Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Holmans in Hakuba

Nick and I love skiing…in college, we would go to Colorado together on our winter breaks. Naturally, once we were married and out of college, our Christmas break was spent dividing our time between our two families. Therefore, we hadn’t been in over 4 years. When we found out that the snow-covered mountains were so close to where we live, we jumped at the opportunity to go skiing the “Japanese-way”!

Of course, my husband had to get out and take some photos of the beautiful scenery! We surely didn't get snow in Florida!

Hakuba, a city in the Nagano prefecture of Japan, is only about a 5 hour drive from where we live. Nick and I loaded up the car with our snow gear, packing the snow-chains just in case, and headed up the mountains to see just how different skiing in Japan was!

"Look!" I exclaimed to Nick on our drive up the mountains...."that cute little train looks straight out of Polar Express, or better yet, Harry Potter!!!"

We stayed at the Shakespeare Hotel in the area of Hakuba called Echo Land! It was a cute little hotel where: the staff spoke decent English (always a plus), breakfast was included every morning, we got free daily tickets to the Onsen (Japanese bath house, like a sauna but nude), daily shuttles were provided to pick us up and bring us to one of the 4 parts of the mountain to ski, and there was a drying room where we kept our ski stuff every night! Check, check, check! (My only complaint would be that the rooms only had twin beds, but that is to be expected in Japan and we just pushed them together…haha!)

Each of the rooms were named after Shakespeare character's....ours was Julius Caesar!

Waiting outside our hotel for the shuttle bus to take us to the lift...

Nick would rather snow board than ski, so for this trip, I decided to attempt to learn to board as well. Now, I have never boarded (ski or otherwise) and therefore was a little nervous…it’s way different from skiing, but I wanted to try it since Nick loved it so much!

1st day - we went to Hakuba 47.... It was sunny and gorgeous the first day, a perfect day to learn how to snow board!

Skiing in Japan really isn’t that dissimilar than skiing in the States, except for the fact that we were the ONLY Americans there! Of course there were lots and lots of Japanese people in Hakuba, but ironically there were also lots of Aussies as well! Since Australia is so close to Japan, and since apparently Australia doesn’t have decent snow, the Aussies come to Japan to ski. Several of the establishments in Hakuba are owned and run by Aussies. It was refreshing to be able to speak English (or should I say, to speak English and be understood) and to hear English be spoken…even if it was in a completely different accent!

Going up the lift....luckily for me, the first "lift" we went up was a gondola, and therefore I didn't have to attempt to master the ski lift before I had even learned to board! Thank goodness!

After a few hours of learning to snow board...I retired to the food court where I gladly sipped on hot chocolate!
That night, we ate at a delicious tapas bar right outside our good! We entered and saw this scary hunk of meat, we were a bit intimidated by it! No worries, it was just what they used for our prosciutto! Oh my it was incredible...wrapped around some kind of yummy cheese!

Day 2 of boarding, we went to a different part of the mountains...Goryu!
Goryu was a much better area for learning to snow board...there were very short runs where I could build my confidence!

We thought it was hilarious watching these little Japanese kids trying to catch snow in their mouths! (Yes, apparently Japanese kids have this in common with American kids as well!)
That night, we walked down the street to try out a pizza place that had been recommended.
It was a very snowy Nick is literally knee-deep in the snow!

The dinner location for the evening was Mon Pigeon's... Two little Japanese ladies run the place. It's actually a house, and at the bottom is a bakery and dining area where all they serve is pizza, coffee-like beverages and pastries. But, the pizza is very thick and very delicious! It wasn't like the typical Japanese style pizza we had eaten since moving here...normally they make their pizza extremely thin and lacking much sauce. This pizza however had all the above! (And, you can get "hum" on your's ham, but the menu reads "hum"!)

Two golden retrievers greet you at the door and then sleep lazily at your feet while you dine...for dog lovers such as us, this was an added bonus! "Kawaii"!
That night we got out our good camera and walked along the streets of Echo Land, taking pictures of the beautiful snow and scenery!

There were icicles everywhere...some so huge, I was scared to get near them for fear of one falling on me!

Our snow-covered car....that's a lot of snow!

The last day of snow boarding we went to Hakuba Happo. Happo is the location where some of the events of the 1998 Winter Olympics were held!

Due to my nerves and need to relax...Nick and I would share a cigar and a coke (with a bit of whisky mixed in) before getting on the lift and boarding down the mountain! I needed the help of Jack to calm me down! Boarding was not easy for this girl....I think I'll stick to skiing next time!

Our final night, we went to a restaurant owned by a Sumo wrestler! We ate what is called "chanko nabe" a meal that is eaten by Sumo wrestler's before a match!
While waiting for the nabe to finish cooking, the chef brought us some sushi....very fishy!

Of course, we had to get a picture with the Sumo man himself!
Our breakfast the last morning...
We were served a traditional English breakfast every morning... ie- eggs, bacon, cereal, yogurt and coffee. Next to us however, dined Japanese people, who ate their "traditional" breakfast, consisting of miso soup, rice and tea! Very different!
On our drive home...
another gorgeous day in the mountains...we were sad to leave it behind!

Despite coming home to a house that had been robbed, we had an incredible trip! Hopefully we will get to go back again several more times during our next couple years here in Japan!