Today, as with yesterday, we woke up to a wet morning. And after an early buffet breakfast (with students and Japanese tour groups, and yes, they are usually very early too), we checked out, paid 500Yen to the hotel for using their carpark, and then drove to Shimbara port to catch a ferry across to Kumamoto. Before arriving at the port, we drove past Unzen, but could barely see the Unzen Volcano. We did discussed making a detour to go visit it before heading for Shimabara Port but since it was raining and the entire volcano shrouded by clouds, we drove directly to the port (took us less than the GPS projected 2 hours).
Once we turned into the driveway of Shimbara Port, we were looking out for a carpark so that we can get the ferry tickets. Hm… But that’s not how it works. Straight after turning into the port driveway, look out for 2 lanes with a signboard each (indicating the next ferry to leave) directly in front and choose the ferry that you want, drive into the lane, obtain a card indicating the size (or rather, the length) of your car from the gentleman at the entry point, then drive to the lane he indicates to you, park there, and then go into the building to obtain tickets. Take note that the 2 lanes are for 2 different ferry companies. Kumamoro Ferry takes about half an hour, Kyusho Ferry takes one hour, but at a cheaper rate. So, if you want more time for sightseeing, you might want to go for the faster ferry, which we did. So, we went to find the right ticket counter (2 different ones for 2 different ferry companies), give them the card that indicates the length of our car, tell them we have 1 more passenger, and paid up. This is the only time we lament the advantage of having a smaller car because it means cheaper ferry tickets. But the comfort of a bigger car outweighs this one disadvantage and so, we shan’t complain too much. And for every car ticket, it includes the ticket for the driver. So, we need only pay for one more passenger. Together, we paid 3530Yen for the car with a driver (4m to 5m in length) and 800Yen for 1 passenger.
Shimabara Port houses a couple of shops with food, local produce, souvenirs etc and toilet facilities. So, we spent the next 20minutes here before heading back to our car 15minutes before the ferry departure time. I forgot to mention we wanted to book the ferry tickets in advance for a guaranteed place on the ferry but were advised there is no need to do so. We just need to be at the port 20minutes before the departure time. There is enough time to hope into the building for tickets and head back to the car.
The ferry is a comfortable one. It offers sheltered seats as well as an open deck. On a fine day, people can offer bread to the numerous seagulls on the open deck. But since it was raining, not a bird was in sight. Within the sheltered area, one can buy simple snacks and beverages and souvenirs. All in all, it offers a comfortable half hour ride.
When we reach Kumamoto Port, it was an easy drive to downtown Kumamoto. We wanted to visit Kumamoto Castle, the only castle visit for the whole of this trip. So, once again, our reliable GPS led us near the castle and we need to look out for signboards to lead us to the carpark. But, we parked about 800m away (near the museum) and walked in the rain to find the entrance of the castle. A wrong choice but we probably paid a little less carpark fees.
After obtaining tickets into the castle, the staff manning the entrance offered us map cum pamphlet in different languages and were visibly happy that we took the English one (they were happy they can be of help to us, they are such kind souls), and walked into the grounds of the castle. A warrior, carrying a traditional umbrella, was standing on the grounds, waiting for people to take photos with him. The castle is behind the massive wall.
We walked on, found the entrance and walked slowly up the 7 storeys. Do not be alarmed by that because as you walk, you will be viewing historical exhibits (like a museum) and so it is a slow walk up. If someone as unfit as I am, coupled with knee injury, can do it, enyone can do it too! This is the view of the castle. It was a ‘black’ exterior as most part of the walls are painted black. Other famous castles in Japan tends to be painted white. But this is a special and majestic-looking castle worth visiting. It comes with a moat too! In spring, the short walkway into the castle will welcome you with wonderful view of sakura!
This is the view from the top:
It offers a panoramic view of Kumamoto, a busy city.
This is another view:
Even santa clause can be found amongst the many lights. And the most popular had to be the pink heart. Lots of people were posing in front of that. So so Christmas!
After roaming amidst the beautiful lights, we thought of visiting the hot spring bath. But as there were many walking in and out, we decided not to since it would be very crowded. But not to worry, we will have other chances. So, we walked back to our dome. Along the way, we could not resist taking photos of the ‘Narnia’ lamp. I forced my sister to pose for this photo.