Thunderbirds are snow go

You must forgive us for thinking snow is fab. I’ve been to the snow in Australia and it is nothing like this. It’s magical!

An early morning start saw us racing to the train station and quickly reserving seats before hopping on board an unreserved section of the Haruka Express, the same train that had delivered us from the airport.

At Shin Osaka we crossed the platform to catch Thunderbird 5, bound for Kanazawa. Much easier than on Tracy Island. Unfortunately we couldn’t book seats together, though there was an empty seat next to B until Kyoto and the passenger booked in it was kind enough to swap so we all sat in a row.

Out of the window of the Haruka we had glimpsed snow on the distant mountains, but as we approached Kyoto it got thicker and thicker dusting the trees and roofs. Then beyond Kyoto the landscape turned to white, thick drifts covering buildings, including the unroofed train platforms, and icicles hanging from roofs that would now and then shed a clump of snow.

Our route followed the edge of Lake Biwa and the flat grey waters made for a gorgeous backdrop for the winter scenery, the early morning sun shimmering off the lack. Even the sleepyhead local at the window woke up and opened the curtains.

Bamboo was bent over with the weight of the snow and rice paddies were semi-frozen grey slush.

After three hours we arrived at Kanazawa and quickly dumped our luggage into a coin locker before heading to the bus service office. There was a sign that no services to Shiragawa-ko, the famous preserved villages in the mountains, were available.

Well, we had taken a risk by not prebooking. But then, as we walked back towards the station, came more bad news from the owner of the night’s accommodation. The Nagaden train from Nagano to Yudanaka and the snow monkey Park there were both closed due to heavy snowfalls.

That threw all our plans out. Alex was especially disappointed as that meant no ryokan and onsen.

We had to sort something out, but first we needed food. Beatrice insisted we go to a sushi place under the station. Fortunately they served grilled as well as raw fish sushi and we enjoyed a really nice lunch, though quite expensive.

What to do now? Well, Kanazawa itself is one of my favourite cities and I was quite prepared for not going to Shiragawa-ko. But we needed somewhere to stay. A search turned up the Kanazawa Dorms Inn, where Mum and I had stayed previously. It’s got a hot spa bath, check. It was also offering us a semi-tatami room to sleep the three of us. Close enough to an onsen ryokan for our purposes. I booked it.

Outside of Kanazawa station were snow drifts and slush, so at least we were experiencing snow. Something I think is new is that there is a sightseeing bus serving around town that is free for JR Pass holders. We hopped aboard the next service.

Kanazawa’s greatest attraction is Kenrokuen gardens, in my opinion the best strolling garden in Japan. I’ve only seen it during cherry blossom season,  when it opens its gates during the day and night. We used this opportunity to see it during a different season.

Wow! Beautiful, gorgeous, superb, magical…

The heavy snow gave the gardens a whole different complexion, from the slush covered turtle pond to tree branches held up and protected by bamboo poles and ropes.

There were even a few plum blossoms giving a little colour to the landscape.

I’ll let the photos do the talking.

When we finally departed I decided we should walk rather than catch the bus back.

We had fun playing in the grounds of the 21st Century Art building and discovered a small shop selling delicious hot “melon pan” – sweet buns – with cheese or ice cream.

We stopped at Tokyu Hands, which has everything you need even if you never knew you needed it.

Another favourite area of mine is the Nagamachi Samurai Area, with its cobblestone streets and clay and straw walls hiding away the old samurai residences. It’s very atmospheric. Unfortunately the Nomura preserved residence, with its tiny but gorgeous garden, was already closed for the day.

So we continued our long slog back to the hotel. Darkness was falling by the time we reached the Omicho markets, closing for the day. One shop was selling the most perfect looking cherry tomatoes and B bought a few. Apparently they tasted as good as they looked.

Our feet were very tired, unused to the snow boots that had protected us so well. B and Alex were using “kairo” – disposable chemical hand warmers, I just relied upon layers and felt quite warm.

It wasn’t until we reached the shopping centre next to the station and our hotel that w found something to eat. The restaurant served ochazuki seafood and rice bowls for B and some fried food for Alex and I. Alex insisted we order the French fries. I was happy to have the rice, salad and soup.

Afterwards, as we wandered around the shops, we found one – Plaza – selling Timtams amongst other things.

Back at the hotel we quickly exchanged our warm, but bulky, clothes for room wear and went up to the top floor for a hot bath, B using the ladies’ facility, Alex and I the men’s.

The 42 degree waters were wonderfully relaxing on our tired feet and legs. We liked the outdoor bath the best, letting the body alternate heat and cold.

On returning to the hotel room we had a few snacks, then Alex, who has been sniffling all day, collapsed into the futon that we had setup for him on the floor, saying he felt tired and sick.

Suddenly he was at the sink throwing up.

I had to unblock it with only plastic bags for protection.

Hope he doesn’t have gastro. At the TennĊji Miyako Hotel there lots of signs warning guests about norovirus. I hope he hasn’t contracted that.

Tomorrow should be more relaxing for him, just two Shinkansen rides up to Kakunodate. So long as he doesn’t get sick. Dealing with sick kids in train is not fun – I know this from experience.

Hope things go smoother. Or should I blame “The Hood?”.

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