Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 • Osaka Day 1
00:45 Hong Kong International Airport 香港國際機場. Checking in with our stowaway (13.5kg) and carry-on (4kg). Thanks to Uncle William for driving us all the way, we got there with time to spare.
01:25 – 05:50 Peach Airlines 樂桃航空 MM068 HKD980.
01:43 – 04:44 Peach Airline, from HKG to KIX. Touch down at Osaka Kansai International Airport. The first thing after immigration, grabbing our luggage and passing customs, is a visit to Lawson’s! Omg, have I missed their potato croquet with beef, ポテト コロッケ(牛肉入り), but constant vigilance! There’s lots more yummy food for this trip!
07:40 – 09:25 Bus from Kansai International Airport terminal 1 to Kyoto stn, $4180 for two-way, $2550 for one way. The bus stops outside Kyoto station, and for a cheaper option, Subway line would take us right to Shijo, or, like those carrying too many luggages, take a taxi.
09:28 Kyoto 京都. Temperature 16-18oC. It’s nippy, but it feels so fresh to be out here again.
09:33 – 09:42 Taxi from Kyoto station to Shijo Kawaramachi, ¥1000. Feels a bit excessive since Subway and Hankyu line train would get there in ¥360, but with all the heavy suitcase, figured it was worth it.
10:02 McDonalds. Sausage and egg mcgriddle with orange juice and corn soup, ¥780. Hah, I know you wanna ask, who eats McDonald’s on their travels?! Well, HK McDonald’s still hasn’t got this option, and it makes me feel like Canada, so there!
10:32 Sukiya すき家. Takeout of beef and green onion and egg rice, ねぎ玉豚丼弁当, ¥470. K also wanted beef rice, so we decided to share one too, yum yum!!
10:34 Kamo River 小鴨川. Although the leaves have mostly fallen, trees are bare, but it’s just as beautiful. And seeing this river means we’re almost home. I’m just so tired I pretty much pass out right on the sofa.
14:59 Off we go again. Although a more efficient use of time would be to sleep on the train and set out earlier, I was just too tired. So after finally booking our Ryokan for tonight, and re-packing lightly for a night, we set off.
15:09 – 15:11 Limited express train from Shijo 四条 station to Kurasuma 烏丸 station.
15:19 Walked to Subway line. Japanese railway system is one of the most efficient and yet most complicated transportations existing!
15:23 – 15:27 Subway train from Karasuma 烏丸station to Kyoto 京都 station.
15:30 八天堂 cream croissant ¥270. Right as we leave the Subway station we’re greeted by this lovely smell. They had an assortment of little buns and croissants with sweet fillings such as matcha and red bean, and looked entirely irresistible. Although, to be truthful, I wasn’t entirely in the mood for sweet things, and it mainly just tasted creamy and cold.
16:00 – 16:14 Special rapid train from Kyoto station to Takatsuki 高槻 station.
16:17 The train was very fast and got us there in 10 minutes. However, this was were things went wrong. First, we dialled the ryokan twice on a pay phone and got a Japanese message. We then went to take a taxi as the hotel website directions suggested and the driver, after we climbed on and showed him the address, refused to drive us because it was “not close” (with the language barrier I had the fear he meant it was closed down😰). After walking back to the station, the station officer didn’t understand our concern and pointed us to a tourist information booth. The info booth person mentioned it was in Osaka, where we answered “but it says: train from Kyoto to Takatsuki, this is Takatsuki isn’t it?”. Successfully stumping the info booth person, she refused our plea to help call the ryokan on the pay phone. Finally when all was lost, our phone finally got through to the ryokan and they told us they’ll send a car in 30minutes, and to wait at the west gate. Yay!! Our worries are solved, or so we thought.
16:40 Had a takoyaki at Gindako 築地 銀だこ at the station food court, Sweet Plaza, thinking all was well. Then after arriving at the west gate, we received the drivers call: “where are you?” Ooops! I’m sure the ryokan is used to guests making similar mistakes, and quickly confirmed it, we were at Takatsuki 高槻 (Osaka), not Takatsuki 高月 (Shiga) where they were located. As it was getting quite late and it’s recommended to check in as early as possible to enjoy and maximise the hot springs visit, we asked if we could rearrange our dates. They would allow us to switch the room to a different night, had we not reserved dinner of Ohmi beef; hence we would have to pay an extra ¥8800 for reserving another meal, on top of wasting all the lovely food. They sounded highly reluctant.
17:17 Special rapid train from Takatsuki 高槻 station. Having both heard “…Special rapid train…track 2…” we went off to track 2, waiting patiently, to see the Special rapid train…on track 1!!!! On hindsight, only track one had a railing guard to prevent careless passengers, and most of the Shinkansens or rapid trains would only pass on Track 1. But it’s hard to be so logical when you’re already in a hurry to go relax, and the station master barely nodded in confirmation to our horror, where we sprinted up the stairs, across the bridge, and back down just to have the gates close in front of us…😱. Just 😱.
17:32 This special rapid train would stop two stations before our destination, which would still be better than nothing, and we could catch a slower train for the remaining portion, but the ryokan suggested the next one.
17:47 – 19:20 Special rapid train Takatsuki 高槻 station to Takatsuki 高月 station, ¥1940. Finally, we’re back on track, albeit many hours later, 😑. Had a nice nap on the long journey, although got really worried when I awoke with a start and not knowing which station we were at. Oh well, we learnt something new, don’t trust romaji names!
19:22 Takatsuki 高月. Temp 12oC. We had barely left the station (most locals, all very well prepared, had long since exited) while we had to add funds to our suica card having gone much further than we originally thought. The ryokan employee had come upstairs holding a big name plate, after obviously not seeing us with the crowd and came to make sure all was well. (Wouldn’t it be sad if there’s a third Takatsuki station to misunderstand ☹️).
