Snow and night cherry blossoms - Takayama to Kanazawa
Japan just keeps improving. I hope it stays this way. Last night we suddenly changed our minds and decided to go to Kanazawa instead of Matsumoto and Nagano. So we caught a local train north instead of a bus to the east. As the train ascended into the mountains snow drifts began appearing. Soon most of the ground was coated in white broken up by pines and bare deciduous trees. At (?) the train stopped, and if I hadn't asked the driver we would not have realised that we needed to change to a bus.
Most of the bus passengers were foreign tourists, including a group of Californian Japanese. The bus drove high up across the mountains, past quiet ski resorts and icy gushing streams. Eventually we began our descent once more into a moutain valley covered with trees devoid of foliage. Our entrance was past a dam and huge factory of unknown purpose, which suited the brown appearance devastated look of the valley.
Eventually the bust pulled up at (?) where we all alighted to continue our journey by train. Down on the lowlands cherry blossoms and rice paddies replaced mountains and snow. Nowhere near as impressive as the previous scenery.
The train terminated at Toyama, a city of little interest. We changed to an airconditioned express whose comfort an speed was pleasant after the austerity of the all-cities local. In that train the forty minute journey to Kanazawa passed quickly.
At Kanazawa station's tourist information centre a very helpful english speaking goodwill guide was pleased to assst us in booking accommodation. We found ourselves at Ryokan Muraya. It's absolutely wonderful, better than our only previous ryokan stay at Kyoto. Beautifully furnished large rooms, helpful and friendly staff.
We were hungry for a late lunch, so we wandered out on to the streets, ending up in a department store cafe eating soba and ramen while the locals had ice cream. Then we crossed over the Sai-gawa river, gazed at a couple of old residences in the evening light, before walking along the shopping streets. Stopped at one shoe store where the owner, a Mr Benkko, chatted to us, practising his english while talking about his shoe sourcing trips to Italy. We ran into a number of very friendly locals throughout the day, a lot of fun.
It was getting late, so we thought that we would loop back to the ryokan, hopefully finding somewhere to eat. It appears that we took the long way around and I'm glad that we did. We walked past the Museum of Contemporary Art, then saw a series of small food stalls across the road. Thinking that we might get some dinner there, we found ourselves following the crowd further up the lantern-lit path and into a still-open (long after it should have closed and with no ticket counters) Kenroku-en garden, another one of Japan's top 3. It started pouring with rain, but we were entranced by the lanterns and the cherry blossoms. Apparently, the park was open for a hanami-matsuri, cherry blossom festival.
There was a line of combined souvenier shops/restaurants, and we welcomed the chance to get out of the freezing rain. By the time we had finished, the rain had ceased, so we continued our walk through the park. The lighting was magical, trees, bridges, statues and monuments. One of the little shops selling festive rice balls had soft pink paper lanterns illuminating it in a most magical way. The park was like something out of a dream.
On our way out we stopped at one of the little stalls and bought a stick of toffee strawberries and had a stick of toffee grapes thrown in for free. Great idea - toffee apples are all you get in Australia, but these were delicious.
Back at the ryokan the hot bath was a wonderful cure for the chill outside. Tomorrow there is much to see and I look forward to another view of Kenroku-en, this time in daylight.