We took a two-hour train ride (known as the "Lavendar Express") from Sapporo station to Furano.
The scenery on the train ride is not the most impressive that I've ever seen in Japan (not too mountainous -- basically prairie and countryside) but it did give us an insight into a very different part of the country. People in the countryside actually have SPACE -- houses here are relatively large compared to what one finds in the cities. The lifestyle also appears to be fairly laid-back -- everyone that we encountered in this region was very friendly and helpful.
There were three things we were interested in exploring in Furano:
1. A cheese factory
2. A winery
3. The Tomita lavendar farm.
In order to get around we decided to save a few bucks and get some exercise in the process so we once again rented a couple of touring bikes. We both underestimated the distances that we would have to travel though to get to each of the afore mentioned destinations. I'm sure that we both logged nearly 40km's of distance on those bikes! We're going to be feeling that in the morning! Nevertheless, we got a lot of air, saw some great sites, and got some much needed exercise.
Our first stop was at the cheese factory where we got to see some cheese being made and I got to milk a large plastic cow.
This is probably the closest that I've ever been to a cow, plastic or otherwise! The strangest cheese that we sampled was one that was pure black, coloured with squid ink. It had a really bitter taste to it (not something that I would like to try again).
We hopped on our bikes and travelled down to the Chateau Furano Winery (I guess every winery has to try and get a French work into their name!).
This was very reminiscent of going to wineries in the Okanagan. We took a short tour and sampled several of their wines. All were quite good (but then what the heck do we know?!). The tour took us through one of the vinyards where they are growing grapes from all parts of the world. There was even a row of Canadian grapes (they were quite small)
and a row of U.S. grapes (they were incredibly large). A group of biology students from Hokkaido University were taking the tour and one of them commented that they weren't surprised that the U.S. grapes were huge -- "like everything in the U.S."!
The most gruelling part of our bike journey involved the ride from the winery to the Tomita Farm.
I don't know the exact distance but the ride seemed to go on forever. We went through several small towns and drove through a lot of prarie before we got there. A group of school girls yelled "herrrooo!!!" at me as we drove by. This time I heard what they said and I took the opportunity to respond back, "hellooo!" to which they giggled voraciously! It was a pretty simple but very fun and touching moment.
We finally arrived at the lavendar farm -- hot, sweaty, and exhausted. Unfortunately, a lot of the lavendar that is grown here had already finished blooming. This was somewhat disappointing but there was one field that was still in production.
You wouldn't believe all of the different lavendar products that are available here -- I really had no idea that so much could be made from this arromatic plant. I even had lavendar ice cream. This was a strange thing to eat -- it tasted great but smelled like perfume!
There was also a tremendous amount of insect life at the farm -- busy doing all of that polination work! I had a very friendly dragonfly land on my shoulder and keep me company for about 40 minutes.
I have never encountered a more tame insect. I tried to shoo it away but it just would not leave. So, I walked around with all of the other tourists with this friendly little guy on my shoulder. I'm sure that some people thought that I was nuts!
The farm was a very interesting place but we needed to get back to Furano and board the train for the trip back to Sapporo. Thus, we started the long bike ride back, mile by mile we pushed it to get to the train on time. This is by far the most tired that we have been on this trip. Tomorrow we leave Sapporo for good and travel down to Toyama to visit with relatives. It will be a much welcomed rest...
Today we took the longest and most ambitious road trip of our journey through Japan. We went from Sapporo to Furano, in the agricultural heartland of Hokkaido. Furano is located almost in the exact centre of the prefecture and is often referred to as the "belly button of Hokkaido" as a result.