Thursday, 17 September 2015

03.08.2015 ~ Travel from Okayama to Kobe (& Himeji)

The clothes were nearly dry when we woke at 07:30 so we asked for late checkout at reception (¥1600 for check out at 12:00). Breakfast was very good with a lot of variety and quantity; there was bacon, sausage, scrambled egg (all German style) along with the regular Japanese foods we'd become accustomed to seeing like rice and miso soup, but the was also Chicken Katsu Kare! (I am fiend for Katsu Kare so I had this, bacon & rice - amazing! M had bacon, egg, Katsu Kare, rice, miso soup) Breakfast is definitely worth the money at Kooraku hotel!

As we were leaving the hotel to sightsee the Manager came over & gave us a gift as a thank you for staying at the hotel (so lovely!). It was a box of Okayama made rice snacks/crackers & the wrapping said 'Sign of Joy & Happiness':

After thank yous all round we walked 10 minutes to the Orient Museum which was closed (many museums are closed Mondays but not always Mondays, so important to check). However the ladies at the desk said we could go in if we didn't mind the noise of children working (they were going to build a cardboard Trojan horse). We didn't and so we paid the entrance fee (¥800 each) & went in. Bitterly disappointed. There wasn't a single 'oriental' thing in the museum, perhaps 'orient' means something else in Japan..? The ground floor was special exhibit about the Trojan Horse and surrounding period; the permanent exhibit upstairs was full of artefacts from Greece, Italy, Egypt and mostly Iran. We didn't have a lot of time to spend in Okayama so I was really disappointed that we'd wasted time.

We hot-footed it over to Okayama Castle (8-10 minute walk) to take photos of the outside, and here we met a guide from the garden across the river who was offering free guided tour (in English) of the castle & garden. Would have been a great thing to do but we only had 40 minutes left at this point and the tour would've taken longer. So we headed back down to the bridge over the river to look at the garden, but the garden was huge and would've taken too much time to get to any points of interest. Disappointed we walked 20 minutes back to the hotel to pack washing and check out.

(Okayama Castle - the black castle)

We caught the 12:34 Sakura Shinkansen to Shin-Kobe where we changed to the subway to get to Sannomiya to drop our bags off at the hotel. When we arrived Hotel Villa Fontaine let us check in an hour early for free so we took the bags up and rested a while before getting the Special Rapid Service on JR Line to Himeji at 15:07. It's a 15 minute walk from Himeji station to the base of the castle with photo opportunities along the way. After crossing the bridge its a 8-10 minute walk uphill to the entrance gate to pay the entrance fee (¥1000/person). We arrived at the gate just after 16:00 and were told that the route takes 1.5 hours to complete and that although the Castle closes at 17:00, those already inside have until 18:00.

 (Himeji Castle - taken from the main street)

WARNING: Himeji Castle is not for the very young, old or infirm - especially in mid-Summer. It is about 15 minutes walk/climb uphill & up steps from the entrance gate to the main castle and once at the Main Keep there are 7 flights of super steep near-vertical stairs to climb to the top (which then you obviously need to climb back down). However the interior is very impressive and the views from each successive floor equally so. The sense of achievement on reaching the top was very satisfying.

 (Photo doesn't do the steepness justice)
 (View from the top)

(On the way back to the station we saw a huge amount of black Koi in the Castle Moat; there were so many!)

We caught the Special Rapid Service back to Sannomiya and rested in the hotel for 30 minutes before heading out to find food. I was very insistent that M try the famous Kobe beef, unfortunately the restaurants that sold beef were apparently solely beef restaurants and as I don't eat beef, this caused us some trouble to find a restaurant where we could both eat... About an hour later we made a snap decision to go into the only place that looked like it sold beef and pork. It looked like a temporary structure and could've potentially been a terrible choice. However it was great! It was another DIY hot plate 'restaurant' with really helpful staff (there is no English menu). Downstairs was the seating counter & kitchen, and upstairs there were 5-6 tables with hotplates & extraction unit each. We ordered 2x Kobe beef, 2x pork, 2x veg, 2x rice, 3x beer & 2x umeshu & water (which came to ¥7900, seems to be a common meal price for us). 

(M has said that Kobe beef has ruined regular beef for him now)

This was a great experience, and a real 'Diamond in the Rough' as from the outside you wouldn't necessarily expect the high standard of food and service we had. The only downside to it was that afterwards we stunk of smoke & grill smells, but a shower before bed easily resolved that.

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