Dynasty Travel: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Part 2 of Day 3

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Last week's post focused on the Hakodate Morning Market,
which was, in my opinion, the highlight of Day 3.
Today, I'll cover the remainder of Day 3's itinerary
Dynasty proposed itinerary:
Hakodate Morning Market --> Onuma Park --> Konbu Museum --> Fruit Orchard --> Lake Toya
Actual route taken:
Hakodate Morning Market (函館朝市) --> Konbu Museum (北海道昆布館) --> Onuma Park (大沼国定公園) --> Lake Toya (洞爺湖) --> Fruit Orchard (Cherry Picking)
Right after Hakodate Morning Market,
we were packed off to the Konbu Museum.
I think our tour guide and driver were in a hurry,
as they were trying to get us there in time for the pre-lunch-time show.
Upon arrival, we were very quickly ushered into the museum's movie theatre.
The theatre is dome-shaped,
and reminded me of the one at the Science Centre when I visited as a kid,
the kind where you have to lean back in your seats for an immersive experience.
Those of you with motion sickness - beware.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the show at all,
for the simple reason that it was a documentary in Japanese.
I couldn't understand anything at all.
And after the hearty meal at the Hakodate Morning Market,
I got into a food-coma and almost fell asleep at the show.
What I do know, was later learnt from a quick stroll through the museum exhibits:
Konbu, or more commonly known as kelp,
is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking.
You can often find it in Japanese broths and stews, and even as garnish for dishes.
It's also mentioned that kelp is high in iodine,
and has pretty good health benefits when consumed.
The museum is also connected to a Konbu shop.
I have to say, I was amazed at the amount of stuff that kelp could be made into;
there was kelp tea, kelp candies, kelp condiments, kelp jelly, snacks made from kelp, and so on.
There's even a stall selling kelp soft serve!
What I liked was that there were samples all laid out for customers to try.
This way, you won't regret what you bought!
As we were rushed in,
I didn't manage to get any pictures of the place.
And after the show, I was too sleepy to remember to take pictures.
Though, to be honest, I also didn't think the place was really that picture worthy.
Lunch was immediately after the Konbu museum,
and once we were done with that ,
we went on our way to Onuma Park.
Onuma Park is yet another picturesque park with great photo points.
Lakes dotted with islands, lush green forests and a majestic dormant volcano (Mount Komagatake).
I understand that the islands around the lakes are mostly linked and accessible by foot.
Or if you are feeling up for a bout of exercise,
you could also go boating around the lakes.
There's also a boat cruise if you wish to tour the lakes but are too lazy to do the rowing yourself.
Unfortunately, we were explicitly told that we did not have the time for the boat cruise.
The prettier way to go boating at Onuma Park - just hop onto a swan boat!
The waterfront restaurants at Onuma Park are also renowned for their Onuma beef.
Unfortunately, we were not even in sight of any one of those restaurants,
or I would have ordered a beef stew to go.
All I can say is, I'm definitely going back on my own one day.
Lake Toya was a toilet stop en-route to the fruit orchard.
It was such a short stop,
I barely had an impression of it,
especially since it was another lake-and-mountains spot and right after Onuma Park.
Actually, wait. I do remember something.
Another crowd of rowdy tourists.
I could barely get a shot without them being in the pictures.
Lake Toya is known as an ice-free lake,
which means it never freezes, not even in winter.
This is because the lake is situated near an active volcano, Mt Usu.
I think it would be quite an amazing sight in winter!
So, not even half an hour later,
we were again back up on the tour bus,
en-route to a fruit orchard for our fruit-picking session.
Once we arrived, we found out that it was cherry season.
In fact, I found out the seasons of various fruits!
Very important picture to take!
Then the next time I come back to Hokkaido,
I will know which fruits are in season and the best to eat!
Hahaha! Completely motivated by food!
So according to that banner:
Strawberries - June to July,
Cherries - June to July,
Peaches and Plums - August to September,
Grapes - September to October,
Apple and Pears - from September,
And I went nuts when I happened to walk past the grapes section.
The farmer was very nice to let me in to take a shot.
My first time picking fruits straight off trees to eat.
Well. City-girl here who unfortunately had, until then, never visited a fruit farm before.
I think I probably took more pictures of the cherries than actually going around to eat them.
However, cherry picking and eating was not the highlight of this portion of the itinerary.
What stole the show (or more appropriately, the tummy),
was the amazing home-made apple pie sold at the farm.
Seriously one of the best apple pie I had ever eaten in my whole life.
In fact, one of the uncles in my tour group was so taken with the apple pie,
he went back and ordered the 3 pieces left on the shelf.
Heh. There were only 7 pieces to begin with,
so you can imagine how glad I was that we managed to snag one!
The apple juice there was amazing too!
My parents and I all went back for second and third helpings!
Unfortunately, silly me forgot to grab a name card,
and so I now have absolutely no idea where the farm is.
Sigh. I hope I'll find out one day, so that I'll be able to go back for that amazing apple pie...
Cherry picking was the last item for the day,
and we were then driven to the Rusutsu Resort Hotel.
It was a very long journey to the hotel,
so even though I thought we ended at the farm relatively early (in my opinion),
we reached the hotel in good time for dinner.
As the Rusutsu Resort Hotel featured twice in our itinerary,
I will write more about it in a later post. 
Thoughts from Day 3:
The Hakodate Morning Market was definitely the highlight of the day for me.
In fact, I plan on coming back a second time for a more rounded experience,
including getting myself a (very) fresh seafood donburi for breakfast.
Fresh squid is a speciality there, and if you are not squeamish about food,
you should also enquire about the squid-dancing bowl.
Those of you who are on a self-drive trip,
the Konbu Museum can be a great pit-stop;
a bit of an attraction, some shopping, water, food and toilet.
Admission is free and you can quickly stroll through the place.
For those of you who are park lovers,
I'll strongly recommend Onuma Park.
I was impressed by the beauty,
and there are definite signs that you could do quite a bit to spend time there;
boat rides, cycling, camping, hiking, etc.
This one is also on my list to visit again,
and the next time round, I must have my Onuma beef.
Lake Toya.
Huh. What? Did I get there?
Oh I did.
Never-mind. I'll go again next round and see if I can do more than just take 5 pictures.
However, given that it really is just a lake,
perhaps it would also be smart to check out nearby attractions and/or hotels for a better experience.
Tourist Information:
Hakodate Morning Market --> See previous post
Konbu Museum
Address: 32-1 Tōgeshita, Nanae-chō, Kameda-gun, Hokkaidō 041-1102, Japan
Operating hours: 9 am to 5 pm daily
Admission, including the theatre, is free!
Onuma Park
Website: http://www.onuma-guide.com/ (it's in Japanese though)
Address: 85-15 Onuma-cho, Nanae-cho, Kameda-gun, Hokkaido
I understand its less than 5 minutes walk from JR Onuma Koen Station
Operating hours: 8:30 am - 6:00 pm (April to November),
and 8:30 am - 5:30 pm (December to March)

