Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Vacation Live Blog 2011 Entry #1: Off to Nagano!!!

Day 1 of Winter Vacation 2011 Live Blog

6:37- I just woke up. I went to bed much later than I should have in order to finish up what I had to. Ugh, I kept saying to myself how this time, I was going to be so prepared for the trip and I wouldn't have to worry about anything. Oh well. I now have to catch a train to Shinjuku to go to the bus terminal. I've never been to the bus terminal, so I'm getting there a little earlier. I decided to take a bus because 1.) the Shinkansen was waaayyyyyy too expensive 2.) the bus ride is only 3 and a half hours long (and 5,500円 round trip!) and 3.) I can watch the mountain scenery as we approach Nagano. I'm still not that excited now, but it's mainly due to being tired. I think once I get to the hotel, I'll be really happy. I'm getting to Nagano 3 hours earlier than check-in so that I can explore a little and get lunch. Well, I'm going to change into my clothes now and get going!

8:24- Ugh, I finally got on the bus. The terminal was a zoo!!! I got to the ticket office and it was swarming with people with humongous ski bags and big backpacks. It was utter chaos. I tried to decipher from the tiny (and poor) signage where I was supposed to pick up my ticket. Thankfully, a nice attendant directed me to the right window. I got my ticket!!! But... I got there a half hour earlier than my departure time so that I could have enough time to get on the bus and get settled. But of course, just like Japanese movie theaters, you can only board your bus less than 10 minutes before the departure. So I waited on the most narrow excuse for a bus waiting platform crammed with travelers of all shapes and sizes. There were obnoxious couples who were incapable of leaving their lover's side for even a moment, blocking the path, there were the annoying middle-aged hobbyist mountaineers who blocked the vending machines with their gear, not bothering to move it even when I asked to use the vending machines, and, the worst of them, confused mothers dragging their children up and down the narrow platform, all the while looking at the electronic timetable and not looking where they were going. But, to be fair, my aggravation is mainly caused by the bus company. Their narrow platform, bizarre, impossible to understand route schedule, and strange judgement (like thinking, with only two bus stops, five full coach buses could be loaded up and off to their destination in 10 short minutes) were the real culprits. But now I'm on the bus, so everything should be easy breezy from here on out (hopefully). My current dilemma now, though, is my lack of breakfast. In my rush to get to the bus terminal early, I had no time to grab something to eat. I'm currently watching a boy eating a Family Mart fried chicken AND a hot chicken sandwich. If only there weren't so many people on this bus, otherwise I'd snatch them from him. I'm hoping this bus is like the other transit buses I've been on where they stop at a highway rest station every once in a while. Otherwise I'll have to go 3 and a half hours without food -___- 

11:59- Whew. Just arrived at Okaya Station, which is a half hour train ride from my final destination. The bus trip was completely comfortable. Even though I was a little tired and could probably use some, I didn't sleep at all. I just listened to music and read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In addition, I got to gaze upon the beautiful scenery. Today is a very clear day; not a cloud in the sky. The surrounding mountains that you don't get to see when you live in the center of Tokyo are amazing. I was a little disappointed, though, that only a couple were snow-capped. Almost all had green still on their trees with some without any leaves at all. Fortunately for my stomach, we stopped at a rest station. To me, Japanese rest stops are extremely fascinating. Back in the States, my family and I have been on many a road trip and stopped at dozens of rest stops. They usual vary in quality but are usually pretty decent. Japanese rest stops are much the same. The one we stopped at was much more open-air than the ones I'm familiar. It had a gigantic (but mostly empty) bathroom, a row of vending machines, a store to buy gifts and snacks, and a hot snack bar where you could get things like ramen and ice cream. I immediately perused the snack section and was pleased to find some delicious looking inari sushi stuffed with various things and good ole onigiri. Satisfied, I dumped my trashed and got back on the bus. As we pulled closer to our stop, we began to enter the town. It was very quaint. Definitely a far cry from Tokyo. All the buildings were pretty old, though, with my guess being that the newest building was probably from the early 70's. Still, it was nice to see a "normal" town as opposed to a megalopolis. It was also kind of funny seeing signs for 7-11s that pointed in a direction and said "1km". I thought there were convenience stores in every square meter of Japan?!? Jk jk jk. But, I arrived and am currently waiting for my train, which, it looks like, doesn't come very often at all. I also had a "city boy" shock when I found I couldn't charge my Suica at the station. Oh well. Guess I'll have to hold on to tickets more carefully now. I'm notorious for losing them. Also, even for this kid from Wisconsin, it's COLD!!! But the air is also fresh. Still, I'm wondering if staying here an extra 8 hours after my check-out was a good idea.....

17:53- So, I had some journey to get to my hotel (not really, but it sounds more dramatic that way). I hopped on the train which could only be described, honestly, as "ghetto". First off, you had to open the doors with your hands. Not automatic at all. If you only push one half of the door, than the other side still sits where it is.  Second, there was no electronic board to tell what station you were arriving at. Just the conductor's announcements. Finally, the track was super bumpy. But I made it just fine. I arrived there at 1pm, but my check-in time was scheduled for 3. The hotel said it was a 20 minute bus ride to the hotel, so I took my time and had a much deserves meal of udon and katsudon. I then decided to check out where the bus stop is just to make sure I knew if I wanted to explore later. I was under the impression that it was attached to the station but it was actually in the basement floor of this department store @_@ It was bizarre. I found the time table and searched for where I had to go. The next bus was going to leave in just 4 minutes and the one after that didn't come for another hour. I bought the ticket for the bus (much like a train ticket machine) and scrambled to find the platform. I walked past all the perfectly prepared gift foods being sold by nice women and found the narrow staircase to the bus stop (which seemed to be the only entrance). The bus I needed was there and about to leave! Thankfully, I got it. After a nice bus ride far from the station, I got to the area I was staying at, called "Asama Onsen" 浅間温泉. For the uninitiated, onsen means a hot spring. I then whipped out my (not so) trusty iPhone to see which direction I needed to go. I looked pretty lost, so this nice teenager on a bike stopped and asked if I was ok. I said I was, but I forgot to thank him. I feel bad that he did such a nice thing offering help to a stranger and he didn't even get a thank you :( I found my hotel, and to my surprise, on this board right by the entrance, they had "Welcome DeVito Anthony様(sama)" written in big letters. 様 us an honorific title equivalent maybe to a super duper polite "Mister". I was a little more than a half hour too early for my check in, but graciously they allowed me to go to my room anyway. To be honest, I wasn't really impressed because the pictures on the website made it look really modern, but you could tell it was outdated. My room was equally unimpressive, though big. It only has three outlets in the entire room!!! I had to unplug the hot water machine to make room for my charger. But it's very relaxing and so much bigger than my current place (and a gajillion times cleaner), so I can't complain too much. I'm off to eat dinner now!

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