Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Hakuba...

Or what we have deemed: "Ski Trip 2011"

This year for Christmas Nick and I decided to take advantage of the 3-day weekend (and thus 3-day break from work) and drive up to the Nagano prefecture for a white Christmas!

A white Christmas it was...
But, the trip did not start out as smoothly as we had hoped.....

This summer when all the boats were deployed, us wives do what we do best...planned for our husbands return. Being military spouses we have to be flexible because we never really know when our husbands will return, the only exception being CHRISTMAS (and even that's not always a guarantee)! Luckily here in Japan we got all of our husbands home for the holidays this year. So around July, two of my best friends and I started planning our Christmas trip early.

Being that we were so punctual and got our trip planned early, it should've gone smoothly...without a hitch right?!?!

The plan was to meet at 11am to load the van and head up to the mountains. 3 nights in Hakuba for a ski trip over Christmas weekend. We reserved the van in August, yet three days before we were supposed to leave for our trip, we got a call saying that our van was wrecked and they didn't have another one for us! (who knows why one van had been deemed "ours" over another is beyond me!) after several phone calls and a lot of complaining, we finally were told that they had ordered the parts and the vehicle "should" be fixed in time for our trip (in less than 3 days, so kinda on a time crunch)!

We all arrived at the designated time, and the van was in fact snow chains! Did we reserve snow chains in August? YES! Did they assure us the day before that there were in fact chains with the van? YES! And were we told by our hotel that there was a big snowfall and thus mandatory that we have snow chains? ABSOLUTELY! ...However, we weren't leaving without a fight. We argued for another 30 minutes with the 4 workers at the rental shop, and as it turned out, they DID have snow chains for us! (Curious...)

After finally getting our van and chains, all we had to do was load the vehicle...which of course took an hour of trying to get it all crammed in, but around 12:30 we finally set off for our road trip!

Talking, laughing and following our I-phone navigation (Because of course we can't read the road signs due to the kanji) we accidentally took a wrong turn. A wrong turn that turned into an hour big deal, we were able to take a gorgeous scenic off-road route (a VERY narrow and curvy road) that only got us a little (more) behind schedule.

After the detour I desperately needed a bathroom break. We stopped at the first gas station we could find, killing two birds with one stone.

On our way out of the gas station parking lot we all had a laugh at Sarah's expense....the boys thought it would be funny to pull the car around the building so she couldn't see us when she came back from the rest room. She of course wasn't fazed in the least and found us immediately. Then after getting in the car, she decided to get back out and go purchase a water bottle. Sarah didn't tell anyone besides me and her husband (who were both in the back of the van) that she was doing so, and therefore Kevin (the driver) started to drive away without her. I quickly yelled, "Sarah's not in the car....go back!" he thought I was joking of course and kept driving. I wasn't and therefore he had to pull over in the middle of the road so she could run and catch up!

...Laughing after the situation we started to discuss what game we should play for the remainder of the road trip. We only had a little under 40 minutes left of the drive and we were all getting really excited.... All of a sudden Kevin goes, "something's wrong! To which Nick replies "are you doing that or ... say, what kind of gas did we put in the van?" We then pulled over at the first available some miracle we were literally right next to a Nissan dealership and our Rental van was a Nissan!!!! We parked and thought no big deal, we'll ask them if we accidentally got diesel!

The guys went inside to ask...showing the Japanese worker our receipt so he could read the Kanji for us and determine if we had in fact made a mistake. (As you can see it took several Japanese workers...all were shaking their heads at us and doing the teeth sucking noise that they all do whenever something isn't ok!!!)

The problem was, we might live in Japan, but for the most part we all get our gas on our American base (where everything is written in English). Because we were hours from our base, we had to get gas at a Japanese gas station. Normally one of the eager Japanese station workers will hurriedly (because that's how they do everything) run out to your car and help/fill up your tank for you. This particular incident however was different. We did not get any help and therefore made a guess as to which was the gas based on the price....BIG MISTAKE!!!!!

The Nissan worker read our receipt and informed us that we had in fact filled our tank with diesel instead of gas! Despite our blunder and the language barrier, we were still hopeful that we could easily resolve our situation and be on our way shortly....however, that's not what happened!

The men (Nick, Kevin and Johnny...not the Nissan workers) decided that they could siphon the gas themselves (of course the Nissan workers were all shaking their heads at us and knew better than we did, but for the moment, we were doing what we thought was best!).

We tried leaving the Nissan dealership and going back to the gas station so we could purchase a siphon and get GAS, but by this point, the car would no longer start. Tami and the guys walked back to the station on foot to get the things we needed while Sarah and I stayed with the van.

Upon returning we discovered that the siphon (which we had just purchased) was not long enough and therefore would not work. One of the guys spotted a rubber hose attached to the Nissan building and cut it with a pocket knife, attempting to make our own siphon (without asking)...that also failed to work.

At this point we were starting to realize that this wasn't going to be an easy fix! We all began to discuss what we would do if we couldn't get the car to work in the next few hours. After calling our hotel, the car rental place (to notify them of our blunder) and a few of our friends who were already in Hakuba, we decided to go back inside the Nissan office and see what our options were.