19:26 – 19:34 The drive wasn’t long, but outside was pitch black. Besides knowing we had gone from a lightly populated residential area to one with long stretches of fields, I would have no idea how to get there, and especially not in this darkness. So it was very kind of the ryokan to send a driver out this late in the night.
19:34 Ryokan Beniayu 紅鮎日式旅館.
Address: Kohoku-cho Onoe 312, Nagahama.
Located right in front of Lake Biwako 琵琶湖, around 15 minute drive from Takatsuki 高月 train station, is this delightful little Ryokan. It contains 16 rooms, some with ensuite baths, contains two public baths which is open from 06:00 to 09:30 and 11:00 to 24:00 (which I found out too late). Check in starts at 14:00 and check out is at 11:00. A free shuttle can pick up and drop off at 10:00 and 11:00 (I think) after check out, if pick up is required from the station remember to book ahead, although sometimes this option isn’t available with many booking websites! Rooms are in Japanese style tatami mats and contain futon beddings, which they’ll help lay out during your dinner.
Yamamoto-San greeted us at the front desk, him and “Boy” (our driver, Sorry, I really didn’t catch his name but that was how Yamamoto-san referred him as, how endearing, hehehe) were the only two staff of the ryokan that understood English, and their English was very good! When we were lost in the other Takatsuki station, he was able to give very explicit directions to us in English and via WhatsApp!
19:38 – 20:13 After registering our passports, we headed straight into the dining room as suggested, and what a feast greeted our eyes! The dining room overlooked Lake Biwako, although at this hour it was pitch black. Although there are modern style table and chairs in the bigger room, we got our own room sectioned off with wooden frame and paper (which does not block out sound unfortunately, and a HK group was talking rather loudly). There are low tables which had leg room underneath (Pit? Hole? Space?) and swivel stuffed chairs allowing very comfortable seating for quests not used to Japanese traditional kneeling. Already set out was the appetisers and a cup of red wine. A very amiable waitress with limited English came almost immediately to greet us and bring in our food. She very touchingly noticed we’d just came in, asked if we were cold, and promptly came back with a blanket! And in case we didn’t understand our waitress, a printed detailed English menu was prepared in advance, addressed directly to us, so we knew exactly what we were enjoying!
前菜 Zensai (appetizer) Canola flower and Egg sauce / Monkfish liver / Reginal shrimp
Original fish “Ayu” from the lake / Crown Daisy /
平皿 Hirazara (second dish) Ohmi beef (Aitchbone) salad with vegetable
凌ぎ Shinogi (side dish) Ohmi beef (Misuji) Nigiri sushi
焜炉 Konro (pot dish) Ohmi beef with Shabu-shabu with Soymilk flavour / Vegetables / Yuzu
強肴 Shii zakana (grilled dish) Ohmi-beef steak with vegetables / butter / Japanese orange / Wasabi,
蓋物 Futamono (stewing dish) Ohmi-beef stew
近江米 Japanese Ohmi branded rice
漬物 Tsukemono Japanese pickles
水物 Mizumono (Desert) fresh fruits / Brule made from Green Apples
As Ohmi beef was a specialty of this place, it was also the centre piece in most dishes. We personally liked the Hirazara dish as the raw Ohmi beef flavour came out the most, and grilled is always a favourite of mine, the Ohmi beef stew tasted a rather like any beef stew and the Ohmi beef just didn’t stand out as much (although it could be because we were getting full hehe). Don’t worry, despite so much beef, the meal also had a lot of veggies accompanying so it didn’t feel oily at all. There’s probably options for vegetarians or those who don’t eat beef, but you’ll have to contact the hotel for information about that.
20:14 After the amazing meal, “Boy” (sorry again for not catching your name) lead us up the elevator. The elevator floors were lined with bamboo mats (not exactly traditional tatami) so even without shoes on, they were a relief to step on. Our room: 水明 suimei 303, which corresponded to our table settings. Right beside the door was a closet for any big coats, then a small coffee machine and fridge combo (drinks in the fridge are included!! I’m sure my eyes *bling* while eyeing the orange juice when “Boy” announced that, 😅), then turning into the main bedroom, the table was pushed to the side with our futons neatly laid out and corners folded down. This usually isn’t the case, most guests arrive as soon as check in is allowed at ~14:00, and they enjoy a bath or tea in the room before going down for dinner, but unfortunately. Behind sliding doors was a two person sofa and table and a massage chair next to a huge window which I suspect overlooked the lake, but in this hour, windows were closed and blinds were down. Going straight ahead from the entrance way, was a bathroom, with a sliding door on the right a bidet toilet, and a sink on the right with shower and bath products, hair dryer (quite strong for a hotel one!), men’s cologne and shaving creams, toothbrushes and combs.
21:08 Heading straight out to the balcony, is an outdoor furo 風呂 and bath. Although the ryokan is sufficiently secluded with the balcony right above the lake and both sides covered by extended planks, but it was right outdoor on a balcony, and I couldn’t help but feel a little like an exhibitionist, showering and then sitting in the hot spring. But it was definitely a great experience, because even though the water was scalding hot (we had it up to 40 degrees initially, but around 38 degrees was great) the winter winds blowing softly prevented from feeling stuffy and suffocating. For those preferring a tad more privacy, there’s blinds that can be pulled down, so there’s some covering while still being airy enough. Ahhhh~
22:58 After the amazing hot springs, enjoyed some Japanese TV with cold orange juice and dressed in their provided Yukata, life seems almost perfect, the epitome of being relaxed! No wonder people pay so much more for a ryokan, the 一泊二食三溫泉 experience.