Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 - Day 2

While the weather was still nice (i.e. sunny not snowing) we decided to head over to the Sapporo Tsudome where there were snow-themed attractions. It was fun, Jeff and the kids went rocketing down a snow slide in inner-tubes and when I say rocketing I’m not kidding. I watched Jeff take down the poor Japanese guy who was supposed to stop him at the end. It was fun but the snow front had moved in, no more nice sunny weather, and it had become wicked cold – I could no longer feel my toes even with toe warmers in place. We warmed up, a bit, inside the Tsudome with some food from the various vendors – don’t ask me what we ate, you have to leave your Western taste buds behind when you come to Japan and just go for it – I think it was squid on a stick, scallop balls and a seafood curry which was really good. The kids all eyed the fare with a lot of suspicion but were game to give it a try.

Since all our kids really wanted to do was to have one massive knockdown snowball fight we headed over to the Government Building which was located close to our hotel and had a lovely garden area. When we first arrived in Sapporo our tour guide had announced that “for those of you who would like to have snowball fights this would be the place to go” … mmm, well at least he didn’t name any names on the bus but this was clearly for the Cleary’s information. While Jeff and the kids battled it out (I did not partake and strangely enough no one even asked me to be on their side. I would definitely be a liability since, well, um - I throw like a girl. The worst girl ever.) I headed out to take some pictures. I love how the Japanese wrap their shrubbery and protect their trees with a winterized version of a maypole and who can resist a beautiful Japanese bridge in the winter snow? With the snowball mania over we headed to the train station to catch a train to Otaru.

Snow Gleaming Festival - Otaru
On some excellent advice we decided to spend Saturday afternoon in the small seaside town of Otaru. The train ride out there was easy and pleasant, the train for a large part of the trip hugs the coastline of the Sea of Japan and from the side I was riding on all I could see were very grey and angry looking waves rolling in, crashing somewhere beneath my line of vision (I tried hard not to think about that too much). When we arrived at Otaru the snow was really coming down and the winds were whipping in off of the Sea of Japan. I have to hand it to the kids, they were really troopers – we have pictures where you cannot see the end of the block because we were in white out conditions. Otaru has a much smaller snow festival than it’s more well known neighbor but I enjoyed this far more. This is an old fishing village with canals and charming old buildings and warehouses from the Meiji and Taisho Eras. Besides the architecture they have become known for their Venetian Style Glass shops and yes, I managed to scoot into one with enough time to make a few select purchases before closing time ( We had tried to time our arrival to have enough time to walk around the city before the illumination began at 6 – by the time we walked back to the canals the lanterns were floating in the water but sadly for us the wind was so brisk that night that nearly all of the floating lanterns were out.

On the way back up the hill to the train station we went down a snow path that was lit by 100’s of candles. It is apparently a park that runs along an old train track, the first train line in Hokkaido. It was such a departure from the crowds and lights and festival atmosphere of Odari – it was beautiful. There were hundreds of little vignettes carved into the snow, there were globe lanterns embedded with pressed leaves and flowers illuminated with a candle resting in the crook of a stick that were charming. It was lovely and with the shelter provided by the buildings lining the route this area was almost down right comfortable – well, as comfortable as you can be in –3 degrees Celsius (not factoring in the wind chill).

We returned to Sapporo by train and again, it was a treat. I love riding trains and this train was one of the older ones I’d been on since arriving in Japan. It had the seats that flip in either direction – I think the kids got a kick out of seeing that. And the train whistle, it was one of those long high-pitched whistles that American trains don’t make. As a matter of fact as I was looking out the window, with the snow swirling by, the train rocking back and forth and the whistle piercing the night sky my thoughts drifted trying to place where I had heard that sound before and then I remembered … one of my all time favorite movies Dr. Zhivago. How fitting.

One more entry to wrap up Sapporo, till next time, sayonara.

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