The day that nearly wasn’t and only just became

19 sushi pink The day starts just fine

        then goes very slowly awry

        but can it be saved?

Awake early to a bright sunny day and breakfast at six – a little early for us but at least it would give us time to go up the hill and check for directions for the day on the internet with cemetery-side W iFi restored. But first breakfast itself another fantastic confection from our hosts. Sweet scrambled egg! Delicious and totally unexpected as you chopstick the first morsel in. A mingling of part caramelized sugar or honey mixed with the egginess of lightly scrambled eggs was amazing. It was accompanied by a really crisp salad and a variety of dishes with assorted pickles. Then we were brought steaming hot miso soup with tofu and spring onions. And there were pickles, vegetables and of course green tea. We checked out a little later, thanked the innkeeper and his wife for what had been a superb experience – something close to Japanese traditional home life with the work in the day.

P1010733  P1010725

Dee looking up at our minshuku                                 The wonderful wooden houses of Tsumago

Up the hill we struggled to fine phone numbers – remember we can only feed SatNav Lady phone numbers – for the three towns we wanted to visit – Magome, just down the valley on the Nakasendo Trail, Ogaki where they make wooden boxes and sake and other measures that are unique, Mino famous for its papermaking and then head off for the not-too-sure-about-this-one Pension Green Lake. Assiduous readers will recall it was the only room we could book after we’d decided to go to the Takayama festival. We could only find a few phone numbers so we did Navitime and Google maps search, wrote down route numbers and set off bright and early to enjoy scenery, mingled with stops at craft shops and general touristy wanderings.

We descend the Kiso Valley looking lovely but before long a sign beckoned us to Route 19 which our researches told us we needed so we turned onto it. Mistake! We had missed Magome as it was further down the valley road and would mean turning back so we carried on crossing that off the list and looking forward to more time at the others. But oh dear, oh dear Route 19 rapidly became like a suburban American highway (Boston readers think Saugus on Rte 1) with more car sales outlets than you’d believe, McDonalds, Lawson Station, Seven 11, Valor Supermarkets every ten kilometres. It was dreary and – being Sunday shopping morning – slow. Without a sensible map we couldn’t work out how to avoid this hell and make our way across country – if indeed such a way existed. Inexorably we were sucked into Nagone which I’m sure is a lovely place, albeit one of Japan’s industrial centres, of which we had plenty of evidence. All we saw was factories, the underside of various expressways crisscrossing the northern suburbs and more roadside malls, outlets and among other eateries the ubiquitous Co Co Curry House – no we haven’t been tempted yet. Eventually we decided to abandon it all and just head for Gujo and the Pension Green Lake.

As we were making better progress we saw a sign to Mino so thought we’d try to salvage something. Glad we did so as it’s another largely well preserved town of old wooden houses filled with craft shops and galleries. We also caught the end of Mino’s matsuri the spring celebrations we intend to see in Takayama tomorrow.

Mino float Mino laterns away

Matsuri float in Mino                                                        Making off with the lanterns

We enjoyed the afternoon very much and met a young lady in a large handmade paper shop who had fluent English and had lived in America and Belgium before returning to Japan. The car was lightly burdened with the spoils of some gentle shopping and we headed off to the final destination secure this time that the phone number was in the SatNav.

How wrong can you be? Midway along the Tokai-Horikuru Expressway she declared we had reached our destination. Ummm.  I suggested that it was a building we could see from the motorway and that there weren’t many phone numbers around so anywhere here will do. Fortunately we were able to leave shortly at an exit which mentioned Hirugano Kogen Ski Resort. We knew from directions that Pension Green Lake was ten minutes from Hirugano Kogen Ski Resort and Bokka No Sato. So we asked in our halting manner the toll gate operator if he knew how we could get there. He was brilliant and produced a map which had both places on but in Japanese but with circling with his pen and drawing our route we set off with renewed confidence. We got to a turning off Route 156 that had both places named but in fading light misunderstood the sign’s guidance and drove around for a further hour before phoning the Pension to say we were lost. Unfortunately the owner’s phone English was not good – she’s pretty good face to face – and my Japanese execrable. We manged to agree to meet at Bokka No Sato from whence she would conduct us home. Finally we met and followed her back to a farm house surrounded by fields and forest that remind us of nothing so much as a visit to our friends Natalie and Peter in Maine, complete with snow. Our hostess was charming and desolated about our woes.

The place is very pleasant and our take away dinner of sushi, crisps, nuts and beer grabbed from a J’s convenience store where we got our final correct directions was a fitting end to a day of disaster. Oh and Dee’s emails are not getting through and the iPad won’t charge.

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