Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Haruna Pear Road

The very last thing on our itinerary for the trip was fruit picking, and according to the information counter, the best place to go for the season's fruit (Pears!) was in Haruna, the biggest fruit production district in the whole of Gunma Prefecture. This entailed yet another long bus ride, but this time there weren't any instructions on where to alight. This caused much panicking on our part when the bus pulled into the Haruna Pear Road, because we passed by a great number of stalls selling pears, but there were no pear orchards in sight. 

In the end, we hopped off the bus on a whim in the middle of absolutely nowhere because the suspense was just killing me. Walking through the sleepy suburb, the sun bearing down on us and only a wholesale egg centre to be seen, our entire fruit-picking quest didn't really seem worth it. We stumbled on a sign that seemed to indicate an orchard, but 50 metres into our uphill walk we decided to turn back lest we get lost. 

After 15 minutes of aimless wandering up the road, we came across a small orchard and nearly wept for joy. When we went up to the lady sitting in the stall next door though, she told us that they only sold pears, and didn't allow people to pick the fruits. When she spied the brochure we had in our hands, she found her stall listed there and exactly as she said, right next to it were the words 'Selling Only'. She told us that the main fruit picking destination was the orchard we'd almost walked to, but it turned out that was an hour's walk up the hill.

We explained that we had no car and she looked on us pityingly. At this point, her husband returned in a lorry. She asked if we could pick some fruits and initially he hesitated, but when we explained that we really only wanted to pick one pear each for the experience, and that we weren't expecting to harvest a whole basket, he said "Go right ahead!". He walked us over to the small orchard and ushered us under the green netting that protected it, and left us there to pick our fruits. 

After inspecting the pears, I chose this one to pick. 

M & D had already tried their hand at picking pears in Korea last year, and told me the trick: If you twist the stem and pull, this disturbs the other fruits on the branch and you may end up shaking too many off. The most efficient way to pick pears is to grasp the fruit from the bottom and lift it upwards, and the stem pops neatly off. Like so:

As it turned out, M only wanted to pick peaches, which were no longer in season, so we went back to the stall with just two pears. We paid ¥400 for the two of them, and after handing the coins over the lady boss gave us two extra pears, of a different type than the one we'd picked, for us to try. Both were in season and being sold at the stall, and it was terribly kind of her to let us have them. We placed them all in D's backpack, to bring home with us. 

The two lovely stall owners, with their really very delicious pears:

Mission accomplished, we had to get back to the city, but the next bus back wasn't to arrive for another 45 minutes, so we had a lot of time to spare. M remembered seeing a sign for a cafe down the road, so we headed there. 

After a bit of a hike, it turned out the sign said the cafe was further up from the place we'd walked from, but it was no matter because we found another place to rest instead: Fleur Angelina. 

It was amazing to duck into an air-conditioned space, although we felt awfully grubby and somewhat out of place in the very lady-like and dainty surrounds of the cafe. 

We'd walked in while a group of ladies were having an ikebana (Flower arrangement) class in the back of the room, but the very cheerful waitress spotted us hovering near the entrance and brought us to a table.  

We opted for the tea sets consisting of a drink and a dessert because the pastries on display looked too tempting to pass up. After placing our orders, M & I roamed around and had a peek at all the handicrafts while D sat rather awkwardly in a corner, looking rather out of place amid all the chintz and lace. 

When our desserts arrived, they were served with vanilla ice cream, sweet figs, and rather artfully peeled grapes. M had the pumpkin cheesecake, which had a rich flavour while remaining quite light. 

I had the fig and cream sponge, which was just magical. We had a chat with the waitress and when she found out that we were from Singapore, she told us that she'd just visited and stayed at the Raffles Hotel, enjoying herself immensely. (I always feel very gratified when tourists tell me they like my country.)

Not being much of a dessert person, D decided to forgo the sweets and just had a pot of tea. The teacup was too exquisite not to photograph. 

When we were done with our very satisfying tea, we walked back to the bus stop. While waiting the necessary six minutes before the bus pulled up exactly on schedule, we admired the rice fields and the mountains in the distance. From here, it was back to Tokyo for us to catch the plane home. 

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