A replica of the "Colonization Headquarter" of Hokkaido is used as an information and visitor centre.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth reading guide books, brochures or any information online at all. Especially with travel bloggers and YouTubers being paid to go to places and say they like them, we have recently found places that are heavily promoted a big waste of time, and places that nobody ever mentions or that people downright hate delightful. Often, it seems bloggers as well as people on TripAdvisor have no idea where they actually went. Insane new media world.

This was the case with The Historical Museum of Hokkaido in the outskirts of Sapporo, which all Japan guidebooks seems to dismiss as “some old houses”, and online reviews shunned as “not worth the money”. SERIOUSLY. I am so glad we went, as it was the best place I have visited in Japan this year!
A horse drawn (!) tram runs down the main road every hour or so

It’s an outdoor museum/collection of historical houses, much in the same vein as the Skansen park in Stockholm and other ones we have visited all over Europe in the last few years. Some of these places are simply in a nice setting without much information, some have live actors and lots of information. The Historical Museum of Hokkaido was the largest and most detailed of such parks I have been too, with lots of information in English and painstaking attention to detail.

Mind you, it’s not just a collection of old Japanese houses. Hokkaido is a special case within Asia, as the area was barely settled until the Meiji restauration, when the government promoted sending people there as “pioneer” settlers (sounds a bit American, huh?). So the park has buildings from all different stages of Hokkaido’s early settlement, from large university buildings in the western style to the poorer settler’s hut, and anything in between.

Here’s a small selection:

An old barber shop that used to be located just behind the Hokkaido Shrine in Sapporo.
Inside the Sapporo Shinbun (News) printing press building - Can you imagine what typesetting must have been like with Chinese characters back in the day?

Inside a general store - can you spot the Kewpie doll?

Each and every building was furnished as in a specific era, most buildings are originals which were trnasported there. All those fireplaces around tatami flooring in wooden buildings don't seem like a very good idea, do they?

Kitchen at an old-style inn, complete with modern fire extinguisher ;) 

No Japanese town can be without its shinto shrine - this one was donated by former immigratns to Hokkaido from Nagoya.

Don't be deceived by some of the grand buildings. This is the average immigrant's hut, just a simple straw hut that exposes you to pretty much all weather conditions. In a part of the country where it snows for 6 months a year!

Excuse the blurry picture, it was super dark inside. This is the lodging house for "pioneer" forresters who lived there, probably 30 people or more, and had come to rural Hokkaido to hack wood.

Hokkaido University's former martial arts dojo - a stark contrast to the former buildings.
 Some of the houses were “staffed”, such as the police station and fishing hut, some which people showcasing crafts, and literally every one could be visited (bring slip-off shoes, they provide slippers for each and every building). We spent over 2 hours and could easily have spent another if we had gone at a more leisurely place – we had to hurry a bit because of the bus schedule.

It’s a tiny bit tricky to get there, and buses only run every hour after noon, but even if you don’t speak Japanese, it should be easy enough: 1) Take a train to Shin-Sapporo station (every 10 minutes or so from Sapporo station, taking about 10 minutes). 2) Follow the signs for the bus station. 3) Hop onto bus 22 and ride it to the last stop (around 200 yen, grad a ticket when you get on the bus and pay when you leave – the bus also accepts the usual smart cards).

Have you ever been somewhere that you expected to be just so-so, just to be blown away?

I firmly believe that the best travel destinations are those that come without expectations. Or maybe I'm difficult to please and easily put off by places that are too crowded, too touristy, too "easy". 

Armenia was none of these, and had not even been a place I had considered visiting until we realised it was much cheaper to fly out of Yerevan instead of Tbilisi. So we booked the cheaper flight and embarked on a stomach-churning minibus ride across the Caucasus, along with a Russian guy who chatted to me in a mix of broken English and German for the entire 4 hour ride. 

Georgia had been the focus of my trip, and it did not disappoint. Neither did Ukraine, where we visited before. But Armenia... the landscapes are still haunting me. I was absolutely not prepared for such beauty.

Mount Ararat, symbol of Armenia, which is ironically located in Turkey.

A have hundreds of pictures like this - this is the Caucasus at its best.
The only church in the world whose second floor can be reached by an outdoor stair case.

A random Greek-style temple, the easternmost of its kind, although a replica

Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, which was our base for our short trip. I had expected something along the lines of Tbilisi, but no, it was even more modern and well laid out, with lots of green, art, fancy as well as hipstery places to eat. One of our highlights was the opera/ballet in downtown Yerevan, where tickets are sold from around $10 - we got very good seats for about $15 to see a ballet inspired by Armenian folk stories.

