Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 5: Flowers, Food and Fun in Furano

We woke up bright and early.  I went out bird watching before breakfast.  HM went running.

still misty

It was cold out. The crisp air made it perfect for a walk. Lots of birds were up and about too.

Breakfast was substantial.

scrambled eggs, sausage and salad

roasted potato

fresh butter to go with bun and honey

and of course orange juice, milk (Hokkaido milk - the best!) and coffee to boot.  And we thought we saw the chef!

Over breakfast, HM recounted the experience of running past a herd of cows and having them watch her with interest as they munched contentedly.  It was a first for her, she said.

So far, we were really enjoying our stay at the Potato No Oka.  The food was every bit as good as we had heard it would be, and the setting was so peaceful and scenic.  It was really a picture postcard experience.  The only downside, for us who do not drive, was its distance from the centre of Biei.  Even then, it was possible to walk from the hostel all the way to the train station.  Which was what we did that morning.

Our plan was to visit the nearby Farm Tomita and Furano, so first we had to get to the Biei train station. The walk there took just under an hour and it was mostly downhill, so it was really quite manageable.

We stopped by the pan shop and bought some "pancakes" for a snack. We were early for our train so we walked around a bit.

Hotel L'Avenir, conveniently located near the train station

The train we were taking was a special sightseeing train, the Norokko, that only ran during the summer months.  For 440¥ (SGD$7.04), we could be deposited practically at the doorstep of the lavender fields that the region was so famous for.

the Norokko

unblocked views - good for sightseeing

We passed by various train stations...

the Lavender Express, which ran several times a day, from Sapporo to Furano direct


small towns

even smaller towns

and mountains

I love train rides

And we had a snack of red bean "pancakes".

red bean and pumpkin "pancakes"

We alighted at a temporary station open only during the summer, for visitors to Farm Tomita, just seven minutes' walk away.

Lavender Batake (Seasonal) Station

Farm Tomita was part garden, part farm, part research facility - 100% tourist attraction.

we were welcomed by these

so we had ourselves one of these - pumpkin-flavoured

Armed with our first ice-cream for the day, we first went to view the fields of flowers.

chive plants

oriental poppies


icelandic poppies

So that's what the fields of Biei would have looked like, had we visited at the height of summer.   Next, we went to the distillery, to see how the oils were extracted from the flowers.

explanations in Japanese, English and more

science at work

wow, high tech equipment

Then upstairs we went, to the perfume workshop.

oils being processed

these would become perfumes

soaps being made

essential oils being added

We didn't forget to stop at the souvenir shop.

outside the souvenir shop

We bought a range of lavender products - soaps, sachets, bath beads - for friends, family and ourselves of course.

a little kid waiting for his mom

At lunchtime, we stopped by the cafe and had...

curry rice, korokke, bean salad and lavender calpis

wooden sporks!

so pretty, that

The korokke was great smothered in the curry.  Even HM who was not a fan of korokke enjoyed it.  The lavender calpis though was her idea and I have to say, at first taste, it reminded me of handwash hehe. There were other exciting items on the menu, like the lamb hotdog, but we decided not to overindulge, given the big dinner we were expecting later.

After lunch, we strolled through the greenhouse and past the flower beds surrounding it, stopping only to admire the flowers.

Back outside, we saw some of the workers...

thank you - the flowers were indeed beautiful!

Just before leaving, we popped by the Dried Flower House.

It was all very pretty, if rather twee, but we beat a hasty retreat anyway when HM started to sneeze.

Just before leaving, we decided to sample a few more lavender-infused goodies.

hmmm, what to choose...

We settled for...

lavender soda and lavender honey pudding

The lavender soda was like Sprite with a hint of lavender but the lavender honey pudding was delicious!

All in all, Farm Tomita was a pleasant way to spend a morning.

a little kawaii

a little corny

but very Hokkaido!

On our way back to the train station, we couldn't resist poking our noses into other people's business.

we wondered what were growing in these

ah so, the much-prized melons

melon plants, one presumed

We walked back to the train station under the blazing sun.

it was blazing hot

getting back on the Norokko

The ride to Furano was a short one, costing us another 180Y (SGD$2.88).

At the Furano Tourist Information Centre, which was right next door to the train station, we made some enquiries.  We were interested in touring the food-related sights, notably the winery and the cheese factory, and were hoping that there was a quick and easy way to get between the both.  Unfortunately, short of paying an arm and a leg for a taxi, we would have to choose between the two.  The wine factory was at least on the sightseeing bus route, but given my extremely low tolerance for alcohol, we plumped for the cheese factory instead, even though we would have to walk there.  It didn't look that far on the map anyway...

a Furano well-wisher

We walked down a busy main road, passing by lots of shops, a handful of which were picturesque...