Dynasty Travel: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Day 3 (Part 1) Hakodate Morning Market

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Day 3, Hakodate (函館) to Lake Toya (洞爺湖)
When you join group tours,
it is not uncommon to hear of itinerary changes.
An experienced tour guide would occasionally re-arrange the sequence of some of the attractions that had been listed in the itinerary given to you by the tour agency you signed up with.
This is oftentimes to accommodate for better routes, better timings or to avoid something such as peak hour traffic, etc.
As part of a tour,
I feel we should not be too rigid about them making such changes.
Leave it to your tour guide, tour leader and driver.
After all, they should know better than you.
Ok. Usually they do.
However, as a general courtesy,
I do believe that the tour guide/leader should at least alert their paying customers if there are to be changes.
Also, as paying customers,
you should instead note that they do not short-change you on the attractions that you had been promised.
I've heard and read of stories where tour groups had some attractions on the itinerary cut out,
so you might want to be a bit more alert about that.
Unless of course, there is a very valid reason.
Our tour guide Ms Reikko had already informed us on the first day that there would be changes to the itinerary.
Day 3 marked the first changes we had to the itinerary:
Dynasty proposed itinerary:
Hakodate Morning Market --> Onuma Park --> Konbu Museum --> Fruit Orchard --> Lake Toya

