Thursday 13 December 2018

Out of Tokyo via Tobu Railway

For my visit to the Nikko region I was hosted by Tobu Railway.

I arrived in Tokyo in September by shinkansen train from Fukuoka. Then, two days later, I headed to Nikko.

The Nikko region, two hours north of the Japanese capital, is a pleasant green region known for its thermal baths. In the town of Kinugawa Onsen, where I was staying, most hotels have their own hot baths to soak in (though you can have problems getting in if you have a tattoo - more about this later).

I reached it via Tobu Railway, a private rail company which operates from Asakusa Station in Tokyo. The company runs both trains and key attractions in the region, and offers the useful Nikko Pass which combines unlimited travel with discounted admission to the local sights.

Starting at Asakusa, I boarded Tobu's ultra-modern Revaty train for the northward ride...

... and alighted at Tobu World Square Station. This is adjacent to the theme park of the same name, full of impressively detailed models of buildings from around the world. It's a lot of fun wandering around and playing the "I've been there" game:

Not far away, linked by shuttle bus, is Edo Wonderland. This is a theme park of a different stripe - a meticulous historical recreation of the Edo period of the 17th to 19th centuries, a golden age of culture for Tokyo and the surrounding region.

It's basically a living village, with working shops and cafes, and regular historical shows and processions:

On the following day I experienced another Tobu train, this one on the opposite end of the modernity spectrum: the SL Taiju steam train which first ran on the island of Hokkaido in 1941. Now it's a tourist train offering half-hour jaunts through the Nikko area:

After the train ride I visited Nikko's World Heritage area, with several historic attractions. The key sight here is the Toshogu Shrine, a beautiful Shinto shrine set within a forest:

At the end of the day I ended up at Kagoiwa Onsen, one of the few thermal baths in the region that are happy to admit people with tattoos (spoiler: I have a small tattoo of the Eye of Horus on my upper right arm).

So I sat in the hot water, and relaxed. Tomorrow it was back to the fast pace and bright lights of Tokyo. But for now, I soaked.

For more information about Tobu's passes and sightseeing in the Nikko region, visit its tourism website.

Aerohaveno will be taking a break over the holiday season, and will be back with you in early January. Have a great New Year!

Friday 7 December 2018

Potato, Anyone? Visiting Thuringian Dumpling World, Germany

"Sie möchten einen Thüringer Kloß, ja?"
On this trip I was hosted by the German National Tourist Board.

I've long regretted not writing about my 2015 visit to Thuringian Dumpling World.

It seems unfair not to let the world know about this institution which pays tribute to the potato products of Thuringia, a state right in the centre of Germany.

The museum is located near Weimar, in the small town of Heichelheim.

It tells the story of the potato in Germany, with special mention of King Frederick the Great's 18th century promotion of its farming by the peasantry.

His enthusiasm for the new crop obviously succeeded, as anyone who's ever eaten a meal in Germany will have noticed.

Apparently, grateful Germans still place potatoes on the grave of the Prussian king at his grave in Potsdam. It's nice to be remembered for something that's given such pleasure, I guess. 

And Frederick the Great said, "Let there be dumplings,"
and there was a dumpling. A big one.

Thuringian dumplings are a big deal locally, and the museum explains how the local potato crop has been processed historically, via exhibitions of potato gathering machines, shredders and dumpling presses.

Preparing for a meeting of the
Heichelheim Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

More excitingly, visitors can take part in cooking classes, learning to make the perfect Thuringian dumpling.

Thuringian dumplings, meet pot.

Even more excitingly, once boiled you get to eat them (that part was really good).

Elke was annoyed that people criticised
her performance as wooden.

So now the secret is out - next time you're in Germany, potato lover, you know where to go. Maybe also make some time for the European Asparagus Museum in Schrobenhausen, Bavaria.

[And here's a past post about a pasta museum in Italy, and a salami museum in Hungary. Guten Appetit!]

The Thuringian Dumpling Museum is located at Hauptstrasse 3, Heichelheim, Germany. Find more information at its website (in German).