... there were some attempts to make Furano more distinctive...

Furano pastries?

.... but really it was a lot more mundane and everyday, almost ugly, compared to Biei.  As tourists, we were glad that we had chosen to stay in Biei.

It got better once we got out of the town centre.

onto a highway of sorts

where we could see the (we presume) Furano River

over this bridge

out amongst the fields again

The walk took nearly an hour, longer than we had expected.  Nevertheless, we had arrived!

The cheese factory churned out more than just cheese.  Comprising several big buildings with workshops, demonstration rooms, cafes and so on, it also produced ice cream.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, in mid afternoon, most of the day's work had ended, so we viewed...

... lots of machinery ...

... finished products - circles of cheese in their little refrigerators...

... but really what better way to experience cheese-making than to eat the final product!

Shortly after we arrived, we chanced upon a cafe selling pizza made with the factory's own cheese.  It was not crowded so I suggested to HM that we take the opportunity to try some pizza before a crowd appeared.

not many people

a margarita


The cheese was very Japanese - very light but tasty, not heavy and rich.  We liked!  We washed it all down with some iced coffee, just the thing to keep us going on a sleepy afternoon.

Back on the tour, we walked through an exhibition on the history of cheese.  One of the things we did was try...

... cuttlefish ink cheese - tasted surprisingly normal!

We also tried our hand at milking a cow, albeit a mechanical cow.

all things are possible with technology

Of course the exhibition covered many other aspects of cheese and cheese-making.

all about French cheese

suggestions of how to use cheese in various ways, like cuttlefish ink cheese on ramen!

write-ups on the history of cheese

what to eat cheese with - look at all that fake bread!

On the way to the ice cream factory, we stopped at the ice cream stall.

ice cream on sale

there were lots of flavours - milk, cheese, pumpkin, corn, grape and asparagus

we had the asparagus - tasted quite normal - and the cheese - like milk, but saltier

With that we had tried the gamut of Hokkaido flavours!

We took a quick look at the ice cream factory...

don't those look like washing machines?!

... but it was getting late and we thought it best to start making our way home.  It had been a long day.  There were no cabs in sight and if we didn't find one, we were faced with an hour's walk back to the train station.  The solution?  HM saw a sign in the reception area, advertising taxi services.  She therefore summoned all her Japanese language resources and called us a cab!  I knew the language classes would pay off some day, hehe...

While we waited for our cab to appear, we amused ourselves.

were those little birdies?

kawaii ne - tomodachi (friends), a little birdy and a caterpillar!

uh, no, we weren't going to pose with no tractor

The taxi ride back to the train station cost us 1250¥ (SGD$20), not so expensive after all, and the taxi driver was friendly and professional.

this was a different cab company, with a snowman logo; ours had a crown on top

The next train back to Biei was a regular local train, not the Norokko, and there was a good half hour wait so we took a walk around the station.

some interesting architecture near the train station

another Furano mascot

taken while we sat on a bench outside the station

We did find a souvenir shop where we bought one more lavender-inspired gift.

Back in Biei, we went back to the pan shop to buy some bread for breakfast; we would be leaving too early to have breakfast at Potato No Oka.  And then we hopped into our second cab for the day, for a ride back to the hostel.  The fare came up to 1150¥ (SGD$18.40), money well spent, we thought.

we retired to our room, to freshen up before dinner

Then HM read in the upstairs alcove, while I took photographs of the place.

artworks by local artists

HM wanted a shot of the rather twee slippers we had been given to wear

We were early enough to watch dinner being served.

one of the hostel staff, again not the chef

We figured the chef worked half a day at the hostel, and possibly cooked at the restaurant next door at night.

an early diner

our dinner table

chicken in a white wine cream sauce, with Japanese mushrooms

onion soup

potato with mustard sauce


Dessert was lime jelly. During coffee, we had Mr Matsuda's company. When he heard that we were going to be staying at the Asahidake Bearmonte Hotel, he asked us to send his regards to his friend, a Mr Watanabe who worked at the front counter.

We retired early enough that night but were awakened by the sound of ambulance sirens, which in the midst of rolling fields, was rather disconcerting. It became alarming when we could clearly hear the ambulance drawing into the hostel's driveway and then the carpark. We sat up and wondered what was happening. Could it be Mr Matsuda? We sat there and speculated for quite a while, not wanting to seem overly kaypoh (busybody) but a little worried nonetheless.  In the end, I stumbled downstairs in my pyjamas but could see no one, no commotion, without being too intrusive.  I withdrew in defeat and we went back to sleep, flummoxed.

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