Friday, July 31, 2009

Echigo Yuzawa: Alpine mountains, mist & orchids

The infamous shinkansen (bullet train)

This morning we got on the shinkansen and headed to Echigo Yuzawa, a smallish town in the Japanese Alps half way to Kanazawa from Tokyo. You have to change trains there anyway so I thought it’d be nice to stay there and get some mountain air before heading to another city.

I had booked a rykoan, called Hakugin-kaku near Echigo station as I knew we’d have lots of luggage. By the way a ryokan is a Japanese style hotel, too much to write here about them so I wrote a separate post on staying at a ryokan. I have to be honest the ryokan was a slight disappointment, a bit tatty throughout and smelling a bit mouldy (for about £100 pp dinner B&B I guess I expected better). On the plus side though the staff, all dressed in their beautiful kimonos, were so welcoming as was the onsen and the food was outstanding.

Anyway, today we set off for a long alpine walk. We took this huge gondola from near the centre of Echigo up to the first station up the mountain but it was completely clouded over.

For fear of getting lost we followed the riff raff for a while until we got our bearings. We decided (well more mum than me, I was feeling lazy) to take a long circuit that would take us right to the top of the mountain and along back through the forest. Seemed like a great idea until we got half way. It was so hot and humid, I guess I should be used to it now but I'm really not! Note the amount of MINGING sweat on my t-shirt...

The mist was so bad at the top of the mountain, we couldn’t see much and had passed NO other walkers, eeek. Mum then nearly sat on a big brown snake, didn’t get a picture of it but it was just before we entered these dark misty woods.

Christ, I felt like I was Frodo Baggins accompanied by Samwise (mum) in the Fagorn forest. Not a single bloody person about...the path was sooo dark, steep and slippy. Well watch the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

After about 2 hours of descending the impossibly steep path we heard some children shouting, I have never been so happy to hear children I can’t tell you. The mist had cleared so we went and had a late lunch in the cute alpine looking restaurant overlooking a beautiful sea of orchids.

Finally just before our gondola descent we dangled our tired feet in the onsen. Ahhh bliss!

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