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Day 4

After another restful night (it was particularly restful becaused it rained the whole night through and rainy nights, to me, are the best to sleep through), we woke up to another wet morning. We decided that we shall explore the shops here that open at 9am and leave to explore other areas, since we might come back after 5pm and miss the shops again. So, after a buffet breakfast, we wandered in the shops, ranging from those selling fresh farm vegetables (from farmers nearby since Mount Aso region has very fertile land), cheese products, beauty products, lots of local cakes/candy/biscuits, musical box shop, bag shop etc.  It was late morning by the time we set off to explore the volcanoes.

We drove along with beautiful views like this:

Raindrops

Our reliable GPS brought us towards the Aso Kusasenri Field and we stopped at the lookout:

The Aso Kusasenri Field from the lookout

This is one of my favourite place. Look how green it is. On a fine day, it is possible to do horse riding here. But today will be the horses’ rest day, it being a rainy day. So, they are out grazing on the field. 😛

We drove onwards, all the way to the ropeway station. Unfortunately, the volcano is spewing some ash and since May, the ropeway and hence the volcano is closed to public. Sigh…… There goes my hope. This was my third visit to Kyushu and second attempt at going up the volcano. But… it was not meant to be.

Ropeway up the volcano

This is the ropeway station building:

The Mount Aso Ropeway station

So, we turned back and headed for the next best option – Mount AsoVolcano Museum (note that parking fees apply on per entry basis). We can watch the live broadcast of the volcano in the safety of the museum. Unfortunately, no photo-taking is allowed in the volcano. But it was a nice museum, with lots of information on plate tectonics and the many different types of volcanoes. But not everything has English translation. We took this at the entrance of the museum:

Alert on status of active volcano

It shows the alert status of the volcano. Currently, it is at level 2. The immediate surroundings of the volcano spewing ash and toxic gases is out of bounds. But there is no need for evacuation yet.

After the Volcano Museum visit, we went around the shops, some situated further down the carpark. And we had a wonderful lunch of udon and ramen:

Udon and Ramen

Most shops here cater to busloads of tourists. So, it was nice and quiet to have lunch here after lunch hours.

After lunch, we drove towards Takachiho Gorge. The roads were like this for part of the way:

Winding road

But it was worth the drive. Once at the gorge, there are 2 places to park. The first we came to is above the gorge and parking is cheaper here. But then, to go into the gorge, one has to walk down many steps. It was raining and so, we opted to drive to the bottom of the gorge since the most beautiful park of the gorge, the waterfall, is nearer the base of the gorge. But take note of the narrow road leading to the bottom of the gorge. It was still raining so we did not venture far from the carpark area which has a few shops.

Map of Takachiho Gorge

But this is beautiful view we got:

Waterfall

The waterfall is slighly shorter than usual because water level in the river is very high due to the non-stop rains. And the river is brownish in colour, as it is carrying large amounts of sediments.

River

We also visited the shops here but what is best is the bbq-ed glutinous rice on skewers sold here, just beside the carpark. There is a type of sweet and salty dark soya sauce spread on it and the whole thing is bbq-ed with charcoal. And it was yummy! We forgot to take photos before tucking in though. 😛 Sorry.

After that, we drove back towards our accomodations. Back at Aso Farm Village, we chose grilled meat for today’s dinner.

Grilled meat

Again, it was really delicious. Besides the meat, there is carrots, a green chilli and a piece of Konyaku (the kind we eat as jelly) to bbq and dip into their yummy sauce.

Then, back to our dome via those glittering lights again.

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Customised self-drive itinerary:
SIN -> FUK -> Huis Ten Bosch (1 night) -> Nagasaki City (1 night) -> Shimabara -> Kumamoto -> Mount Aso (2 nights) -> Takachiho -> Kagoshima City (2 nights) -> Ibusuki -> Cape Toi -> Miyazaki (1 night) -> Beppu (2 nights) -> Yufuin -> Dazaifu -> Fukuoka City

DAY 1

We boarded SQ656 bound for Fukuoka airport for a 6-hour ride through the night. The plane left at 0100hrs and arrived in Fukuoka International Airport at 0810hrs. We cleared customs and immigration without much event or delay (complete an immigration and customs declaration card and be ready to have fingerprints and mugshot taken).

Awaiting for us was Ms Mamiko, representing the Japan counterpart of Singapore’s CTC. She gently welcomed us and asked if we require any money-changer or handphone services or washroom facilities, as these can be found at the arrival hall of the airport. Having no need for any, she walked us out to the pick up area and waiting for us was a driver with his van, waiting to drive us to Budget Car Rental office, situated opposite the domestic terminal of Fukuoka Airport (Note that the international and domestic terminals are separate and a free shuttle bus ferries passengers between the 2 terminals. Note also that the subway into downtown Fukuoka is situated at the domestic terminal). When we walked out of the airport, it was drizzling. Ah – the rainy season. But it was a nice and cool temperature, a respite from the heat of Singapore.