Actual route taken:
Hakodate Morning Market (函館朝市) --> Konbu Museum (北海道昆布館) --> Onuma Park (大沼国定公園) --> Lake Toya (洞爺湖) --> Fruit Orchard (Cherry Picking)

My parents and I had a very good night's rest at our hotel.
I'm sure the exhaustion from the earlier flight in played a huge part.
Unfortunately, we were told to assemble at 7:30 am in the morning,
and I had to be dragged out of bed.

Heh. As a result, I forgot to get pictures of my morning breakfast at the hotel.
Not that you missed much,
I didn't eat a lot (although I still went for the yummy ikura with rice),
mainly because I was excited about our first stop of the day:
The Hakodate Morning Market!

The first interesting photo for the day!
This sea gull greeted us when we alighted from our tour bus,
and it was still there when we returned.
Love how it seemed so completely unfazed by all our oohing and ahhhing.
Where possible, I love visiting markets and/or supermarkets when I'm overseas.
I'm a foodie, and I simply love checking out local fresh produce.
Prior the trip, I had already found out that there was a lot of seafood to be had!
I didn't get my donburi (seafood rice bowl) nor did I have much time to fully explore the place,
but I still left the market with a full stomach.
If you ever head to Hokkaido during melon season,
you have to MAKE SURE you have them.
At Hakodate Morning Market,
you can find slices of these really sweet and yummy melons on sale.
Prices of each slice ranged from 100 to 300 yen.
All I can say is you pay for what you get,
the 100 yen ones are yummy,
but the 300 yens are super-duper awesome.
It so happened that again, we met with students at the market.
Ms Reikko explained to us that the students were there as part of their learning journey to experience different aspects of life.
The students were sent off to various shops to help out as part of their learning!
I've heard a lot about how the Japanese value character building in their education,
and I think it is a privilege to see it happening with my own eyes.
All over Hakodate Morning you can find loads and loads of fresh seafood.
The hawkers were very nice,
they not only let me take pictures,
they also tried to offer their explanations of their wares and one even passed me a crab leg to sample!
And those crabs?
They're seriously huge-ass.
They're even bigger than my palm,
some bigger than both my palms put together!
At Hakodate Morning Market,
you can also purchase dried seafood to bring home.
My family and I are enjoying the packets of dried scallops we bought home,
they're super sweet and I love it when my mom boils soups with them.
At one end of the main street at Hakodate Morning Market,
you can also purchase a packet of dried squid snack (see pic above) to accompany you on your journey.
We finished one packet in our hotel room just 2 days later,
and bought another packet home.
That one didn't last too long either.
This probably doesn't make much sense,
I mean, how can dried squid be fresh,
but seriously, it was the freshest dried squid I've ever tasted.
It was so sweet and I could still taste the sea in it!
I mentioned earlier that I left with a full stomach right?
This was one of the stalls where I had my fill of fresh and grilled seafood,
including abalone, prawn, crab legs and...
Fresh yummy uni! Cracked right open in front of me!
Absolutely delicious! Yums!
I'm drooling just thinking of it right now.
This was another stall where we had more grilled scallops and abalone (see pics below).
Simply awesome.
I was so glad I didn't eat much earlier at breakfast,
otherwise I doubt I would have filled my tummy with so much fresh, yummy seafood.
So if you ever visit Hakodate Morning Market,
make sure you have your breakfast at the market itself!
I'm pretty sure with such fresh seafood around,
you can get a great bowl of seafood donburi!
Tourist Information:
Hakodate Morning Market
Opening Hours: 6 am to noon (January to April),
and 5 am to noon (May to December)
I'm told that its only less than 5 minutes to the nearest JR Hakodate Station.
Bring cash along, I hardly see much credit card machines around.

