Sorry for the delay in posting. The ridiculous amount of travel has curbed the normal flow of blogging. I decided to shorten and combine the Japan posts into one. So I apologize in advance for length. It is broken into three days, so take your time reading. 🙂
Day Two proved to be a lot better than the previous day of travel and hobbling. We took an easy morning to recover from the absurdity that was the day before and slowly made our way into town. We managed to figure out the subway system without much problem, which was great because a cab ride to and from town every day would have gotten expensive real quick. We spent the early afternoon wandering through the Nashiki Market in the center of town. The market easily took up 10 blocks and spread out about 3 blocks wide as well. There were hundreds of restaurants, clothing stores, art shops, novelty stores and anime displays. After walking through for awhile, trying to get an idea of what all was around us, we stopped at this wonderful little restaurant down in the basement of a shop. Kris and I ordered separate set meals and they both came out looking like art. With the exception of the cold tofu covered in orange fish eggs, there was very little I left on my plate. I had seafood noodles with a rice omelette and fresh salad. Kris had some of the most tender and well seasoned beef strips I had eaten in over a year, which more than made up for the “Denny’s” steak we had the night before. His meal was also served with with cold tofu, rice, vinegar pickles, prawn and slices of sashimi (we know that one was salmon, not sure what the other was). Dessert was some kind of green tea-chocolate sponge cake. Very light and a perfect ending to a wonderful Japanese meal.
After lunch we walked around the market for awhile, spending a good bit of time in a woodblock print shop, admiring the unique art. Dotted throughout the market were small shrines, which appeared to be Shinto. I called them “Pray-n-Go’s” because of their funny location squeezed between tourist shops. We left the Nashiki Market right as the sun was setting, and we watched the clouds turn pink and the sky turn dark (at 4:30!) as we walked from the town center towards Gion (the former Geisha district.) We happened upon the Yasaka-Jinja Shrine, a Shinto shrine formerly known as the Gion Shrine. Set up more like a park, Kris and I walked beneath glowing lanterns, paused by the rods with slips holding prayers and wishes, and gazed at the full moon hanging like a painting above the curved tiles of the temple roof. We tried until near frustration to capture the moon, but without a tripod, all of the pictures came out too blurry to do justice to the beautiful scene we witnessed.
After walking through the Shrine/Park, we walked back down to the central area to find dinner. The restaurant we ended up choosing turned out to be owned by the same people who own the restaurant where had eaten lunch. Another fantastic Japanese meal was had, followed by creme bruelle and fondant chocolate. With our stomachs full and our feet aching, we headed back to the hotel. Back at the hotel we had a relaxing drink in the hotel bar before going back up to our incredible room where we watched part of Ice Age in Japanese while drifting to sleep.
Day Three started at the Botanical Gardens. In my opinion, any day started at the botanical gardens is going to be a good day. Even though we were witnessing the transition from Fall to Winter, the grounds were beautiful. I can only imagine how incredibly beautiful it would have been in the Spring (a phrase Kris and I found ourselves saying no less than ten times a day, every day we were there.) The bare branches of cherry blossom trees created a sparse canopy beside a picturesque lake, complete with a wooden foot bridge.
We spent a couple of hours in the Gardens, just enjoying nature and clean air. After the Gardens we decided to make what we thought would be only a 2km walk to Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion and Japanese strolling gardens. That 2km walk ended taking us twice as long as expected (and no, we didn’t get lost!) We stopped in a quiet little place for a light lunch of vegetable dumplings and a chicken/pepper mix in a sweet soy sauce. Much later than anticipated, we finally ended up at the Golden Pavilion, which was everything its name suggested. We ended up arriving at the perfect time of day, as the sun was reflecting off the west side of the Pavilion, which the reflected into the pond surrounding the pavilion. Kinkaku-ju has a 650 year history by name, though the original pavilion (and the 2 subsequent buildings) were all lost to fire (two from wars, one from arson by a monk).
At the other end of the strolling gardens was a traditional tea house where Kris and I stopped for tea and cake. We had to kneel on the straw mats to receive and enjoy our tea. We both crashed into the sliding paper door behind us, though thankfully neither of us crashed through the door!!
The late afternoon brought a trip to the Kyoto Museum, which was not really worth the half hour we spent inside. After a much needed pick me up in a coffee shop (of which could be found on every other street corner!), we walked around a little more towards the central part of town before stopping in a very tradition sushi bar for dinner. We shared rolls of pickled vegetables and a red scallop and cucumber roll, along with fatty tuna and shrimp sashimi. Kris also had grilled cheek of smoked salmon, which he said tasted so much like ham, had he not seen the picture on the menu, he would not have believed it otherwise. Kris had a local beer while I found a new favorite drink – plum wine. It came in a rocks glass and looked suspiciously like bourbon, but tasted like a life saver. After dinner we walked around the area a little more, finding ourselves back in the Nashiki Market. There was so much to see, just walking through the streets. Kyoto is nothing like Hong Kong, and walking even the busiest streets was quiet enjoyable (despite the hobbling). Before heading back to the hotel we stopped at a crepe shop on the street, which may seem random, and it was, but it was also very delicious.
Day Four, our last full day in Kyoto, was spent mostly at Kiyomizudera, or the Pure Water Temple. It was definitely the most crowded we had seen any area or temple thus far, but even the crowds and the shops the lined the streets leading up to the temple, pandering specifically to tourists. Set on a steep hill, the large grounds surrounding the Buddhist temple, founded in 780 and which also housed a Shinto Temple, offered us breath-taking views of the city.
We spent most of our afternoon at Kiyomizudera, stopping in a coffee shop with a great view of the city on our way out. After leaving the temple grounds, it was Kris’ personal mission to find a toy store. Apparently, Transformers are from Japan, and Kris thought it was be cool to find a figure or two in its original Japanese packaging. Though we had been keeping our eyes out the past two days, we were yet to run across a single toy shop, which we both found to be incredibly shocking for Japan! We spent a couple of hours wandering through the southern part of the city before finally giving up on the toy hunt and settling on a wonderful dinner of fried Japanese deliciousness. For my last dinner in Japan, I had a fried chicken filet in a noodle and egg hot pot, with rice, pickles and mussel soup. Shortly after dinner we headed back to the hotel to pack up for the long flight home the following day…..