Alcatraz

Boat to Alcatraz

Cable-car

Cable car – Alcatraz in background

We had a really interesting tour of Alcatraz today. After a 10 minute ferry ride we opted for the self guided tour with headphones giving commentary from former inmates and wardens. Very chilling … tiny cells and brutal punishment in solitary. This was a place you really would not want to be sent to. Many infamous inmates such as Al Capone were there and no-one ever escaped.

In the afternoon we had the obligatory  ride on a cable car. The streets are so steep you wouldn’t want to be walking. We went up to the top of Lombard St which is supposedly the most crooked street in the world. Tourists line up in  their cars just to drive down this street … we were brave and just walked down.

Had to be up at 3:30am today to start our journey to Steamboat. We arrived safely and are completely overwhelmed at the size of the place. Our room has fantastic views of the ski slopes. The snow is currently falling which promises a great day of skiing tomorrow.

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summer-of-love

Haight and Ashbury – Hippie Heaven

You know you remember this

Cathy-at-Golden-Gate

Cathy on Golden Gate

Play the music

Went on a walk around the Haight and Ashbury area today. It felt great to hang out where Hendrix, Joplin etc spent a lot of time. Some interesting shops … you could buy some great tie dyed clothes. We were in the park where amazing free concerts took place in the 60s. I was waiting for Timothy Leary to appear and offer us some mind altering substances and tell us to “turn on, tune in, drop out“. We were tempted to nude up and frolic through the gardens but our minds were not altered and it was too bloody cold.

Had a walk across the Golden Gate bridge and saw the US contender for this year’s Americas Cup doing some trials on the bay. More great seafood for dinner. We have booked a tour of Alcatraz tomorrow.

Fishermans-Wharf

Fishermans Wharf

bay-bridge

Bay Bridge

Following a brief return to Sydney we are now in San Francisco. We are still a bit jet lagged after the 13 hour flight but have already had a bit of a look around. Our hotel is right on the bay at Fishermans Wharf and we have already sampled the local cuisine … Dunganess Crab and Clam Chowder. We went on an open top double decker bus to see the sights. The Golden Gate bridge is every bit as spectacular as we had imagined. This is a really interesting place with lots of different cultures and unusual people. The hippie culture of the 60s was born here with many bands starting off here (Greatful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santa … to name just a few).

The weather is a bit chilly but fine and sunny. We walked along the pier area this afternoon and then went on a night trip on the open top bus – a very cold experience. We warmed up at Boudins Bakehouse with clam chowder in a freshly baked sourdough roll. Looking forward to another day of exploring tomorrow.

ice-festivalJapanese ‘Supremes’ performing in front of a huge ice sculpture

tokyo-station

Main entrance foyer at Tokyo station

The Sapporo Ice festival was amazing as usual. We joined the 2 million visitors to see the incredible ice sculptures. Walking around on the icy footpaths was really treacherous and the below freezing temperature had us well rugged up. The detail in these huge sculptures was unbelievable and the night lights brought them to life.

We became really adventurous during our Tokyo layover and caught the train into the city from the airport. It was a 1 hour trip on a really fast train and Tokyo station was as big as a small city. Five levels of platforms and multiple tracks on each. Needless to say we were completely overwhelmed (and lost). We managed to find the Imperial Palace and the surrounding parkland and gardens and spent some time exploring. Next time we will spend more time here and have a really good look around.

Hanazono-bus

Aboard the Hanazono shuttle bus. Roads are like white valleys.

Cathy-on-bus

A little nap on the way home from a big day in the powder

Went to Abu-Cha restaurant last night. This is the most popular restaurant in Niseko and we had to book 10 days in advance. The food was stunning. The best tuna sashimi I have ever eaten and a specialty of the house – sukiyaki.

The snow has continued to fall and the wind has become stronger. It was our last day skiing today so we were up early and ready for first lifts. The only problem was that no lifts were operating due to the strong winds. We sat in the restaurant with the other earlybirds and waited for the winds to ease off and the lifts to open. Lots of disappointed skiers started drinking the from those huge towers of beer at 9 am. Most of the punters either got drunk or tired of waiting and went home. We were rewarded for our patience when the lifts finally opened at 12:15 pm. Nobody around and really deep (in some places … nipple deep) powder  in the trees. It was amazing, we could ski untracked snow on every run. We completely destroyed our already weary legs as we knew it was our last day.