Luckily Tami has several friends from work who can speak fluent English and Japanese. Using her friend as a translator via cell phone, we were able to communicate with the Nissan worker what we should do. He informed us (or rather Tami's friend, who told Tami, who told us) that they were going to have to remove the gas tank from the car, then once removed empty out the diesel and then assess the damage.

Side was a Japanese Holiday and therefore the dealership was supposed to be closing about 15 minutes after we arrived. However, they stayed open for us. (A Christmas miracle)

We were told that if the damage wasn't bad (meaning the diesel hadn't gone too far into the system, thus completely wrecking the car) then we could be on our way in about 3 hours!

3 hours was worth the wait if we could leave there with our van and loot! At that point, we didn't really have any other options. We waited (the girls in the lobby and the boys outside watching the action) and after less than 2 hours, our car was diesel free and running!

(The workers brought us coffee! As if we hadn't in-convenienced them enough!)

Delighted we were ready to pay the bill and get out of there! However, by then, the Nissan workers all thought we were a bunch of idiots and weren't letting us leave without a full tank of gas. One of the workers actually got in the van and drove with the men to the gas station to help them fill it up...just to make sure we didn't get diesel AGAIN! Ha Ha!

On top of that, they all tried their best to tell us (again, the language barrier) that we needed snow chains. As I said in the begining, we made sure we had them, but the Nissan workers didn't feel we were compitant to put them on ourselves, and thus refused to let us leave without putting them on for us! (Nick's an engineer and all three men are pilots, they most certainly could put the chains on themselves. But, if the Japanese workers were willing to put them on, we weren't saying no!)

With gas in the van and snow chains in place, we gave the gracioius workers a big bag of American snacks (and booze) and proceeded a bowing war as we finally were able to drive away with a working vehicle around 7:30pm!

All that was BEFORE we even got to the mountains....

Less than 40 minutes later we arrived at our lodge and were more than ready to unload the van and not go any where near the vehicle until our Monday departure.

We stayed at a quaint little B&B, the Blue Dragon...cozy rooms and in a great location. Owned by an Australian couple, so the language barrier wasn't an issue. (Always a good thing)

Then it was on to food at one of our favorites from last year, Uncle Steven's, a mexican restaurant.
Yummy food with English speaking staff and menus. Ole!

After the day we'd had, a stop at one of the local pubs was a must...

The eversocute - Cherry Pub, fit the bill nicely!

Day 1 at the slopes:
From last year's experience we decided to hit up Hakuba 47 for our first day of skiing/boarding.

We were all smiles and ready for some fun in the snow!

Sarah and Johnny!
Kevin and Tami!
It was a gorgeous day for skiing and snowboarding! (The guys and Sarah boarded, Tam and I ski-ed) Perfect 1st day!
Sarah and I aren't as good as the rest of the group...we needed a little "liquid courage" to start us off...after that, we were all "pros" on the snow!

Love that sight!

That night we dined at another of our favs from last year...Mon Pigeon's!
Mon Pigeon's is a bakery in the Echo Land area that serves THICK (in Japan the pizza is thinner than a tortilla) and delicious pizza!

The atmosphere is cozy too. Two adorable golden retrievers sleep at your feet while you dine, the ladies who work there are super sweet and the Christmas decorations are a-clutter! Perfect for our Christmas Eve meal!

(One of the menus...their hand-made and each one differently designed in some adorable Christmas scene!)
After our stomach's were full of pizza we took a stroll in the snow back to our hotel....

Walking in a winter wonderland!
Day 2 at the slopes:
We went to Hakuba 47 again. (47 connects to another lift, Goryu. The day before we ski-ed more of Goryu and wanted to do more runs on we went back to 47! It's a good area!)

Another Beautiful day...Christmas Day! A perfect White Christmas!

Such a fun group!!!
Christmas Night...cocktails before dinner at our B&B
We had dinner at The Lab, a ski lodge near our B&B which is also run by Aussies.

We met several of our 51 friends (Nick's squadron) there for a "family-style" Christmas dinner.
The meal started out with a Japanese appetizer...
...followed by a more traditional American entree. Only in Japan would we eat sushi AND turkey and dressing for Christmas dinner! And for dessert...well, English pudding of course!?!

The atmosphere at The Lab was definitely merry on Christmas! The boys enjoyed a game of "who can drink their beer faster"....

So naturally, the girls were made to do the same thing!
See how that went down....

It was a great Christmas with amazing friends!
The day after Christmas it was time to load up the loathed van again.
As you can see, the boys had a "bit" of snow to dust off of it first! ;)

On our way home we passed by the Nissan dealership where we had our now infamous ordeal. (We were all certain it didn't really exhist and was really a bunch of Christmas Angels or elves who fixed our van!)

The trip wouldn't have been complete without one more minor scare.... While Tami and I took our turn at the front of the van (Tam at the wheel), Kevin again noticed something wasn't right. This time it was our had all shifted during the drive and was hanging off the side of our roof, about to come untied! Ooops!

After putting on the emergency blinkers, we slowed down until we could pull into a rest stop (there are no shoulders on most roads in Japan). A quick fix, but it could have ended badly had we not noticed it in time! WHEW!
It was a great trip, despite the miss-haps in the begining. And besides, those things only make for a good story later, right?!?

Hey! Did you know that you CAN'T put Diesel in a van????!!!