Monday, April 30, 2012

Dinner, Day 2

Our host not only runs a very comfortable pension, but is also a culinary genius! He said he cannot cook Japanese food - which we got a laugh about. On our first night we had Japanese fare at a local restaurant. On the second night we were told it was going to be French cuisine. Oh boy, were we in for a treat! The food just kept coming!

Our first course was a small appetizer of panchetta, baby leaf, red peppercorn, and the sweetest onion.  The whole thing was drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. This was Dustin's favorite course of the night.

Next came a four piece sampler with a mozzarella and spinach salad in the middle. Starting on the left is a slice of chicken with an orange slice and raspberry drizzle. Top is a small piece of sea bass with spicy peppers and a drizzle of olive oil. On the right we had a small slice of roast ham with the local tomato sauce we had at breakfast. The bottom is Tasmanian smoked salmon with dill and olive oil. Each piece was perfectly seasoned!

Course number 3 was sweet potato soup with frothed milk on top. So creamy!

Next up was a piece of sea bass with a nice crunchy outside. Underneath were vegetables seasoned with white wine and vinegar. I wish I could bottle up the white sauce around the plate. It was the perfect complement for the fish. Our host said it was a secret!

Next was a salad of fresh veggies with a light sesame dressing. My favorite part was the waffle-cut cucumbers!

Still more food! Next were two small squares of local beef. I have never had beef so tender! It was like slicing into a cheesecake. He vacuum seals it in a container then cooks it a long time at a low temperature. It was amazing! Dustin was very impressed with the soft onions. They were super sweet and had no crunch left.

DESSERT! This was my favorite part! He spun sugar! I have never actually eaten spun sugar before and it may be my new favorite treat. Like cotton candy mixed with a roasted marshmallow on a campfire. Yum! Underneath was a perfect creme brulee with a crunchy top. To the right of it was a small piece of fudge cake with raspberry drizzle to dip. Down from it was a small strawberry shortcake with fresh cream. Last on the plate was another new experience. Black sesame ice cream! I'm going to have to find it in our local grocery store. It was sweet but not overwhelming.

Finally, the END! A small cup of coffee to round out an amazing meal. We were so full we waddled out of the dining room. Definitely a meal to remember!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pressed Flowers

Our hostess is an expert in pressed flowers. All over the pension were framed pictures made entirely of pressed flowers.

So one night she pulled our her supply of pressed flowers and tweezers and we tried to make something.

My "Mt Aso"
So pressed flower arranging is not for us. Just breathing and - POOF - there they go. It was still lots of fun and gives me a whole new respect for people who have the patience for it!

Mt. Nakadake

Day 2: Today after a phenomenal breakfast we headed out from the pension with directions to a nearby waterfall.

Boar trap? Bear?

View from the Falls

Mossy wall

Strange little place
The falls had sculptures all around and a small shrine. There was a large frog, weird dragon, a big red demon, and (we think) angels. It was a little strange. But the water coming over the moss wall was an interesting sight. There was a small group of people around taking high resolution close-ups of the droplets of water on the moss.

After following the trail out from the waterfalls we saw a sign for "Immobility" that was 2 km away. Our translate app didn't come back with anything understandable and the kanji was not something we recognized. So up the trail we hiked. Curiosity and all that. After an hour of hiking, we lost the English signs and started following some pink markers and this sign:

We recognized some of the kanji for crater. Up the mountain we continued.

View from the TOP
The view from the top was amazing. We could see out past the mountains surrounding the caldera. Even though it was overcast, the view was worth the hours of hiking. (Remember Japanese don't believe in switchbacks! Straight up!)

Once we got to the top we noticed that the trail continued down a ravine and back up the other side. After hiking for three+ hours we couldn't turn around there! So onward we trekked. On the other side we found a volcanic desert and some interesting "volcanic cones."

Down the ravine

Black Desert
On the other side of the volcanic desert was Mt Aso Crater! We visited it the day before and had hiked (by accident) the difficult trail to get there. I will agree that it was a difficult trek!

On the way back down we found the original English sign we had missed. Still not sure what an immobility is, but we decided not to find out. We were so tired that a nice soak in the bath was all we could think about.

