We got up early to go to Sweet before our 0900 train to Nakatsugawa. Sadly, although this fabulous bakery and coffee shop was supposed to open at 0700, it was still closed at 0750. My heart sank, which was set on a beautiful custard doughnut for breakfast. Actually, I could have cried. Imagine, a wee boy looking forward to Christmas and waking up on 25th December to no presents. That’s how I felt.
How can anyone make up for the presence of no gifts on Christmas morning? How can anyone make up for Sweet being closed?
We found ourselves in The Daily Hot instead, discovered en route to the train station. Vile in comparison. Filter coffee, mass-produced pastries (and more pastry than filling at that) and a vulgar, plastic table and chairs to boot. I say vile. If such a place had been found in this country, I’d be calling it fabulous. In Japan, it was not. Sadly.
Surprisingly, our train out of Matsumoto was a couple of minutes late. The gods were smiling down upon us, though, as we were able to sit at the very front of the train and were able to see exactly where we were going. How often does anyone get to look out from the front of a train? Hardly ever. This was quite fabulous. The scenery was amazing.
I’d love to sit in the cockpit of an aeroplane and see where I’m going. I don’t suppose this will ever be possible post 9/11. Who knows, one day I might win the lottery, get myself a solid gold toilet, wipe my bottom with twenty pound notes and buy myself an aeroplane?
On alighting the train, we took a bus to Magome. Our hike route began along the former post road, the Nakasendo. What a super walk, taking us through a mountain pass and into lots of wee rustic villages. There was a slight odour of a tourist trap, but not a stench.
We stopped for lunch in Tsumago. Soba noodles. Mine came with mountain vegetables. Ian’s came with mushrooms. Quite delicious. Oh, and there seemed to be something like broccoli buds floating around in the broth, but broccoli it most certainly wasn’t! A very unusual flavour that I really can’t describe, though with a very floral scent. I’ll probably never know what this was and it will trouble me unto my grave.
The town was idyllic. Almost a tourist trap; it’s saving grace was its sheer beauty.
From Tsumago, we walked onward to Nagiso for the local train back to Matsumoto. Japan is a land of diversity. Sometimes they are organised and informative, sometimes they are not. Sometimes there are road signs every ten paces, sometimes there are not. Sometimes these road signs point to two roads. Finding our way from Tsumago to Nagiso, many road signs to start with, none to be found mid way through the route, was not easy and our finding it depended more on luck than judgement. However, find it, we did, coming across an abandoned steam train on our way. In the mountainous recesses of Japan, one finds oneself surrounded by the past, enveloped in a fog of all things passé. Finding the steam train seemed to thicken the fog for me, making it something of a smog. However, the smog cleared once we’d made our way onto the platform of Nagiso station and onto the train. It might have been a local train, stopping practically everywhere and doubling the journey time of our return leg, but the locomotive and rolling stock were modern, clean and fast. Our journey was smooth, our arrivals and departures were bang on time. Japan certainly does not live in the past. Their long-gone steam trains smack of futurism. The British rail infrastructure really is set in the past. The Japanese planned the Shinkansen routes in the 1930s. World War II getting in the way and the reconstruction that followed put pay to that, but get on with it they did. By the 1960s, the Shinkansen were up and running. Here in the UK, we take ten years to even consider resurrecting a railway route which Dr Beeching ordered abandoned in that same decade. It really is quite shameful.
On arriving back in Matsumoto, we found quite a beautiful Chinese restaurant. The guy greeting prospective punters at the door met us with a very broad smile.
“Do you have an English menu?” I asked.
“Do you speak English?”
His last response was, quite obviously a lie, but with such a painful hunger and our feet so tired, we resolved to trust our handy phrase book, go in and see what we ended up with.
Ian asked for a small beer. Indeed, it was a small glass of beer, along with a very large bottle. I should imagine two litres. He might have drunk one by the end of the meal, certainly no more.
I knew Sake would finish me off, so ordered orange juice. Very nice. Another drink also arrived for the two of us. Compliments of the house, it would seem. A very delicious aperatif.
We managed to inform the waiter we wanted no pork, but would like rice. Remember, now, dear reader, he told us he spoke no English:
“Do you like chicken? Fish? Shell fish?”
His English was limited, but he was able to have a brief chat with us, beginning with the usual, “Where are you from?”
He was surprised to learn we were Scottish and went on to tell us he would be in Glasgow, Scotland sometime in December to see one of his favourite football players. I think Ian recruited another fan, our waiter having asked him for his name, address and telephone number.
I’m not jealous.
The meal was out of this world. A large tray, choc-full of goodies. Very enjoyable and unlike any Chinese meal I’ve ever eaten in the West. I also wonder how it might compare to Chinese fare served in China. I don’t think I’ll ever find an answer to that question. I have no intention of going to China, not while the human rights abuses continue as they do – and there’s no sign such things will end any time soon. Sadly.
After eating, we returned to the castle for some by night photographs, taking some others en route. I had an edgy feeling that the castle grounds became a cruising area after dark. Eek!
So tired was Minge, I barely remember going from the castle to the hotel. I do remember, however, that I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.