Last known location: London, England

Colourful Kyoto

We woke up on Saturday morning rather hungover after the drunken karaoke scenes of the previous night.  After dragging ourselves out of bed we made it as far as the nearest McDonalds which perked us up sufficiently to leave Osaka and head to Kyoto.  We picked our Japanese Rail passes up at the station which allows us free rail travel on all JR lines (pretty much all trains) during our time in Japan.  We then collapsed onto the train and made the 20 minute journey north-east to Kyoto.

To be honest it was all a bit of a blur but we were rather proud of ourselves for making it before dark!  We hopped on the 206 bus, as instructed by the directions, and waited the obligatory 15 minutes.  Our stop hadn’t come up, so we thought me might be suffering in the Saturday afternoon traffic.  30 minutes into the journey and we finally realised all was not well.  We got off the bus and looked in a daze at the information on the stop.  None of it made much sense, what with it being in Japanese and all.  So we crossed the road to look for another bus stop.  Quite what we were doing I don’t know but I do know that when I saw a taxi and hailed it I felt much relief!  It turns out we were on completely the wrong side of town and (as we discovered the next day) had taken the bus in the wrong direction.  2,000 yen down, we trudged to our hostel and pretty much crashed out for the rest of the day!  We did make it out for a quick dinner of udon noodles, but that was about it!  We were staying in a 10 bed mixed dorm in Kyoto, which sounds fairly horrific, but we had a bunk bed with hospital-like curtains surrounding it so at least we could pass out in something like privacy!

On Sunday we woke up refreshed and raring to go.  We felt a bit guilty for losing much of Saturday, so hit Kyoto running.  It’s a beautiful but sprawling city, with lots to see, much of it spread far and wide.  We headed to Ginkaku-ji, The Silver Pavilion, which we’d heard good things about from the guide book and people in our hostel.  Despite the name, it isn’t actually silver, but is still really lovely.  We’ve come at a good time of year because the leaves are changing, so the trees are multi-coloured but there’s still lots of sunshine.  Koyo viewing as it’s called is apparently quite a big attraction in Japan. The Silver Pavilion is set in a beautiful garden, with intricate sand designs and gorgeous water features.  We wandered round for quite a while, suitably impressed!

Feeling very zen-like, we decided to do “The Philosopher’s Walk”, one of Kyoto’s most famous routes.  It follows a tree-lined canal and passes by several shrines and temples.  We stopped to look at a few, notably Honen-In, where we also spotted a terrifying looking spider, and Nanzen-ji.  This temple became one of the 5 great Zen temples in Japan, so certainly suited our mood, and has an enormous gateway, called the Sanmon.

Once we were done being ‘Zen’ we decided we were hungry, so headed to Nishiki Market, nicknamed ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’.  It was very crowded, with lots of stuff on offer.  There was a huge amount of fish in particular, with everything from teeny-tiny pin sized shrimp to great big chunks of tuna.  We indulged in some ginger flavoured fried chicken and then deep-fried fish paste lollies on sticks; Dan had the cheese filled version, and I went for prawn and onion flavour.  Sounds a bit bizarre, and they tasted a bit like crab sticks, but more rubbery.

We explored Kyoto’s busy shopping district, braving the Sunday afternoon crowds, but I didn’t make any purchases.  I was very close to plonking myself at a make-up counter in one of the big department stores and asking them to work their magic but eventually decided against it.  I’m sure all this fresh-face stuff is doing wonders for my skin!  Once we’d tired of the shops we sat down in a cafe to watch the world go by.  Kyoto is a great place for people watching because you can see tourists, locals and even geisha going about their business.  Quite a variety of fashion here, too, from the traditional to ultra modern.  I really turned into my mother earlier when I reprimanded one girl for looking “slutty” with  her tiny shorts and thigh-high boots, and congratulated another for wearing “sensible tights”!

That evening we walked down Pontocho alley, a narrow road near the river known for it’s traditional houses and inns.  We grabbed dinner near our hostel – more noodles – and had a quiet night, still suffering slightly from the excesses of Friday!

On Monday we headed to the outskirts of town to an area called Arashiyama.  It took us about an hour to get to on a local bus, which demonstrates how big Kyoto is.  The bus dropped us near the Moon Crossing bridge which is notable for its views of cherry blossoms and autumn colours on the slopes of Mt Arashiyama.   Nearby is a bamboo forest, which we strolled through on route to the Okochi Sanso gardens, which had been highly recommended by an Aussie in our hostel.  He was right; we enjoyed the gorgeous garden, with its autumnal maples, and the stunning views of Mount Hiei and Kyoto from the highest points of the garden.  The house and gardens were initially owned by a silent film star in the 1930’s and it took him about 30 years to create the gardens.  They were really well maintained and definitely still a credit to him.

Part of our entrance ticket got us a free serving of traditional Kyoto green tea.  Matcha is the most popular tea here and it’s basically powdered green tea.  It has a much stronger taste than the green tea I’m used to, and I wasn’t a big fan, but the Japanese guests next to us were loving it so it must be my unrefined palette!

Next we headed to The Golden Pavilion on a “Randen” train, which is a tiny local train that stops at little stations in the middle of nowhere.  Kinkaku-ji was built during the 14th century, but it was burnt down in 1950 and rebuilt some years later so we didn’t see the original!  The top two floors are entirely covered in gold leaf which means it’s a very shiny, and popular, site!  I thought it might look a bit tacky, but it was pretty impressive and, like so many temples here, surrounded by beautiful gardens.

We got a bus (we finally seem to be getting the hang of them in Kyoto now!) back to the centre of town and did another walk recommended in our guide book, which was just a few minutes away from our hostel.  We walked through the Gion District, taking in the Yasaka Shrine and the Pagado nearby, before heading up to the Kiyomizu Temple via the Stone Paved Roads and the “three year slope”.  Apparently if you slip on this slope you’ll get 3 years bad luck.  Thankfully Dan’s habit of falling over every minute appears to have ceased so we got away without any trips!

We spent the evening booking boats, flights and hostels for the next couple of weeks of our travels.  Tomorrow we’re off to Hakone for some R&R in traditional onsens, and hopefully a glimpse of Mount Fuji!

  1. John 16 Nov, 2010

    Confucious says heshe who gets plastered doesn’t see all the sights!
    You are managing the directions in the non English environment far better than I could. And some of the pictures are stunning.

  2. Rose 16 Nov, 2010

    All looks stunning! Too bad about getting the bus in the wrong direction but you’ve done brilliantly up until now. Bet you weren’t too keen on the spider Gem! Expect you’ve heard that William and Kate are getting married next year.


    Mum x x x

  3. Sarah Clifton 17 Nov, 2010

    Hi Guys

    Looks like you’re having a great time. Ive shown the website to quite a few people and they’ve all been very impressed! I only just realised you could post things at the end of the blog.
    Ive got some similar photos to your Shanghai ones – especially that weird tunnel thing under the river which promises so much but is actually a bit rubbish!

    Its great news that you’ll be home for christmas, everyone will be very excited to see you! I guess mum has been telling you anything interesting thats happened here on skype. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up on skype aswell at some point.

    Lots of Love

    Sarah xxx

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