Happy Feet At Asahiyama Zoo

Credits: Solid Brown paper and Guess What Tag by Splendid Finn You are awesome kit; Bow, Ribbon Cluster, Staples, Saving Memories word art by Sus Design

Mumble, the penguin character in that animated film, Happy Feet, that cannot sing but tap danced his way to Gloria’s heart. Yes, that same Mumble charmed its way into my heart too.

So the whole reason I was in Asahikawa was to be up close to the likes of Mumble. All these chubby birds had to do was waddle past us, and it made my day.

An icon of winter at the Asahiyama Zoo, the 30-minute Penguin Walk is designed to keep them fit and healthy during the cold months as they hardly get enough exercise by staying indoors especially during winter. They are known to walk as far as 1 kilometer a day towards the sea in a group to catch fish.

A close relative and very similar in looks to Emperor Penguins – what Mumble is – the King Penguins are 2nd only to the Emperor in size. To distinguish, the latter’s orange feathers on the side of their head are colorful and brighter than that of their cousins. Their beaks are also the longest of the whole family of penguins. Though they are known to be the best divers and swim incredibly fast, they, however, saunter on land and are known to slide on their bellies to help them maneuver through the ice and snow.

To survive the severely frigid climate, they are equipped with several unique layers of scale-like feathers to protect them from icy winds and offer a waterproof coat. They also store large amounts of fat that insulate their bodies while also serving as a long-lasting energy source.

What’s interesting is that wild penguins follow the paths between the mountains and during the walk, they were not trained to walk the path, but because they see people like mountains, they automatically follow the path that the people make.

If you happen to be in Hokkaido during the winter, make sure to make your way to Asahiyama Zoo to get a glimpse of these cute chubby birds. It will be worth your while.

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Asahikawa

Hokkaido’s second largest city is a good base for those exploring the nearby Daisetsu mountain range and the picturesque Biei-Furano. But because we were there in the dead of winter and we don’t ski, we had other things in mind. We were there for the 58th Asahikawa Winter Festival, its zoo, and ramen.

The Asahikawa Fuyu Matsui

Also known as the Asahikawa Winter Festival, it is an enjoyable fusion of lights, music,


A popular stall to warm the body and soul.

ice and snow sculptures, fireworks, kids activities, and food found in 2 venues.

While it may not have the scale of Sapporo’s festival, it can boast of having the largest snow sculpture in the world in the way of its stage, where all performances are held. The massive sculpture can be found overlooking the Ishikari at the Tokiwa Park near the Asahibashi bridge, where the opening and closing ceremonies are held. To build its main snow sculpture for the festival, the town enlisted the help of their country’s Self Defense Force.

Aside from the Asahibashi site, the Heiwa Dori showcases the ice sculpture competition, where teams from all over the world compete for the best ice sculpture.

Asahiyama Zoo

If truth be told, the videos of the penguin parade were enough to get me to Asahikawa. More of them on my next post because not only does the zoo boast of the Penguins, it is a zoological garden that allows visitors to see the animals from various angles.

Highlights include a glass tunnel through the penguin pool that allows the birds to be seen underwater, many arctic animals such as polar bears, seals and a lot more.

Asahikawa Eats

And of course, a visit to this part of Hokkaido will never be complete without enjoying a bowl of its famous ramen. You’ll find this all over Asahikawa, but we had ours at the Ramen Village on our way back to town from the zoo.

It was a perfect cap to the freezing day at the zoo.

And the freezing weather shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this melon flavored soft served ice cream.

Asahikawa is beautiful during the winter providing an excellent base to bask in all things winter. You will not be disappointed.

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Otaru: Yuki Akari no Michi

Credits: Natural Beauty created by and (c) Maria LaFrance

Held at the same time as Sapporo’s Snow Festival is nearby city Otaru’s Snow Light Path Festival (Yuki Akari no Michi).

Just a 30-minute train ride away, this beautifully preserved harbor town is well worth the day trip especially at this time of the year.

