Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Around Kyoto

Of all the cities we visited in Japan, I personally liked Kyoto the best simply because it wasn't a bustling city. Sure there are stretches of commercial lots but the Kyoto we walked around had old buildings like these:

I think this is a ryokan. The top listed one in Super expensive but super gorgeous views. Located along a street which KS said he read somewhere to be "the most beautiful street in the world". We actually saw a crane in this stream.
Discreet (and expensive!) eateries

These were taken in Gion. However, both times we were there, the sun had already set so I don't have a good photo to show the cobbled street where the geishas walk every day. And we were lucky, we saw a geisha hurrying out of a diner. This was after a good hour of walking around the area, with a diminishing hope we'd see one. There were heaps of tourists walking around the area, eyeing every single kimono clad lady trying to decipher if she was a geisha. So when I spotted her, I clutched KS's arm and exclaimed, "that's one!" as though we'd just won the lottery.

We stayed at this place called Nagomi Ryokan Yuu. Of course, staying in a traditional house was an experience we didn't want to miss and this was one of the most affordable one we found from the websites. This room was the smallest we stayed in, both ends of the mattress touched the wall. However, this was as per our expectation from the descriptions in various sites so we were fine. 

Plus points for this place: staff spoke fluent English, everything is catered to English speaking travellers, there's a kitchen and laundrette, there's free wifi, the reception had the metro day passes so we didn't need to fumble at the stations.

This red umbrella helped us find the place as we walked along the narrow and swiftly darkening sky. 
The room with the folded mattress.
Super comfy! I loved that it had free wifi all over the place.

We visited several shrines, each with it's own distinctive feature.

Otowa Waterfall: School kids lined up to drink from one of these streams to bless their studies.
Golden Pavilion: It didn't start out as a shrine but eventually someone made it into a shrine. Amazing to see the sun glinting off the gold walls.
Inari Shrine with its many pathways of these red orange arches.

We also went to Arashiyama, a beautiful little town slightly off Kyoto which we felt was like a vacation town. There's lots of photos on the bridge there, especially in autumn and a large bamboo forest.

Unfortunately, it wasn't autumn enough and the trees were still green.
From Kyoto, we took a day trip to Nara where we passed a park with wild deer. Now, KS heard from Yen that to engage with the deer,  you have to do a thumbs up placed on your head, bow and say "Konnichiwa!" and the deer is supposed to bow back to you.

This is KS attempting the "secret signal". He tried this several times on several deer.
This is the response from the deer. "What the...?"
Then we saw this deer nodding and nodding to the shopkeeper until he relented and gave biscuits to chase it away.
At this stage, we realized, like all animals, they would do anything for food. So we bought the biscuits and voila!

At Nara, we went to see the largest wooden structure in the world. This building, like most shrines and castles we visited, was rebuilt and is only 2/3 of the original size, housing a HUGE bronze Buddha statue. 

Just like the computer game Karateka

One thing about Kyoto though is that the train systems are horrible. We bought a metro day pass but was later told we could only use it on one or two lines when there were about 4-5 lines. So we spent a lot on transport here. And most places we visited required us to walk quite a fair bit and take buses which can be quite daunting if you're not sure which ones to take.

Food was also difficult to find, since we were on a budget. We ended up eating at the Kyoto station quite a few times which had good food offerings. We had the worst meal ever in Nara though. Mine was a curry udon which was unpalatable and this was the only meal I could not finish.

And again, here are the manhole covers:

Manhole covers in Nara feature the deer.
Kyoto manhole covers has the shuriken in the centre.

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