person for a good while. What Tokyo had in energy & neon lights, Matsumoto made up for in natural beauty with the hills & mountains already visible as we crossed the town in search of our hostel.
Our traditional Japanese style guesthouse was calm & serene, our bedrooms already prepared with futon style beds. With our afternoon, we decided to take a quick hike (hah, me using the word hike. What I mean is walk up a steep hill!) to get us further into the Japanese Alps. As we climbed higher, the town's roads soon turned into winding woodland paths and as the trees parted, camera's were posed ready for our
first panoramic view of the Alps. Uummm...not quite. Walking straight into a childrens petting zoo wasn't quite what we had in mind?! Cue our second Mt Fuji esque navigational fail. The views of the mountain range were great from this height, slightly bemusing to be standing next to a model of a stegosaurus dinosaur whilst taking it in!?! Nevertheless, we embraced the moment and settled ourselves at a picnic bench to break open the lunchtime bento boxes. Bento boxes are our new obsession, a small tray filled with sticky rice, meat, vegetables, all manner of treats. Easy to buy & easy on the wallet; a life saver for a travelling budget!!
After an afternoon in the Japanese Alps, aka adventure playground and petting zoo, we headed back to the sanctuary of the guesthouse. Sitting at the low table in the lounge area, crickets humming just outside the open Japanese screen doors, a view of the Japanese Alps in the distance and Jazz playing in the background, I'm thinking I could just get used to this...... Thursday 24th September 2015
After some great weather, our second day in Matsumoto greeted us with torrential rain! Armed
with umbrella's we headed to Matsumoto castle, a very beautiful castle designated as a national treasure. We bought coffee and brioche at the local shop and sat ourselves in the park overlooking the castle. Not a bad way to start the day; hot coffee, baked goods and a pretty stunning view. Breakfast done, we headed into the castle grounds. Removing our shoes at the entrance, we were able to explore the wooden floors of one of Japans only 12 completely original castles. The castle has been carefully maintained with its steep polished wooden steps and clever hidden floors, making the tour of the castle feel very authentic.
From the castle we headed towards the river to find 'Frog Street', mainly because we liked the name and wanted to see big frog statutes. The street was lined with small shops (selling all manner of frog themed items). Getting a bit peckish and never one to turn down baked goods, we stopped at a small kiosk to buy taiyaki, a Japanese fish shaped cake. From a choice of red bean paste or custard, we both opted for custard. The outside is made from a batter like pancakes with a
cold custard filling. The first few bites were great, but soon there was just too much cold custard for one person to handle and I had to admit defeat!
With the sun going down we made our way back to the castle. Whilst a sight by day, it is the castle by night that is most striking. The illuminated exterior casts a breathtaking reflection on the water surrounding it. My favourite sight of Japan so far!
Working up an appetite, we got ourselves a few TripAdvisor restaurant recommendations and headed into town to locate the restaurants. Our only problem being that whilst TripAdvisor gave us the names in English, all the restaurant signs were in Japanese, so we had no idea. We gave up and just walked into the next open door. Lucky for us it was actually a restaurant, unlucky for us everything was in Japanese characters and despite our best efforts at acting out eating noodles, dinner ended up being a huge beer each and a complimentary chicken wing. But we were determined to eat and gave it a second go at a busy yakatori (essentially meat on a skewer) restaurant. This menu had
pictures and smiley staff so we thought we were onto a winner despite the language barrier. Dinner arrived and it turns out we'd ordered one small chicken skewer between us (that's 2 small cubes of chicken each) and 2 more huge beers. Tipsy on beer, we gave up on actual food, had another beer and sang along with some buskers singing Mumford & Sons songs outside the station.
All in all a successful day I'd say!
Next stop, Kyoto....
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