Dynasty Travel: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Part 2 of Day 2

Sunday, 9 August 2015

I've already covered Fort Goryokaku in last week's post.
Today, I'll share about the rest of Day 2 in Hakodate.
Day 2, Hakodate (函館): Fort Goryokaku ( 五稜郭) --> Motomachi District (元町地区) --> Mt. Hakodate (函館山)
 Motomachi District was a short ride from Fort Goryokaku,
and pretty soon, we were disembarking again from the tour bus.

Hakodate was one of the first Japanese ports opened to foreign trade,
and I was told that many foreigners settled in the Motomachi District.
Motomachi District hence acquired this interesting fusion of Western-influenced Japanese architectural  streetscape.
Add in the sloping streets and scenic port views from some of these slopes,
and you'll really have the makings of some really pretty pictures/memories to bring home.

Picture above depicts the remnants of a Western-style Samurai abode.
I was told that the windows were reinforced with metal to defend against enemy attacks.
Unfortunately, only this part of the building now remains,
it is not open to the public
and the city is trying to preserve it.

The Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward.
An ornate pale blue and yellow mansion that looked impressive and regal from the outside.
It is a notable historic landmark in the area near the top of a slope.
The Hall had also hosted members of the Japanese Imperial family.

The Hall is now open to tours,
although I believe you have to pay an entrance fee to get in.
Unfortunately, again, we did not have the luxury of time,
and could only stand outside for quick shots.

The road from the Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward to the Hachiman-Zaka Slope will lead you past several churches, including the Roman Catholic Church (pic above).
The Russian Orthodox Church is next to the Roman Catholic Church.
However, I could not get decent pictures
as there was a rowdy horde of Chinese tourists blocking the entire entrance.
That same route from the Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward to the Hachiman-Zaka Slope
is also lined with stalls selling soft serve cones!
The soft serve comes in interesting flavours as well,
like melon, squid ink and miso!
Or if you could stick to the safe and ever-good Hokkaido milk flavour.
I was still high on the melons I had from Fort Goryokaku,
and so continued on the melon streak and ordered a melon soft serve for myself.
Amazingly good.
Be sure to grab one to accompany you on your leisurely stroll!
One aspect that captivated me was the fact that Motomachi District is a current residential area.
It felt like I was going house-viewing,
and I enjoyed appreciating all the lovely home designs and décor that were on display.
There were many photos that I did not dare take,
even as I longed to capture them on camera.
I was worried that they would consider it rude to take unsolicited shots of their homes.
That being said,
I actually wondered why some of them would choose to reside in a tourist zone.
Given the rowdy crowds I saw that day,
I imagine it won't be really peaceful at all.

The lovely port view from the top of the Hachiman-Zaka Slope.
I braved the onslaught of traffic for this shot,
but I honestly think that the locals there are used to the tourists doing so.
The drivers were the most patient bunch I've ever met,
and graciously let us take our photos before driving past.
Not a single horn was sounded!

Our stroll ended at Perry's Square.
Another slice of the local life,
and amazing views of the port.

Once we were done at Motomachi District,
we were brought to our hotel to freshen up and for dinner.
Our tour guide was concerned that we would miss dinner if we headed off to Mt Hakodate first.
A pretty good move too.
My parents and I were already exhausted from the lack of sleep on the flight,
and we were not the only ones in the tour group.
The hotel stop really helped to perk us up a little.
Our very first meal provided by the tour at Hotel Kahantei.
The ebi tempura was already cold by the time we got there,
but the ikura (fish eggs) rice bowl was good.
Even my mom who's not a fan of ikura changed her mind about fish eggs and enjoyed it.
Also, our very first taste of crabs.
What you see in the picture is the Hairy Crab.
It's not very meaty but the meat and roe were sweet and succulent.
I love my crabs but this one ain't really my favourite.
I'll get around to the best (in my opinion) in later posts.
Once we were done with dinner,
we hopped back on the tour bus and headed up Mt Hakodate.
Mt Hakodate is listed as one of the Top 3 Best Night Views in the world,
with the other 2 being Hong Kong (The Peak) and Naples.
I'm fortunate enough to have been to The Peak twice already,
and now only have Naples left on that list.
I have to say, I LOVE the night view.
I actually sat at the observatory for a good 30 minutes,
just appreciating the night scenery.
I also have to agree with mom on this,
between The Peak and Mt Hakodate,
I prefer the night view at Mt Hakodate.
The Peak presents a night scene that appears pulsating and more vibrant,
reminiscent of Hong Kong's pace of life.
Mt Hakodate however, seems softer and more romantic or peaceful.