 With Mamiko-san there to help us with the paperwork, there was not much for us to do except surrender our passports, say hello to the car assigned to us, get a couple of bottles of drinking water from the vending machines found at Budget Car Rental, check the car for scratches, sign an agreement form, ask questions on how to use the English-speaking GPS, key in the mapcode for our first destination, borrow a street directory, checked that our luggage is in the boot, get ourselves mentally ready to face the roads,adjust the mirrors, say our goodbyes to Ms Mamiko as we won’t be meeting her again throughout the trip, and be impressed by the services of the Japanese (the man from Budget Car Rental took an umbrella, walked out to the streets, stop a couple of cars and gestured for us to drive out onto the road. Wow! This is what I call professionalism. Singaporeans have lots to learn about service levels.

We had a huge car, just for the 2 of us, although the agreement with CTC was for the smallest class of cars. But, we are not complaining.  🙂

With the GPS guiding us, we drove through downtown Fukuoka, towards our first destination for the night – Huis Ten Bosch. The GPS allowed us to programme our route such that we avoided the toll roads. This means, we travel the local roads (aka roads with speed limit of 50km/hour and in the cities, we meet traffic lights every 10m to 20m or so). We also need a while to get used to the instructions of the GPS. It even advised on which lanes to take for roads with more than one. With a couple of wrong turns (turning too early or too late), we were actually cruising along rather well. There was some degree of stress as there was a slight traffic jam in Fukuoka. But, if you ever need to change lanes, signal, and the drivers just behind you will give way to you. The Japanese are gracious drivers. Or at least, most of them are.

Once we were out of the city, the drive got easier. As there was only one lane most times, and it being a toll-free road, we shared the roads with many heavy vehicles, we could actually sit back and enjoy the surroundings. We drove past mini-sized farmlands, roadworks with cute road barricades in the shape of bunnies, monkeys, a tunnel or two etc, at times we caught a glimpse of the sea, and at one point in time, we drove along a patch of road that does not look much utilised (ie weeds were overgrowing onto the roads with no markings). But all in all, as long as you are a moderately good driver back home, driving there will not pose a problem.

Along the way, we got a little hungry and stopped at a Family Mart to fill our stomach. It was about 12noon. Family Mart usually comes with some carpark lots and customers can buy what they need and head back to the comfort and warmth of the car to devour their meals. Now, a little about what can be found in a Family Mart. Drinks of all sort (including made in Japan coke which I think is less sweet and hence more palatable), food ranging from rice balls, bentos that can easily be heated in a microwave found there, cakes and bread of many variety, many types of cup noodles/soup, lots of titbits, magazines to while some time away, and  very importantly, the toilets (all the Family Mart we stopped at, apart from those from downtown cities, has clean toilet facilities to offer). And it is a good place to stop for rather affordable food, especially useful when buffet breakfasts and heavy dinners are offered by most accomodations. So, we each chose a riceball each, and a coke, and dived back to our car to fill our stomachs.

Our rice balls from Family Mart

We drove on and passed by Imari, where a huge Road Station attracted us to stop. Our first Road Station of the trip that offers food and a rest from the drive.

Sign showing Imari Road Station

There was a cluster of buildings here, each offering something different.

Signs of the shops and their opening hours found in Imari Road Station

Map of Imari Road Station as it has a cluster of buildings here

 There was a shop selling fresh vegetables grown by farmers nearby, one selling bentos and local cakes/sweets/biscuits (in other words, the boxed kueh kueh perfect for gifts or own consumption), one selling huge variety of nuts (we bought a pack of black pepper nuts and a pack of miso nuts), and one that offers ‘experiencing through your hands’ in making a craft (pottery in this case).

Want to experience making a pot/plate/cup with your own hands

This is quite an interesting Road Station to stop. The lady at the nut shop was so warm in beckoning us into her shop and offering us samples to try. Although she does not speak much English, she manages to ask where we hailed from and upon knowing we are from Singapore (say Singaporu for Singapore and Singaporu-jin for Singaporeans) and she got all excited as she was booked to travel to Singapore in July, pointing to her calendar to inform us of her intention. 🙂  Cute. And she is exhibiting the general warmth from the people of Kyushu. We may not be able to communicate with them in terms of language, but that does not stop them from offering information and help. I just love them!