After dark, the snowy city of Otaru becomes alive when the lanterns and small snow sculptures are lighted,

illuminating the town and the canal area in an intimate way.

The town, though touristy, evokes an interesting piece of Hokkaido history that starts with its canal that runs through Otaru. Once a central part of the city’s busy port, Otaru’s canal was built to allow small ships to transport goods to the warehouses.

The canal was no longer of use when modern docking facilities have been constructed. The storehouses that line the canal has since been restored and turned into museums, shops, and restaurants. The canal is likewise adorned with Victorian-style street lamps that make for a beautiful stroll day or night.

A little more of Otaru from my lens:

The city as you arrive at the station.
They can’t come any fresher.
Fresh seafood only means great sushi at Waraku Sushi Bar.

The Sakaimachi Shopping Street

Otaru is 30 minutes by train via the Japan Rail from Sapporo Station.

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Sapporo Snow Festival

On our way to our accommodation from the airport, our cab drove through Susukino to reveal a row of illuminated ice sculpture.  That was our prelude to the Yuki Matsui, internationally known as Sapporo’s Snow Festival.  For seven days every February, Japan’s largest winter event is turned into a winter wonderland of snow stations and ice sculptures.

From a few snow statues created by high school students on its main site, Odori Park in 1950, the festival is now an event visited by millions.  Packed with people walking the slippery path that spans the 1.5km Odori Park showcasing spectacular snow and ice sculptures of different size and shapes from local and international participants.

 

We came across humongous structures such as the Arc de Triumph sculpture and the Taipei Guest House.

 

Some serve as a stage for concerts and other performances.

This giant Cup Noodle that double as a slide is a favorite,

Star War characters R2D2, C3PO and Darth Vader and other cartoon characters make up the fun stuff.

Meanwhile, I am drawn to the smell and the sizzle of beef being grilled on an open barbecue pit, even if we just came from lunch.

Not to be left out are the food stalls of various kinds.  A piece of advice to future attendees, skip lunch that day and head straight to the park.

The row of illuminated ice sculptures that I saw the night before is less dramatic in daylight.

Packed with bars, restaurants, pachinko and red light establishments, Susukino really comes alive upon sundown and so does its displays found on its main street.  We weaved through the sculptures into Ramen Alley for lunch.

The alley has 17 old style ramen shops to choose from.  In a shop randomly selected to fit all 7 of us, we slurped down a bowl of noodles in miso broth topped with seaweed, spring onions, char sou pork, hard-boiled egg, corn and a slice of butter—unique ingredients that make Sapporo’s Ramen worth a try.

The third venue is a multipurpose dome where a variety of events take place inside.  Outside the dome is where the fun is.  Large snow slides and a snow rafting area is set up for the merriment of people of all ages.  Sadly, as the venue is a little away from the city center and is only open until 6 pm.

Useful Info:

Odori Park:  Odori-nishi 1-chome to 12-chome, Chuo-ku

Susukino Venue: Ekimae-dori from Minami 4-Jo to Minami 7-Jo, Chou-ku

Tsudome: Sapporo Sports Facility “Tsudome” Sakaemachi 885-1, Higashi-ku

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A Week in Winter Paradise

Credits: Papers by Splendid Finn; border bit by Splendid Finn; Journaling Snippet by Creativity by Crystal; Fresh Glitter Lines by Delicious Scraps; Alpha by Akiloune Designs; Diecut Paper by Creativity by Crystal

Outside the apartment building, snow pile shin high by the sidewalk. The icy ground slippery as hell and the wind bite as we walk to the metro station. From tropical to arctic, my senses went into shock and so did my camera and phone. Anton loves the cold, you see.

Hokkaido is Japan’s largest and northernmost prefecture. With its unspoiled nature, it has attracted many outdoor enthusiasts from skiers and snowboarders in winter to hikers and bikers in summer.  Cold fronts from Siberia dump powdery snow into the island, making Hokkaido a winter paradise for those who love it, like my husband.