Off to Sapporo tomorrow and, weather permitting, a visit to the famous ice festival where huge ice sculptures are lit up by multi-coloured lights. We also hope to have a day in Tokyo during a 12 hour layover between flights. Then on to the next leg of our adventure – San Francisco and Colorado … stay tuned.

magic-carpet

Covered conveyor belt keeps the outside elements at bay on the way to lunch at Hanazono

Cathy-with-drink

Cathy trying to make a decision at the supermarket – tiny beer or HUGE whisky

The photo above shows another quirky part of Japanese culture. You can buy 150ml cans of beer and 4 litre bottles of whisky and sake … I just don’t get it.

The past few days have given us extremes of weather. Yesterday we awoke to +4deg and rain so we had a day off skiing and did lunch in the village. Around lunch time it started to snow and hasn’t stopped since. A Siberian blast hit us last night and delivered us lots of fresh snow but with gale force winds the temp was down to around -25. Most lifts were closed but we used our local knowledge to catch the early shuttle bus to Hanazono which is slightly protected from the wind. We braved the conditions and were on the first lift at 8:30am. The freezing temp had is warming up inside the restaurant after an hour of skiing. We had a couple more attempts at venturing outside but finally admitted defeat and caught the shuttle home to a warm bath.

There was a 6.5 earthquake close to here last night. With active volcanoes all around it’s no real surprise. It’s great being in such a wild place and experiencing nature’s extremes.

saki-tasting

Sampling the product at the saki factory in Otaru

sushi

Best sushi in Otaru

otaruL

Leisurely stroll along the canal in Otaru

Had a great trip to the coast today. Our guide was a local woman (Saori) who was a former member of the Japanese cross country skiing team. She drove us to Otaru in her own car and gave us some interesting commentary on the way.

I dont think I would make a successful weather forecaster here as I picked today as fine and sunny … it was just the opposite and snowed all day. We still had an interesting day highlighted by a traditional Japanese sushi meal.

The coastal scenery was a bit different from Forster. Snow on the beach and a bleak looking ocean. I don’t think I’d like being a fisherman in Otaru.

Cathy-at-Annupuri

Cathy enjoying uncrowded slopes at Annupuri

fat-skis

Fat skis to match the fat skier

Had a pretty cruisy couple of days with reasonably good weather and no wind. We skied all 4 mountains; Hirafu, Hanazono, Higashyama and Annupuri. From the top we could see the Sea of Japan. Had the usual all you can eat buffet lunch at Annupuri which made the ski home a little harder.

We are doing a bit of a cultural tour tomorrow to the coastal city of Otaru. This a a major fishing port for Hokkaido. The promise of a tour of a saki factory and and authentic sushi lunch has us looking forward to the day.

fresh-tracks

Fresh tracks … how sweet is this?

waist-deep

Waist deep. Even with only one good shoulder this is so much fun

We were up early and on first lifts this morning. The snow that fell yesterday and throughout the night left a deep cover on the mountain. As an added bonus the sun made an appearance – this is the Nirvana of skiing. I hired a pair of super fat (115mm under foot) powder skis with the new camber/rocker technology. I was a bit skeptical but found they really worked well in the deep stuff. Cathy took some great pics and was very brave to negotiate steep terrain, deep snow and trees to get in position to get such terrific shots. The one armed cripple seemed to forget his limitations and advanced years to charge down the mountain with a grin from ear to ear … bit a a brain explosion perhaps.

We are now both suffering from thigh melt down and will need the obligatory hot bath and beer to relieve the pain. I don’t know how we will keep up this pace for the rest of our trip.

heavy-snow

Shot from our bedroom window at 3pm … dumping snow

After a fine start to the day with beautiful soft corduroy on the runs we were hit by an incredible snow storm. Over half a metre fell in a couple of hours and the whole mountain became a powder playground. The temperature was around -15 so the snow quality was amazing – light and dry. We were in thigh deep snow on the groomed runs and our tracks filled up almost as soon as we made them. This is the reason we keep coming back here. Of course we went hard for as long as our legs kept us upright. A hot bath tonight has helped ease the muscle soreness and prepare us for tomorrow.

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