Overnight in Nagano

I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Nagano, and it was a very relaxed and pleasant journey (once I found my way through the organised chaos of Shinjuku and Tokyo stations). Travelling this way – as in local transport options – certainly broadens the travel experience into something personal and unique. It’s almost, but not quite, an immersion. Again, everything is labelled and announced in English, so the Shinkansen is super easy to use.

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The train flew through the Japanese landscape, winding its way through urban Tokyo, rural towns and villages, never ending tunnels and across mountains splashed with the pink and white of cherry blossom. There was even fog at one point. I was in Nagano, host for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, in around 90 minutes.

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Nagano itself is a pretty city, still flush with cherry blossom, and ringed by mountains. I checked into my hotel (Hotel Metropolitan – the staff apologised for not being able to provide me with a single room… I wasn’t fussed because I ended up with a double!) and immediately made my way to the Zenkoji Shrine. It was just over 1.5kms from my hotel on foot.

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And what a pretty walk it was. I strolled past restaurants and art galleries and convenience stores and clothing shops which seemingly co-existed happily. The shrine itself is huge, built on a hill overlooking both the mountains and the city surrounds. Cherry trees in various stages of bloom lined paths snaking around the shrine. The smell of incense permeated the warm air, and the chattering of Japanese families competed with the chanting of the monks.

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I wandered around the grounds of the shrine for close to two hours, just soaking up the atmosphere and taking photos. I stopped for an ice cream here and a toilet stop there. Japanese smiled and nodded and konichiwaed me; I wonder if they wondered what a gaijin woman was doing there alone. This is the first trip I’ve done as independent traveller and I am relishing doing things in my own time, in my own way. I’m loving being on my own. I’m enjoying the fact that I’m one of only a few foreigners in each of the places I’ve been. I’ve not seen too many people who have my European features!

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On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at an Italian restaurant and had spaghetti bolognaise made from Japanese black beef (yes, I *know* soba noodles are a Nagano speciality, but I really felt like pasta). It was delicious, which I didn’t expect! The sauce was rich and tomatoey, the beef tender and tasty, the pasta cooked al dente. And at ¥500 ($5), it was a steal. I stopped at the Lawson Mart and picked up a bottle of Chilean wine to have in my hotel room. It had gone 5pm and the wind had a chill that was absent earlier, and a glass or two of cab sav is a perfect chill-breaker. That and a bath, which I’m indulging in each evening.

I must say this hotel is lovely. Big room, big TV, big bed, big bath. And I’m just about to open my big bottle of wine…

2 Comments

  • Bookabye Baby April 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Finally catching up on your blog posts – this sounds like bliss!

    Reply
    • dileeshus April 25, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      It’s been a very relaxed, interesting and challenging (in a positive way) trip, Melsy. Although my feet don’t feel relaxed with all walking I’m forcing them to do… even with excellent transport!

      Reply

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