After a bit more of driving (by a bit, I mean 1 to 2 hours of driving because although the distant is not great, the speed at which we were travelling means we needed to drive much longer than if we have chosen to drive on the tolled roads), we arrived at Huis Ten Bosch at about 2:40pm. However, the GPS directed us to the staff entrance with the mapcode we entered. So, a lesson learnt – once we are near the destination, look out for road signs to the carparks rather than depend solely on the GPS. Parking is free here for those with accomodations booked in Huis Ten Bosch. So, we took a day pack each (leaving the rest of the luggage in the car), and went to this building that says ‘Check-in’. So, we checked in, handed our luggage to them which they will send to our hotel (Hotel Amsterdam) within Huis Ten Bosch by 4pm and advised that we can check in at the hotel at 3pm. We then went to the ticketing office, bought a day pass (it was still raining and we opted for the basic day pass costing 2,500Yen per pax, and it does not include any rides or entrance to any shows or special parks). The staff there may not speak much English but if you apologise politely (Gomenasai), say that you do not understand Japanese (Wakarimasen Nihon-go) and understand English (Eigo for English) instead, they will whip out a data sheet in English and you just need to point according to what ticket you need.

At the park entrance, we were welcomed by a Tully (a tulip mascot) and the man checking tickets at the entrance offered to take our photos with the mascot with simple hand signals, and showed us how to enter the theme park by scanning our tickets (just like our MRT).

Posing with Tully the Mascot

 Once in, we wanted to look out for the bus that will take us to our hotel along its road for 200Yen. But we decided to walk instead, walking past a couple of shops, a small mall and a garden. It was a nice walk offering some nice views, although it would have been much better without the drizzle.

Many flowers in HTB

Another view of HTB:

Windmills in HTB

Yet another view:

Strolling in HTB

We got to Hotel Amsterdam without much trouble since we were given a map to refer to with the tickets, checked in rather easily at the rather grand looking reception lobby (complete with chandeliers), and had a young lady showed us to our room and explained a few things in the room. We later came to realise this will be the norm from then owards.

Reception of Hotel Amsterdam

The courtyard:

The lovely courtyard of Hotel Amsterdam

In the room:

This is the sofa in our room

 Everything we needed was supplied by the hotel and even though we were without our luggage, we were fine.

All that we need was supplied, and in such lovely packaging too

Shower things:

Such generous supply of shower 'things' one can shower many times over

As we were tired, after missing sleep on the overnight flight and the long 4-hour drive, we took a shower, freshened up, had coffee/tea, dicussed what we wanna see in Huis Ten Bosch (our choice was limited – shopping, but there were quite a number of shops found there that looks interesting). Before 4pm, our luggage got delivered promptly.

Tea Set - Dutch China

Once ready, we headed out with our umbrellas. Lots of interesting shops – Miffy shop, teddy bear shop, cake shop, cheese shop, chocolate shop, many shops selling souvenirs and cake/candies/biscuits of Huis Ten Bosch and the specialty of the Nagasaki Prefecture we were in. The shops selling food items offer samples for tasting and some other shops offer the ‘experience by hand’ to paint famous Dutch wooden clogs or make your own bear etc. Shopaholics will be happy here. But as this is only the first day in Kyushu, we could not buy any food items apart from some we may want to eat during our entire driving trip.  The foodstuff may expire before we reach home. But we were happy walking around taking photographs.

A walk around also gave us some ideas what we can have for dinner. We opted for one of the cheapest option – Curry Rice.  It is a no-frill option but certainly one of the cheapest around. We merely ordered the curry rice and they offer free cold water. But lots of other options are available and so pick what you like.

Where we ordered our Curry Rice

Our dinner:

The Katsu curry rice costs 900Yen and the one with only curry sauce costs 600Yen but we shared the katsu, it being so huge

 An example of other food options:

Such adorable food from Miffy Cafe - can anyone bear to eat them?

Yet, other possibilities:

Another one of those cute food

We then went back to the hotel as we were both exhausted. By 8pm, we were ready for bed. It was still raining so no chance of fireworks. Looking out of the window from our room, we got to see a bit of Huis Ten Bosch lighted up for the night.

HTB by night from our window

 And what is necessary whenever we visit countries out of the tropics – we needed to know the weather forecast and so, the tv got our attention for while. It was bad news as rain was forecast for the next 5 days! Ouch. We decided to go to bed and see if it is raining tomorow to decide if we wanna do more of Huis Ten Bosch or check out and drive to our next destination. Sleep came very quickly. zzzzzzzzz

Check out the website for more on HTB: http://english.huistenbosch.co.jp/

End of Day 1

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Hello world!

Welcome to my humble blogspace meant to share my travelling experiences/itineraries.

Read on! And have fun!

 

SW

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