Helen and Randall on the road

A bit about our adventures 2011-2012

Tuesday 30th April – Friday 3rd May 2013: Kyoto

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I’d been pretty excited about the bullet trains but they turned out to be almost exactly like the AVE between Barcelona and Madrid (which is, it has to be said, VERY cool!). In fact, in business and first class on the AVE they actually feed you whereas Green Class on the Shinkansen  had a trolley service. Still, it was clean, fast and efficient, getting us to Kyoto in 2.5 hours (distance of about 450km)

Our Kyoto hotel, the Hearton, turned out to be 3 stops on the subway from the main station (thanks to Randall for carrying my suitcase up and down I don’t know how many stairs – they don’t do ‘accessible’ in Japan) and right in the middle of town, so once checked in and sorted out (free wifi in the lobby only) we were able to walk through Nijo-dori, a street with numerous cafes and restaurants, to the river. The restaurants with riverside terraces all seemed to be traditional Japanese places doing expensive set menus, but we found a café and had a bottle of sparkling wine and some Japanese-Italian fusion antipasti with delightful service.

On the way home we called in at the  Hello Cafe Bibliotec for tea and cake in my case and coffee and milkshake for Randall.

Our hotel turned out to be a mid-range one catering to tour groups and business meetings, so reasonably international while still being small-ish. It turned out to do a well-priced breakfast buffet with a mix of western and Japanese items so the next morning we indulged ourselves with bacon, eggs and coffee. Just as well, as finding the kind of cheap-and-cheerful food we’d mainly been eating in Tokyo turned out to be a bit more tricky in Kyoto.

Time for some sight-seeing. With instructions and a map from the hotel reception we managed to successfully negotiate taking a local bus to the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) temple at the start of the Philosopher’s Walk .

Map of the Silver Temple

Map of the Silver Temple

Raked gravel zen garden of the Silver Pavilion

Raked gravel zen garden of the Silver Pavilion

Randall consulting the instructions.

Randall consulting the instructions.

Beautiful trees

Beautiful trees

One of the complex buildings

One of the pavilion complex buildings

View of the pavilion over one of the many small lakes.

View of the pavilion over one of the many small lakes.

View from the paths through the trees above the pavilion.

View from the paths through the trees above the pavilion.

Somewhat hungry already, we tried the green tea cream buns on offer (not recommended)…

Green tea everything

Green tea everything

Green tea cream buns

Green tea cream buns

Not really convinced.

Not really convinced.

…before starting down the canalside walk and finding the lovely Pomme café, where a charming gentleman served us drinks and slices of cake homemade by his wife:

Pomme cafe on the Philosopher's Walk

Pomme cafe on the Philosopher’s Walk

Yummy home-made cakes

Yummy home-made cakes

Tea and cake

Tea and cake

At the end of the Philosopher’s walk we headed towards town with the idea of following the streams as far as Gion, the famous geisha district. We couldn’t resist popping into the Lake Bawa Aqueduct Museum but gave the Zoo and the National Museum of Art a miss.

Randall outside the Museum of Art

Randall outside the Museum of Art

Following the canals was a pretty journey through residential areas…

Traditional wooden houses along the canals

Traditional wooden houses along the canals

Someone's pet goldfish 'hutch' in the canal.

Someone’s pet goldfish ‘hutch’ in the canal.

…but when we finally arrived in Gion it was something of a disappointment. On Shirakawa street, tipped as ‘one of the most beautiful streets in Asia’, only a few of the original tree-lined streets with wooden houses remain…

Shirakawa street, Gion

Shirakawa street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

…and they are surrounded by concrete monstrosities full of what seem to be essentially brothels. As it was now after 3pm we couldn’t get food anywhere (everything seems to close between 3 and 5 or 6) despite walking all the way up Pontocho so we headed back to Café Bibliotec for a snack and a bit of a sit-down with our books.

Hungry again, we headed down to the Sanjo-dori covered shopping arcade in search of a recommended Kaiten-sushi place. This time we were actually successful! While it wasn’t the most stylish and sophisticated sushi, it was fun and cheap and we ate loads before staggering back to the hotel for an early night.

Kaiten sushi

Kaiten sushi

Yum!

Yum!

On Thursday, after intending to have an early start and pack in loads of things, we ended up not leaving the hotel until after midday – oops.

We headed to the station to check out the architecture and view the city from the top of the Kyoto Tower…

The Kyoto Tower

The Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower, reflected in the station building.

Kyoto Tower, reflected in the station building.

Kyoto station building.

Kyoto station building.

Kyoto Station Building

Kyoto Station Building

Kyoto station building.

Kyoto station building.

From the top of the tower.

From the top of the tower.

The station from the tower.

The station from the tower.

From the top of the tower.

From the top of the tower.

…before taking a bus back into Gion to see one of the other areas that is still apparently well-preserved, ‘Hanami-koji’ which turned out to be much more extensive than the area we’d visited the day before, with traditional wooden tea houses, and merchants houses now turned into very expensive restaurants. We saw a few geiko and maiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha and trainee geisha) tiptoeing purposefully around in their amazing outfits and wooden shoes, presumably on their way to appointments.

After wandering around looking for somewhere we could just have a drink instead of a full-on 15 course set meal for thousands of yen we gave up and headed back into the main bit of town across the river.

The view across the river from Gion.

The view across the river from Gion.

We decided not to go for the more formal dining atmosphere of Pontocho and instead wandered up Nishikiyamachi-dōri which is more studenty. We eventually settled on a slightly more upmarket spot that, to my delight, had a ‘summoning bell’ for the staff:

The summoning bell.

The summoning bell.

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