The whole airport was JAM PACK with people and it's almost like tons of people fleeing the country. I have never, never ever, seen the business line so freaking long like a normal pack economy line. Needless to say, it would have been mere impossible for me to check in in time. I had only given 2 hours excess to check in but the rate the line goes, I should have made allowances for 3 hours check in...
So instead, I turn to my left and saw the long but somewhat shorter first class Q. My honest husband was still searching for the end of the business Q but I dragged him to the first class Q instead. My reasoning, we dont have enough time. Apparently, we are not the only ones to do so, which somehow made me feel alittle better about "cheating".
My husband was obviously horrified by the snaking lines. He has NEVER travelled on a major holiday like CNY and XMas before, so he never had to experience the pain that I did before, hence always getting annoyed with me when I dont exactly jump up and down in joy when he suggested for me to fly on holidays. Previously, he always grumble about the fact that I want to skip town at least few days earlier before CNY eve or my complaints about having to fly to australia on xmas eve on my own (he would have headed home first since I didnt want to waste all my leave days in Sydney). FINALLY, this time, the chaos dawn on him the hassle of fighting with everyone else. I mocked him and asked "So how, next year?" He shook his head fervently and said "Never again. not on CNY. We will stay home and watch DVD." I laughed.
The flight to Niseko was full and filled with family packers. Thankfully for cathay gold card, I get to board and settle down first without having to stick around longer with the loads of people. (I will sooo freaking miss that card when it expires). I have never been in the same cabins with so many kids before. It was crazy, almost like stuck in a zoo with free roaming baboons and flustered noisy mother hens. Thank god for in flight entertainment...
We reached Niseko on time about 1.30pm but the immigration Q was horrendous. It was soooo long that the Q snaked all the way to the aircraft cabin. Yup. It was slow moving not to mention. So u can imagine those restless babies and kids in a confined place. Thank god for Ipod.
By the time we clear custom, it was about 3.45pm. Our bus wasnt due to depart till 4.30pm. I knew something was fishy when i received the itinerary and saw such a huge hour gap. The bus is about 2.5hrs away from our final destination, the ski fields.
There are 3 major ski area, namely Annupuri, Grand Hirafu, and Niseko Village (Hilton). I had opted for Annupuri even though Hirafu is the main area but I didnt want to contend with all the holiday crowd and noise. Which in the end of the trip, remains one of those decision that I am greatly thankful for and pleased with.
The night we arrived. The snow was falling quite a bit and everywhere is blanketed in snow. In the following days where the sun appeared, the thickness of it was slightly lessen (as u can see by the coverage of the snow on the car roof outside my room). Did I mention how blue the sky was when the sun came out to play in midweek?
Annupuri is a beautiful area, less rampaged by the major holiday makers. I personally found more Japanese here than Hirafu, and the whole area is so quiet and tranquil unlike Hirafu which is more like a vegas kinda thing, commercialised and filled with people. Here, we had a more community feel, accomodation in lodge form than hotels buildings.
I had stayed at Sekka Lodge Annupuri. I love it every minute of it. It's bright, neat, clean and remodelled. It feels more like I was staying in someone's house than in a hotel which is great! I found this accomodation by chance. I didnt want to pay through our noses for Hilton. So I pulled a whole nighter and found the website for this. The price was relatively reasonable and so I charged ahead since time was short and I didnt know how quickly vacancy fills up during this peak season. The price was inclusive of breakfast for two in the common dining area. And the best thing, it is 5mins walk away from the ski field and gondola chair lift! Superb!
Another advantage of staying here, they linked up with Niseko-fine ski company who not only charges lesser for their rental, they even deliver the boots and skis to the doorstep. I didnt have to go anywhere.
Takeda san who is the lodge care taker took very well care of us. If I have to rate the service, it would be 10/10 (that is if u are able to converse in Japanese.) He was so nice to let me use his computer too...heee hee.
The room was quiet, with a seperate living room and bedroom, with the bathroom in the middle acting as the divider. The whole place has been newly remodelled so many things are new. The only thing I didnt like was the shower area was not segregated, there was nothing to stop water flowing to the basin area and toilet bowl, hence the whole floor gets wet after I showered. Not good when u are waking in the middle of the night and need to pee with your pants down for the ladies.. Otherwise, the whole place is lovely! Especially the first few days there were no other guests, we had the whole place to ourselves!
The only problem i noticed was that all the places here take cash and not many places takes credit.
Directly opposite our lodge is 2 eating place. A japanese dine in, and a pizza place. I never tried the pizza place. Why eat pizza in Japan when I am not westerner? The Japanese diner is a small cosy family business (thank god they accept credit). In all the times I was there, I have only seen Japanese locals there and us being the only tourists. The menu is sub in English too but I think many tourists are not game in venturing our of their safe hut, so I noticed everyone took the bus to Hirafu for meals.
The Annupuri ski area is lovely. The ski pass is broken into 5hr, 8hr, 1 day etc. The 5hour is about 4800yen with 1000yen refunded when u return the key card. I personally love it much more than Hirafu ski field. For beginners especially, Hirafu ski slope can be a little tricky because the slopes are angled off in a way, and very much more crowded and packed. Even with school students on their annual ski trip, I found more space in Annupuri.
Between Annupuri and Hirafu is connected by several buses, the Niseko free pass bus or the red local bus. If you bus the Niseko day ski pass, the bus is free, otherwise, it is about 470yen per adult to hirafu. The bus is rather regular though u have to watch the timing because at times it takes about 40mins, at times an hour one way.
The Annupuri restaurant taste soooo much better than the crappy cafe at the base of the Hirafu Gondola. Price per meal per person range from 600yen to 1200yen depending on what u order. An average ramen cost about 800yen. However, the portion are big and most days, we order a meal to share.
The ski lessons in Annupuri are mainly in Japanese by local native instructors. If u need an english ski lesson, you are better off engaging one from Hirafu area such as from NAC. I didnt, i bravely stuck it out with my Japanese instructor from NASS and I think I did fine...not to mention I get bonus in learning skiing AND also Japanese lessons. haaaa haa :P
Plus half the time, it's watch and learn and getting the rythmn on your own. Kinda like learning to ride a bicycle. It's hard to explain to you. U simply need courage, and willingness to take the fall and eventually u will get it.
Surprisingly even though it is only my 2nd attempt at skiing after a 5 year break, I actually did alright and didnt fall the first few days, until the student beginners got in my way and I had a really bad fall. Still nursing my ugly bruise which runs longer than the length of my palm, and width of 3 fingers wide.
If I were to choose again between skiing in Zermatt and Niseko, I would pick Niseko anytime.
I have a lovely time there and in a way, I'm glad my India trip didnt materialise this time.