Unfortunately, I could not get to the best vantage point to grab shots.
In fact, this was the best position I had in the biting cold wind.

It so happened that there were hordes of Japanese school students on excursion then,
and that added on to the already tourist packed crowd.
Plus, this group of savvy photographers who set up business taking class photos and tourist photos.
They had the best position but refused to let me even grab one quick shot.

Yes, and the wind was biting cold.
My dad and I enjoyed it but mom was freezing.
So those of you who are afraid of the cold,
my advice is to wear something thicker and to bring along a windbreaker.
(It's really more the wind that will kill you)

You might want to watch out for your camera too,
in case it gets those blurry spots on the lens.

We then queued for almost an hour to take the ropeway down.
Thank goodness the car was huge,
and could accommodate the crowds.
Even then, it felt like I was in a bird-cage with all the chirping and screaming school kids.
So while I did enjoy the view on the way down,
I was also very relieved to get out.
I believe on normal days,
the ropeway would be an awesome way to get up Mt Hakodate and worth every penny.
Tip for those of you taking the ropeway:
If you're going up Mt Hakodate,
face the back of the car, and to your right for the best view.
So if you're coming down,
it would be the front of the car.

By the time we got back to our hotel,
we were dead beat and I was entertaining the beginnings of a headache from the lack of sleep and the screaming kids.
So I was most pleased to see that they had already laid out our futons and duvets on the tatami mats.
Our room at Hotel Kahantei was small, clean and basic.
In fact, it was so basic, our very first allocated room had no bathroom attached.
We later understood that the hotel was frequented by locals.
In fact, I think we were the only foreign tour group there then.
Every other guest I saw were Japanese!,
Also, Hotel Kahantei branded itself as an onsen hotel,
so most locals would take their baths at the onsens.
Unfortunately, this was not an option for us,
and we requested for a change of rooms.
So if you're interested in this hotel,
you might want to make a note of it when making your reservations.
Otherwise, this was the typical traditional Japanese tatami room.
I always had trouble with the small-sized Japanese rooms,
so it was amazing that for once, I didn't hit myself in the small, cramped bathroom.
And to give you an idea of how small that bathroom was:
The bath tub/shower sits on one side of the room,
and the towel racks on the opposite side.
It was effortless for me to stretch across the room after shower for my towel,
and that's stretching across the toilet and sink as well.
That said, I was otherwise quite pleased with the room,
and fell dead asleep very quickly.
Thoughts from Day 2:
Fort Goryokaku is what I consider a "hit-and-miss".
It's one of those attractions that you might want to consider going if:
a) there is additional spare time to be had, or
b) if the "season" is right for it, e.g. during hamani or cherry-blossom viewing
However, if you do get to Fort Goryokaku,
I do hope you'll get to the Observatory Tower for the bird's eye view.
Drop by the Lucky Perriot for a meal too.
I strongly recommend Motomachi District and Mt Hakodate on the itinerary.
In fact, both are close enough to each other that you can do them on the same day.
In addition, you should also consider getting to the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses along the Hakodate Bay Area.
In fact, I was sore that we did not get to the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses in the tour.
That would be a haven of shopping for curios,
enjoying the food at the various restaurants
and having a sip at the famous Hakodate Beer Hall.
Tourist Information:
Motomachi District
Go to this link and download the Hakodate City Walking Map.
It details a really good route to take through the various landmarks in Motomachi District,
the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses and all the way to the Mt Hakodate Ropeway.
Mt Hakodate Ropeway
Operating Hours: 10am to 10 pm (25 April – 15 October),
and 10 am to 9 pm (16 October to 24 April)
The car departs every 10 minutes.
Fares: Adult fare is 660 yen for one-way and 1,200 yen for a round trip.
Child fare would be 330 yen for one-way and 600 yen for a round trip.
Do note that if you have at least 15 persons,
you can enquire about the group rates.
Hotel Kahantei
Local name:  ホテル河畔亭
Address: 2-5-23 Yunokawacho, Hakodate 042-0932, Hokkaido
Local address: 〒042-0932湯川町2-5-23
I couldn't get a hotel website,
but you can google and book the hotel through various third-party sites.