Back in the caldera - coming down
It took four hours to reach the top and only an hour and half to come down and walk back to the pension. A nice warm shower and soak in the bath awaited. Our pension hosts got a nice laugh out of the fact that we "accidentally" hiked the hard trail he had warned us away fro the day before!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Shirakawa Fountainhead

Day 1 - We got off a stop early from the bus to explore Shirakawa Fountainhead. The caldera surrounding Mt. Aso has many natural springs. There is a "spring crawl" (like a pub crawl, get it?) that tourists will travel to try all 28 springs in Minami Aso. We decided to just visit the one and call it a day.

From the main road it was a small walk back to a Shinto temple around the spring. Along the way we walked through a small flower garden.

Along the way we passed small stores that were selling empty bottles to fill up at the spring.

After paying a 100 yen entrance fee we watched people filling up huge containers and rolling them back to their cars. We only had a bicycle water bottle with us so that's what we filled up!

Below is a video from the day we were there. It produces so much water!

Mt. Aso, Day 1

Day 1: On the first day we were there we wasted no time visiting the top of the mountain to see the craters. Our host did not recommend hiking to the top as the trail is labelled "difficult." Instead he drove us to a neighboring train station where we caught a bus to the top of the mountain.

Trying to finish Wise Man's Fear
Dustin has been trying very hard to finish his book so he read for most of the bus ride. I couldn't keep my eyes off the mountains, flowers, and a few straggling cherry blossoms.

Welcome Center/ Bus Station/ Bottom of Ropeway
The bus dropped us off at about halfway up the mountain. There is a welcome center with ice cream and local gifts. It also is the starting point of a ropeway. We decided not to take the ropeway to the top of the crater. We were there to enjoy the trails! It was an overcast day, but the rain held off. So up the mountain we climbed.

Heading into the clouds

Brace against the wind!
The trail up the mountain is paved to the crater. We were the only people walking to the top. Most  took the ropeway or were taking taxis from the welcome center. It was very windy at the top of the mountain by the crater. The clouds were blowing through so quickly that it felt like rain on my cheeks.

Closed Area
Mt Aso has many craters that have developed over the years. The volcano is still active and often parts of the observing area are closed. In the above picture there is a huge crater on the other side of the small hill. Unfortunately when we visited the area was closed because of poisonous gases.

At the top of the crater - in a cloud
We stayed at the top for about an hour catching glimpses of the crater and sulfur lake in between clouds. Finally a big cloud rolled in that didn't seem to be moving. So we kept walking along the path.

At the top of the ropeway was a small stand selling chunks of sulfur and pumice stones. In the picture you can see the crater lake on a clear day.

"My, this is surprisingly heavy!"
Dustin really wanted some sulfur (I guess so he won't have to blame his toots on the dog!). We bought a small piece and a few pumice stones. The man running the shop gave me a free pumice stone. I'm guessing because I'm a tourist and not because I have scaly skin!

Thick clouds!
On the way back down we took a picture of Mt. Nakadake, the mountain we would climb on Day 2!

Mt. Nakadake

Friday, April 27, 2012


We had the most phenomenal breakfasts!

Day 1
 Day 1: Scrambled eggs (from the chicken down the road), fresh salad with sesame dressing, seasoned pork, walnut bread, and a plate of mixed fruit.

Day 2
 Day 2: Eggs (again, fresh that morning), pork, chicken piece, salad with French dressing, walnut bread, and fruit plate.
Daily Fruit Plate w/ fresh cream

Day 3
 Day 3: Potato and egg omlet with local tomato sauce (sweet taste, almost a mix between salsa and marinara), seasoned pork, salad with sesame dressing, pickled broccolini, yeast rolls, and a fresh fruit plate.

Day 4
Day 4: Hash browns with spicy ketchup sauce, fresh salad with Italian dressing, seasoned pork, and a poached egg with a sweet brown sauce.

Each day we had fresh coffee (and the Japanese like it strong!), fresh fruit tea, orange juice, vegetable juice, and fresh spring water. After being home for a few days my Cheerios and hard-boiled eggs just don't taste as good!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Hmm. When in Rome... I mean, Japan.

Can you guess what we ate? This was a "traditional Japanese feast" according to our host. Yes-yes, but what is it?!