Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Break 2014 Travelogue

We hemmed and hawed about spring break this year.  We used all our miles at Christmas, so we knew if we were going anywhere it would need to be fairly close, but somehow we just couldn't get up the gumption to actually make a plan and book tickets.  When the weekend before spring break came along, we were pretty well resigned to just staying home - not necessarily a bad thing.  We would save some money and we wouldn't miss the cherry blossoms.  We had considered Tokyo or Kyushu - the southern most island of Japan save Okinawa - and finally Sunday night we started looking seriously at Kyushu.  We decided that Monday morning we would call to see if the ferry to Kyushu had any available rooms.  If so, we would go for it.  If not, we would stay home.  So, in the morning I emailed our peeps at the clubhouse to have them look into it for us.  They returned with the news that all the standard rooms were booked, but there were two rooms left available - both Hello Kitty themed rooms! I told them we would take one.  My boys were in for a surprise!

So, Friday night we drove our car on board the ferry for the overnight journey to Kyushu.  Bear was mortified when we opened the door to our room.  I thought Beaver would be, too, but he actually quite liked it!  In spite of the theme, they both liked the curtains that closed around the beds.  The whole thing was pretty nifty - tidy little rooms on board the ship.  We settled in the for the night, and by 7:20 am we had arrived at Beppu - our first stop.

Beppu is a major hot spring town.  In Japan, that means onsens, but since we aren't so into that, we decided to visit the "Hells."  This is a collection of hot springs that, due to different minerals, are several different colors.  There are eight of them altogether, but after reading some reviews on tripadvisor, we decided to just visit two.  Beppu was an interesting place.  As you drive up toward the mountains, you start to see columns of steam rising up everywhere.

We went to the "Sea Hell" first.  We thought they would be interesting to see, but we had no idea how much fun steam can be.  The kids were enthralled.  They were thoroughly entertained by the sulfury smell and by the steam rising everywhere.

The Sea Hell.  Now and then the steam would clear away enough to see the cobalt blue of the pool.

This was another pool located within the grounds of the sea hell.

The gardens were lovely, and I was quite enamored by the sight of the steam rising throughout. 

There was a pool for soaking your feet but it was scalding hot and Mike was the only one who could take the heat!

When he came out, you could definitely see how much of his leg had been immersed. 

The cherry trees in Kyushu were in full bloom - a few days ahead of ours in Kobe.

Next we visited the "Mud" hell.

The kids could have stayed for hours.  They were having so much fun playing in the steam.  Sometimes it would blow over so thick you couldn't see the ground in front of you.

Look closely - Bear is pretending to be a steam demon.

I really wasn't expecting all that much from this stop, so it was a nice surprise that it turned out to be such fun!

Next we drove about an hour into the middle of nowhere to see this pedestrian suspension bridge we had read about.  It is literally a bridge to nowhere.  But still fun to walk across, I guess.

We were happy that the rain held off in the morning so we could enjoy the hells, but by the time we left the suspension bridge, it was coming down in earnest.  There was a map of the area at the bridge with pictures of local tourist sites.  We still had some time before we needed to head to Fukuoka for the night, so we decided to drive a few miles to what was pictured as a verdant green field crossed by wooden walkways.  Once there, we realized that the Kyushu tourist department must take their pictures in mid to late summer, not early spring.

We spent Saturday night in Fukuoka and attended church there in the morning.  After church we went to a park with hundreds of cherry trees to enjoy the blossoms, and then made a stop at the Fukuoka temple.

Monday we drove to Aso to see an active volcano.  It smelled terrible, was cold and windy, and there were all sorts of warnings about how the gas is poisonous.  It was cool to see, but we only stayed for about three minutes.

These shelters are built in case the volcano erupts.  Poisonous gases, shelters from eruption: perhaps you can see why I was happy to leave quickly. 

We drove a little way from the top and hiked out into this volcanic plain in the caldera.  While we were out hiking, we could hear all sorts of announcements in Japanese being blared over loudspeakers, but we were far enough away we couldn't tell what they were saying.  When we got back our car, the parking lot at the top of the volcano was empty, so we assume the gases had become too potent and they had closed off access for the time.  As we were driving down, they were letting cars go up again, though.

It was only lunchtime when we were done with the volcano, so we made a stop at this place called Aso Farmland that we had passed on the way in.  It had the most fun adventure park we have been to yet.  The boys played their little hearts out and were totally exhausted by the end of the day.

Several of these little huts were connected with a maze inside.  A real maze.  It took us quite awhile to find our way out of it!  Bear loved it so much.

We stayed another night in Aso and the next morning began our drive from Kyushu back to Honshu.  The landscape was beautiful farmland boasting this gorgeous, black soil.  We were sorry to get on the interstate when we reached it.

West of Hiroshima is the town of Yamaguchi, where we stopped to visit this limestone cave.  It is a whopping 9 kilometers long, 1 of which is paved with a trail for visitors to explore.

Naturally, it was a little tough to get pictures in the cave, but there were some very cool formations.  Beaver complained the whole time because he claims he is scared of the dark.  That's why he is clinging to Mike's side in this picture.  The rest of us enjoyed the cave very much.

When you come out on the other side of the cave, you arrive at this highly unusual and very un-Japanese looking landscape of limestone rock.

Possibly the world's greatest hide-and-seek playground!

Mike is looking for the kiddos after his turn counting.  See what I mean?  Where do you even begin?

Wednesday we had about a 6 hour drive home, but we stopped to see this bridge near Hiroshima.  It used to lead to a samurai village and you could only cross over it if you were a samurai, but now anyone can pay a few hundred yen to cross.

And on the other side?  Sakura trees, of course!

The boys loved it because there were plenty of rocks to throw in the river.

Another unexpectedly enjoyable stop!

Oh, how I love Japan in Sakura season!

In spite of being a little tiring from all the driving, we really enjoyed the trip and saw a number of interesting sites.  Now we're happy to be back home again!