Dynasty Travel: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Day 1 and Part 1 of Day 2

Sunday, 2 August 2015

It's actually interesting that I'm starting this blog with my experiences from a group tour.
Truth be told, this Hokkaido trip was only the second time I joined a group tour.
My first was a distant and vague memory of Hong Kong when I was fresh out of the university,
and that was more than 10 years ago.

Since then, I've heard enough about group tours to be terrified of them;
horror stories about crazy and/or inconsiderate tour mates,
being rushed around, being pushed into tourist traps, and so on.

Plus, I don't really enjoy being around people.
Yeah. I know that sounds strange, especially given that I work in the social service sector.
(And yes. I do enjoy my work. I think I do fairly well and I haven't murdered anyone. Yet.)
But really, outside of work, I just don't want to bother with the idiosyncrasies of strangers.

So how did I end up going on a group tour to Hokkaido?
Well. It's all thanks to my parents.
They signed up for a group tour to Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara) in May,
fell in love with Japan (can't blame them)
and came back extremely pleased with their tour guide and tour leader.

They talked incessantly about going again,
and since I was drained at work, and long overdue for a break,
I fell under the spell and agreed to sign up with them to Hokkaido.
The lavenders was what sealed the deal.

Heh. You might then ask:
"So, would you go on a group tour again?"
(Almost all my friends sure did.)
Well. I survived. As did the people on the tour.
I sure as hell won't rule it out, but for the safety of other human beings,
it wouldn't be my preferred mode of travel.

Perhaps, one day in future,
with more group tours under my belt and if I'm still maintaining this blog,
I'll make a note to compare it to the free-and-easy.

But to get there, I've got to get the travel bits started on the blog first!
So here goes:
The Dynasty Travel 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour.

Day 1: Singapore --> Tokyo (東京) --> Hakodate (函館)

The night we had to get to Changi Airport coincided with the (now infamous) night 2 major MRT lines broke down.
For those not familiar with the Singapore transport system,
the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) is our main public train system,
very much like the Hong Kong's MTR system.
Even the abbreviations sound similar. Go figure.

Anyway, we saw pictures and read reports on social media about the traffic chaos
that reigned as a result,
and got worried about not being able to get a cab to the airport.

Thankfully, we were fortunate that it wasn't an issue for us,
and we managed to get to the airport early.
I'm still amused thinking about how I was being superstitious (which is a rare occasion),
and hoping that it wouldn't be an indication of how the trip would turn out to be.

Our tour group was booked on the JAL (Japan Airlines) red-eye flight to Hakodate,
with a transit at Tokyo Narita Airport.
And since our tour group was big enough (23 pax in total),
Dynasty Travel arranged for an additional local tour leader, Ms Tracy,
to tag along to take care of the group.

We were supposed to meet her at 11:30 pm and she arrived almost on the dot.
Initially my mom was still wondering about it,
as being seasoned group tour travellers,
my parents remarked that one indication of a good/responsible tour leader would be one who was already waiting at the airport at least half an hour ahead of the stipulated time to catch the early birds.
Mom later found out that Tracy was one of the unfortunate ones who had difficulties calling a cab.

