This was a long day, we had to get up early to catch a 06:48 Hikari from Kyoto to Nagoya (mostly because JR sucks, the 07:12 Nozomi would have been just fine, and honestly that was my real target, it's just because we ended up too early that we actually caught that slower Hikari, so called "bullet train"). After a change in Nagoya, we took the Shinano Express train to Nakatsugawa. From there we took a taxi to Magome, a quaint little town in the Kiso Valley where our hike started.
connecting to our shinano
shinano is pretty nice inside
finally arrived in Tsumago after being dropped off by our cab (there were busses but they would have taken too long)
I found this little guy on the ground , turns out it could fly fine
we stopped for hot tea on the route
you're supposed to ring the bell to scare the bears away
The hike was pretty in parts, and followed the road in other parts, but still, just seeing the beautiful flowers, rice growing fields and nice little towns of Magome and Tsumago was worth the trip. Sadly, despite my early research, I didn't find out that they could have sent our luggage from Nakatsugawa to Nagiso, the train station after Tsumago, so we had to take a rather expensive cab ($60, 30mn) from Tsumago back to Nakatsugawa (and wake up a taxi driver since there were none at the taxi station they were supposed to be at). Thankfully I built in enough buffer time (50mn, including a 30mn drive) that we got back to Nakatsugawa in time for our hourly express train to Matsumoto. In hindsight though, we could have gone to Nagiso, picked up our luggage and take a crappy slow train from Nagiso to Matsumoto, and have arrived around the same time.
Matsumoto was recommended by the guidebooks for an original Japanese Castle. It's not the biggest, or the most famous, but it's one of the 12 Japanese Castles that hasn't been destroyed and rebuilt. Actually it's Japan's oldest existing Castle, more than 400 years old. We got super lucky to have Takayama-San from ALSA (Alps Language Service Association), the local volunteer guide group, who was super nice and met us at the Castle after I called him to enquire when we were in the train and found out that their guides who are usually there, are only there until 15:00 and we were going to arrive at 15:20. Takayama-San very nicely offered to come personally to the Castle to give us a tour, and with his explanations our tour of Matsumoto Castle was much more instructive and enjoyable than if we had been on our own.
Takayama-San, explaining the castle's history to us
oh noes, poor fish
After the tour, we had enough time to catch out last train of the day at 17:55, and arrive at Kurobe View, a very good ryokan in the Shinano Omachi area (so that we could start the Alpen Route the next morning). The room was spacious and the food for dinner was both excellent and plentiful (and then some). Breakfast the next day was not too shabby either.
nice beds, great room
dinner was ridiculous, so much food and so good
After all this food, I went to brave the onsen:
And then time for bed, since we had to start our Alpen Route traverse at 08:00 the next morning, not too bad...