We arrived in Nagano on a cold night on the special express train from Nagoya. Nagano was our only stop which didn't include AirBnB, one night was going to be a hotel and the next was going to be a Ryokan. We stayed at the Chisun Grand which, conveniently, was only a few minutes from the train station. The hotel had a robot in the lobby which made noises and generally amused the staff at the front desk in it's attempts to interact with me. By the time we were checked in the robot had started on a seemingly irreversible dance routine which it most likely continued until we got up into our room.
The room was a standard hotel room with a well appointed bathroom and a good level of comfort. They gave us a free smartphone for the duration of our stay which helped considerably by providing a good internet connection.
The next day we hired a Kei car with snow tyres and set off to the Ryokan and, most importantly, the monkey park. The drive was pleasant and the little car, a Honda NWGN, was slow but otherwise impeccable.
On the way we visited a Wasabi farm where we sampled fresh wasabi and tried wasabi ice cream.
The fresh root was delicious but the ice cream tasted vaguely of vegetables and wasn't my cup of tea at all. Late in the night we arrived at the Ryokan and were greeted by a very friendly old guy who told us to follow him down to the monkey park in the morning. He was driving down a group of the other guests so that they could get there before the tour buses arrived at 9am. We dropped our bags and went straight to a nearby sushi place where we ate and chatted to an English teacher called Graham who was visiting to see the monkeys as well. The next morning we met him again on the walk to the hot spring where the monkeys lounge around.
The monkey park is called 'Jigokudani' which means Valley of Hell and when we arrived it was easy to see why. The hot spring plumed steam from the ground amidst a barren landscape of snow and rock.
In the middle of it all, and completely indifferent to most things going on around them, were the monkeys. With little red faces and fluffy grey fur they sat in the hot spring and generally milled about around the food spread for them in the snow. They ignored humans except for the occasional glance in our general direction. After we'd had our fill of these adorable creatures we drove back to Nagano and returned the car before setting off on our way to Tokyo.