My seasoned group-tour-travelling parents decided to skip the admin brief,
and we proceeded to check-in after collecting our SATS Premier Lounge vouchers from Tracy.
I just followed my parents' cue on this,
especially since they seemed to be able to tell me what the admin brief would be about:
where the lounge is, noting of luggage tags, luggage restrictions, etc.
Ok, yeah. Great if its your first trip,
but a waste of time if you already know what you're doing,
so good call to move on to the club lounge.

Apparently when you sign up on a tour with Dynasty Travel,
you were allowed access to the club lounge.
Not too bad a perk.
It was my first time in the SATS Premier Lounge.
Obviously, I had to take at least a picture and blog about it.
Nothing more memorable than your first time isn't it. Heh.
A buffet line was provided at the lounge.
While the selection wasn't wide, there was a combination of Asian and Western cuisine,
and a decent enough variety of carbs, sandwiches, soups, meats, greens and beverages.
Though it probably wouldn't satisfy the most exquisite of taste-buds either,
the spread was definitely adequate to sate most appetites.
Facility-wise, there were ample tables and seats.
Clean and comfortable too,
which would be important since I assume they would be entertaining people who might be in-transit and tired from the travelling.
I was however, more impressed with the clean shower facilities.
(Unfortunately, no pictures).
Very thoughtful and useful for those in-transit and/or on long-haul flights.
It was a long 12-hour journey before we finally touched down at Hakodate.
Those souls who can sleep anywhere, despite anything?
You irritate the hell out of me,
especially when I desperately need that sleep.
In fact, unless I'm facing exhaustion,
I can only fall asleep on beds or sofas.
Needless to say, no matter what I do,
I don't do well on red-eye flights.
What made it worse for me this round was that we were parked at the end of the airplane,
near the toilets and where the engines were the loudest.
So with all the people moving in and out of the toilets,
the carts moving up and down the aisle, and the roaring of the engines,
my attempt to disturb everyone else with my snores never stood a chance.
In fact, I gave up mid-flight and proceeded to watch Kingsman: The Secret Service on the in-flight entertainment.
(Perhaps in future, there should be a post on surviving red-eye flights)
Something new I later learnt from Tracy and Reiko (the Japanese tour guide assigned to the group):
airlines tended to allocate tour groups seats at the back of the planes.
At least, if I ever get on a group tour and a red-eye flight again,
I'll be more prepared the next time.
But that lack of sleep accounted for the dazed state I was in.
And that dazed stated accounted for the lack of photos and recall of what transpired in Narita Airport during our transit.
I only remember our yummy lunch at one of the restaurants
(but forgot to get pictures),
and my mom enjoying a round on the massage chair while waiting for our flight to Hakodate.
Day 2, Hakodate (函館):
Fort Goryokaku ( 五稜郭) --> Motomachi District (元町地区) --> Mt. Hakodate (函館山)
Upon landing in Hakodate,
we were immediately whisked off in the tour coach to the very first destination on the itinerary:
Fort Goryokaku.
Fort Goryokaku is a picturesque park shaped like a pentagram or a 5-point star.
The Western style fort was built in the last years of the Japanese Edo Period for defence against possible Russian invasion.
Apparently, the star shape allowed for more canon emplacements than the traditional Japanese forts, and also reduced the number of blind spots where a canon could fire. 
The fort also became the site of the last battle of the Japanese Civil War (the Boshin War),
which marked the end of the Japan's long-standing feudal system and the beginning of the new Meiji era.
After the fort had lost its military importance,
it was eventually turned into a public park and subsequently designated as a National Special Historic Site in March 1962.
Fort Goryokaku now houses the Former Magistrate Office (pic above),
which is right smack in the centre of the star-shaped fort.
I understand that the original building was in ruins and demolished after the war,
but later meticulously reconstructed by the city and re-opened to the public.
We were also told that the building is now a museum,