It's a very small country and you can see virtually anywhere on a day trip, although for my next visit, I would love to see more out of the way places. Armenia is surprisingly well equipped with tourist facilities, which many tour operators, a high level of English and good wifi access (EU citizens can use their regular EU roaming tariffs). Not to mention the food was amazing, too - a mixture of Eastern European, Turkish and Persian, which is an accurate  map of the countries culture and history, too.

Would you ever have considered a trip to the Caucasus, and Armenia?

A lion made of tires looking down at Yerevan and to Mt. Ararat

Random art like this is all over Yerevan, which saves the city from being too sleek and sanitised

private gardens in Hirosaki, a lovely surprise of a town in Aomori Prefecture

The first half of September was very quiet, but in the second half, we travelled faster than we have since March this year (when we visited around 8 countries in just one month, insane).

Chilling on Crete

Our terrace - most time in Crete was spent here.
I have a funny relationship with the European Mediterranean, but my short visit to northern Greece last year made me curious for more – Greece seems a bit more lively and culturally exciting to me than its neighbours to the west. And so it happened that we found a lovely apartment in Heraklion, Crete’s capital,
I’ll try to non-biased. The food was amazing, people were lovely and we definitely didn’t feel like walking wallets. I love the Greek people, there’s so much warmth, open-ness and a high average level of education and understanding of how our world works that not many countries can rival.

Crete is beautiful, sure. But it’s also incredibly touristy and if you aren’t staying at a major resort town, it’s virtually impossible to get anywhere without your own car. I had imagined long hikes, but hiking is hardcore due to the terrain, and you’re not advised to go yourself (if we had had a car to get to the hiking location in the first place). Stray dogs and cats are everywhere, as everywhere in Greece. There are lot of historical sites, but their management is presentation can be appalling. Even in September, it was waaay too hot for us and we found it hard to motivate ourselves to do much. Which I guess is the point of going to a Greek island in the first place.
Let’s say we spent to very relaxed weeks with evening runs, worked a lot and ate like queens. Still, I prefer the Arab speaking sides of the Mediterranean. I would go to Greece again, to explore another island or area.

Back to Japan and NOT to Australia – Osaka, Morioka and Aomori

After another 4 day stopover in London, we check in to our flight to Osaka, where we’ll be based at least until late January, with some other side trips in Japan, Korea and a short visit to Hong Kong.
Originally, we were thinking to go to Australia and Indonesia, maybe do some house sitting in Australia. After sweating to death in Greece, we both decided we prefer to stay somewhere colder. We also tried too hard to convince ourselves that Australia is a good idea. It’s super popular and I’m sure for a lot of people, it’s a great place to go, but personally, I’m glad to skip it again this time.

So, instead, we’re mostly in Japan now. After a few days in Osaka, we headed to Tokyo, where we jumped on the first train to Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. This was the first time in Tohoku for both of us. The area is being promoted a lot recently, not only around Fukushima (Morioka is a good 100 miles north of there)… and I have to say, maybe a bit over promoted. We went to Morioka as a stopover point and for a day trip to the small village of Tono. Tono is famous from Tono no Monogatari, which is akin to the Japanese version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The area has been touted as one of amazing natural beauty, but to be honest, it was just like any other tiny village in Japan, surrounded by rice paddies with a few folktale related museums. Unless you read Japanese (and I don’t mean read kana and a few hundred kanji, but be able to read novels easily), it’s not worth the trip.

Our next stopover was Aomori, the northernmost city on Honshu, Japan’s main island. Aomori is famous for apples and scallops, and the fact that they have mowed down everything at the harbour and replaced it with a new tourist development – lots of souvenir shops, a museum and a museum ship in a small area. There are also two small fish markets, but again, nothing too exciting. It’s pretty obvious that Aomori is mostly trying to get Asian tour buses to the area – everything is planned out for this kind of tourism, whereas the city itself was pretty dead and most locals well over 70.

The surrounding area is very pretty, though, and we wished we had rented a car so we could see more. The way it was, we only went for a day trip to the pretty castle town of Hirosaki before heading off to Hokkaido on the first of October.

...tiny castles in Aomori prefecture!
Does this make September sound like a bit of a downer? Maybe. It was an ok month, and we liked the places we visited. Celine started freelance teaching online, so we both got a lot of work done. Halfway through October now, travel has been a lot more exciting this month already, though!

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