This and the stunning natural beauty of the island tend to overshadow the fact the food is excellent

and the history compelling this side of Japan. One of the highlights of this trip was soaking in an open-air onsen amidst the snow.

Come and ogle with me at the ice and snow sculptures that scatter around Hokkaido, take pleasure in some really awesome food, and get in line to catch sight of emperor penguins doing their daily walk — all this we did in a week in Hokkaido, a winter paradise.

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Minalungao

It’s the first days of summer, and this draft has been on the back burner giving way to other bigger trips I’ve had.

So before I start writing about my next destination, which took place last month in an icy setting and is the exact opposite of what we will be experiencing in the coming days, I’d like to take you to a place in Nueva Ecija. A little gem, they say it is. It was a spur of the moment and as these things go, we all made it.  Sometimes to plan is vain.

The small part of an otherwise well-paved road was only wide enough for our Explorer to safely get its way past the stream, thanks to this boy who helped us navigate our way.

Thanking him after, he offered to be our guide. Enterprising young man. And so for 500Php, the then 14-year-old AJ took us around his playground.

We navigated the short but somehow challenging, sometimes slippery rocks and trail to the cave that AJ said would take only 5 minutes. “Akala ko 5 minutes lang sa loob ng cave, bakit parang 20 minutes na kami ditto sa loob ah?” (I thought it only takes 5 minutes to explore the cave, why does it seem like 20 minutes already?) I asked AJ. “Kasi ang bibilis nyo mag lakad!” “Because you all walk so fast!” he said. He has a point.  🙂

In the foothills of the Sierra Madre lies a protected area in the municipality of General Tinio (sometimes also called Papaya – don’t ask me why) where the Penaranda River flows cutting through magnificent limestone walls.

One can trek to the caves through the limestone wall, swim in the crystal clear, refreshing water or simply soak in the scenery while enjoying a packed lunch on the raft.

Do try to make your way there if you haven’t. An enjoyable day trip it certainly was.

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Yunnan Eats: Cheese, Cured Pork and Fresh Vegetables

On the road, we randomly stopped for lunch. The driver calls me into the kitchen, there we ordered, without a menu but rather from what they have in the kitchen, apparently fresh from the fields. He tries to explain the unfamiliar items while I struggle to decipher what he is telling me. But all is well that ends well.  We had a wonderful food experience throughout the trip.

Vegetables

Fresh vegetables cooked lightly with lots of garlic and some chilies are a staple.   Because Yunnan has a diverse variety of plant species, you’ll find dishes made with ferns, bamboo shoots, flowers, tubers, fungi, herbs and even insects of all kinds.

A kind of root that was actually quite good.
Various types of mushrooms found at the local market in Shuhe.
A typical local restaurant showcasing a variety of vegetables, tubers, flowers and ferns.

Cheese?

Cheese is something you do not expect in China because Chinese as a nation are not keen on dairy products. But in a province that lies on the fringe of China, its mash-up nationalities’ dietary habits are far removed from the mainstream Chinese. The love of dairy products could perhaps be attributed to the mélange of ethnic groups such as Mongolians and Tibetans. The way in which they eat it though is distinctly Chinese.

Called rubing, it is often served with rice, sliced and pan-fried until golden on both sides or cut into cubes and stir fried in a wok.

Another interesting cheese called rushan is grilled and sold by the roadside. It’s crispy and milky in flavor.

Cured Pork

Have you heard of Yunnan ham? We used to get them canned and is an absolute favorite of Anton’s. In Yunnan, we couldn’t find the canned one, but instead, we devoured it in so many other ways.

They love them steamed, boiled, fried… usually to flavor stews and braised dishes as well as soups and broths.

Xuan Wei ham from Xuan Wei City is the most famous. It is to China what Iberian ham is to the Spanish.

Found this in the local market in Shuhe.

And with this, I close my series on Yunnan. Don’t drool too much now. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had re-living it.

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