and visitors could also go inside and explore the rooms.
In the interest of time though, we didn't get to go in,
and only admired the building from outside.
Unfortunately, although picturesque, I think this was the wrong time to visit Fort Goryokaku.
While the lush greenery of Fort Goryokaku was peaceful and made for great photos,
having visited several other outstanding parks (and in their prime season),
I felt that Fort Goryokaku at that point, paled in comparison.
However, when researching online prior to the trip,
I read that more than a thousand cherry trees were planted along the perimeter of the star-shaped moat.
Imagine how much more splendid it would be to visit the star-shaped Fort Goryokaku when the cherry blossoms are blooming.
Now THAT would have been a sight to behold.
Or perhaps even if it had been wisteria season,
for I walked under a (very) short wisteria tunnel.
That in itself, would have been lovely and could have been the highlight of the visit that this one lacked.
It would have been a great Kodak moment too.
Ok, my bad. It would be harder for you to imagine if you have never been there before.
But don't just take my word for it, go google for images of Fort Goryokaku in cherry blossom season,
and you will see what I mean.
Adjacent to Fort Goryokaku is the 107 metre tall Goryokaku Observatory Tower (pic above).
It's supposed to provide you with a bird's eye view of Fort Goryokaku and its lush greenery,
which probably would have been breath-taking,
and again might have been that punch-in-the-gut beauty that this portion of the trip lacked.
And as you can tell from my choice of words,
I unfortunately did not have the luxury of going to the top of the observatory tower.
Time was again the factor that decided against us being able to get up there.
That's the one thing that you would probably read about repeatedly here;
the tight schedule the group had to follow on this tour,
and the lack of time to properly explore the places.
While walking to the Observatory Atrium (ground level of the Goryokaku Observatory Tower),
I chanced upon Lucky Pierrot, that's just across the traffic junction.
Lucky Pierrot is a popular hamburger chain unique to Hakodate.
Not only is it renowned for its burgers,
each Lucky Pierrot outlet also has its own unique themed décor,
including angels, Santa Claus, Audrey Hepburn, swings and so on.
If you ever visit Hakodate, I hope you can make the time to visit at least one of its outlets.
Just look out for that clown! It shouldn't be hard to miss.
I was told that the Chinese Chicken Burger, Lucky Egg Burger and Pork Cutlet Burger were really good.
Plus, rumour has it that the chain served Whale Burger too.
Unfortunately, even when I sprinted there (and probably did my former track teacher proud),
there was an extremely long queue when I got there.
I could only give it a quick glance and bade it a tearful farewell,
before forlornly returning to where the tour bus (and group) were already waiting for me.
As a consolation though,
I had one of the best milkshake I've ever tasted (pic above).
The Observatory Atrium has a mini shopping zone where you can purchase Japanese snacks and other gifts and souvenirs.
If you happen to visit during melon season,
there's also a stand next to the shopping zone selling melon, melon juice and that awesome milkshake.
That melon and the cup of juice was so fresh and incredibly sweet,
it provided immediate respite from the hot summer sun.
And if you ever had fresh Hokkaido milk,
you'll understand why that milkshake was so damn good.
 Grab all that you can eat because the melons sells out fast!
Those who were slower in our tour group missed out on the melons!
For me, the food ended up being the most memorable on this portion of the trip.
Heh. Though the good friends who know me might probably not be surprised by that.
Right. I've written quite a bit.
Not quite used to writing this long for a blog post really,
and I'm actually quite tired.
So I'm just going to keep the remaining portions of Day 2's itinerary to the next post.
Tourist Information:
Fort Goyrokaku
Former Magistrate Office
Opening Hours: 9 am to 6 pm
From November to March, 9 am to 5 pm.
Admission ends 15 minutes prior closing.
Closed from 31 December to 3 January
Entrance Fees: 500 yen
Goryokaku Observatory Tower
Opening Hours: Late April to late October, 8 am to 7 pm
Late October to late April, 9 am to 6 pm
 Entrance Fees: 840 yen