We got to Tokyo Station and a Shinkansen was due so no time to book tickets and we chanced our luck at getting seats in the reserved section of the train. According to some blogs on Trip Advisor, these sections were always full and sitting together was never easy, however when the Kyoto bound Shinkansen rolled in there was ample space. We even had the luxury of a three seater between the two of us.
Once you work out the subways they are quite straightforward to use, I paid in Japanese rather than using the English pay options. As usual our hotel was only a few minutes walk from the subway exit (depending on you using the correct one) and we were pleasantly surprised by Hotel Gimmond. It was a lot more spacious than the previous ones and was on a very quiet street only a few minutes walk from the main shopping area.
We were there at 1pm and usually you have to wait until 2pm for check-in but they kindly allowed us to check-in early, so after a quick freshen up, we were ready to start exploring the former capital of Japan, Kyoto. As I had been here before I remember seeing most of the main tourist attractions but nevertheless I enthusiastically accompanied Aida to our first destination: Nijo Castle. Njio was only 15 minutes walk from the hotel and unlike Osaka and Tokyo, relied more on buses than the subway. As always for lunch we called in at Family Mart / 7-11 / Lawson’s (so many all over the place), as they are effective and easier than finding a restaurant. The only drawback here is finding somewhere to sit down and eat. There seems to be nobody eating or drinking in the streets and although there are no signs saying you are not allowed, it does make you think whether it is allowed or not.
Arriving at Nijo Castle and the memories of being here in 2009 came flowing back. I remembered Phil Denton (fellow teacher) having his photo taken outside with some geisha girls and also having a lesson inside on how to write in Japanese. The Castle and its surrounding gardens are a pleasant way to spend a few hours and at $4 entry is very cheap. Once we completed Nijo, the bus stop outside took you direct to Kinkakuji Temple or as its commonly known; The Golden Pavilion. Again, I had been here before but the sight of the golden pavilion with the sun in the background is still an impressive sight. By the time we finished here it was close to 5pm so we decided to head back to the hotel and rest before dinner. After all the walking over the last few days we made the decision to have a quiet night in today and just got a quick bite to eat and a bottle of Rose’ for only $3.50 (bargain!!) and watched a movie that I had brought with me.
The next days agenda was decided after liaison with Sharon Bessey who I had met in Rio in 2009. She was also travelling in Japan but had left Kyoto the day we arrived. We headed off on Sharon’s advice to Arashiyama, which we could use our JR pass to get to. This place is at the foot of the forest so the scenery was quite spectacular. I didn’t know too much about this place so we got a map and headed for the Bamboo Forest, a narrow set of roads surrounding by huge Bamboo’s.
After here we set off on a walk to Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple which was about a 30 minute stroll passing beautiful houses and lots of small little temples. This is famous for all the thousands of stones of Buddha and was well worth the walk. It cost about $3 to get in which is reasonable so no qualms there. From here we decided to walk back and go over to the Hozu River and relax there watching the hordes of tourists pass by. This is definitely a tourist hotspot with lots of Japanese school children thrown in which makes it a totally cosmopolitan area. As time was against us, we left after lunch (in Family Mart) and headed back by train to Kyoto to catch a bus to the Gion area and in particular Kiyomizu Temple.
I had been here in 2009 and although it is impressive I was shocked to find that it was one of the recent contenders for the new 7 world wonders. It certainly is no Machu Picchu or Great Wall so thankfully it wasn’t selected. The walk from the bus stop takes about 20 minutes and was very busy with tourists and shops selling all the usual souvenirs. We both managed to get our photos taken with some geisha girls who were as usual in the vicinity (this area is the most famous for meeting geisha’s). The temple itself was under re-construction in many areas and as mentioned earlier isn’t as impressive as the other world wonder nominations (just my opinion). The entrance fee was about $2.50 and the walk around takes about 40 minutes depending on your pace. Lots of the locals dress up in the traditional outfits to visit and this makes it a good blend along with the overseas visitors. The walk back to the streets of Gion offers the chance to see more geisha’s and some more impressive architecture.
We had just finished the Chionin Temple and crossed the road when we randomly bumped into Trina and her husband. Trina is a fellow teacher at my school and although I knew she would be in Japan, meeting up like this was still quite surreal. We said our goodbyes and headed to a well-earned lie down at the hotel. For dinner we headed to the Kawaramachi area, which has lots of quirky shops, which Aida loved, and she bought some sandals, a hat (for the UK) and an I-phone cover. Heading back to the hotel we reflected on an enjoyable 2 days in Kyoto and looked forward to the final leg of our journey, two days in Hiroshima.