Sunday, July 23, 2017

Travel: 1 Day Cycling Tour of Kyoto

Today we were supposed to buy an all-day pass and travel around and Kyoto and visit temples, but I got the idea to ride around instead when our accommodation had two bikes for our use. Of course one had a flat tire and there was no pump, so we went to the local bike hire and picked up a second bike.  The bike hire cost 800Y, we get given a map and then we are on our way. You can buy a bike parking permit for the day, it costs only a couple of hundred yen and it allows you to park at various locations. Not all the places we went to were a part of this and we did have to pay for parking at Ryozen Kannon, but again, the fee was minimal.


This is the plan for the day:


1. Kiyomizudera

Our first stop is Kiyomizudera, but first we get lost and we push our bikes up a giant hill, only to realise it isn’t going anywhere. So we turn around and retrace our steps and find the correct street to go up. We know we are on the right path now as there are a throng of people making their way to Kiyomizudera also.

The Main Hall is amazing to see. The timber support structure is so impressive. It is almost a high as a 4-story building and the size of each individual beam is astonishing. We move pretty quickly through the grounds as it is just so crowded here.

We make our way back to where our bikes are parked, stopping at the shops along the way. We decide since it’s almost lunch time, a 500Y chicken on a stick sounds like a perfect idea right now. We also decide to get a soft serve ice cream. I go for a mix of green tea and vanilla as I just wasn’t sure if it is would taste nice, because I haven’t particularly enjoyed the green tea we have been served while in Japan.



2. Yasaka Pagoda

Now, there’s this pagoda in Yasaka that I’m really excited to check out. There are only obscure references to it and Google maps haven’t given it a name either. We only ride for a couple of minutes until we come across it. This part of Kyoto, in the Higashiyama Ward, is simply stunning. It is a preserved historic district and the buildings are amazing. We push our bikes through this area as there are some streets that you can’t ride on, and in addition, the road is more like cobblestones and it’s very bumpy! But it is just so pretty to walk through, we certainly don’t mind taking our time.


3. Ryozen Kannon

After we walk our bikes through this part of the city, we hop on again and make our way to Ryozen Kannon. The Ryozen Kannon is a war memorial and it has an incredible 24 metre high Buddha statue that you can see from afar. We spend a little bit of time here walking around the grounds and looking at the shrines and memorials. There is only one other tourist on the grounds, I can’t understand why it isn’t busier as the Buddha alone is incredible to see. Although after the crowds at Kiyomizudera, I’m not complaining!


4. Kodaiji Temple

While our bikes are parked here, we then check out Kodaiji Temple, which is only next door. It is so pretty and peaceful, the Zen garden looks amazing. There’s even a little building that reminds me of a Hobbit house. And there’s a walkway here that’s the steepest one I’ve seen! The grounds here are beautiful and there’s even a bamboo forest to walk through. When you reach the top of the grounds as it’s on a hill, you are so high up that you get to see the back of Buddha’s head at Ryozen Kannon.


5. Entokuin Temple

The entrance fee to Kodaiji also includes access to Entokuin temple, which is a sub-temple of Kodaiji. It is a short walk from Kodaiji down a set of steps called Nene’s Path. Here we found two more Zen gardens. It was ok here, but if you’re short on time, you could probably skip it and not feel like you’ve missed out.


6. Chionin Temple

After we walked back up Nene’s Path to the car park, or in our case bike park, near Ryozen Kannon, we get our bikes and make our way to Chionin. We decide that we simply don’t have enough time to check it out properly, which is disappointing as it looks beautiful from all the photos I’ve seen in my research. We snap a photo of the Sanmon Gate and start off again.


7. Heian Shrine Torii Gate

We were just cycling along minding our own business when we happened to come across this giant torii gate! We didn’t know at the time that it was part of the Heian Shrine. Again, this shrine was somewhere I wanted to visit, but we just didn’t have the time (I’ll blame getting lost for an hour). It really is extraordinary seeing this torii gate as it’s so big. Very impressive! We start cycling again after a quick drink and pass some other attractions such as Kyoto Zoo. Sadly, we don’t have enough time today to check it out.


8. Philosopher's Path

We then make our way to the beginning of the Philosopher’s Path at the Nanzenji end. We find it easily as there’s a signpost pointing the way (with the help of Google maps to get us to the approximate area). There’s a steep cobble stoned section at the beginning that we push our bikes up, we saw people trying to ride down it and it didn’t look pretty!

The Philosopher’s Path at this time of the year looks beautiful with all the autumn foliage. I can only imagine how spectacular it would look in the spring with all the blossoms! We see cats along the way. There’s also a lady painting scenes of the path and on the way back, we stop and buy a print for 1000 Yen.

The path is really easy to cycle along, but I can tell that it could be difficult when the area is in peak tourist time. However, we were able to ride freely the whole way. We get the end of the path and we are pointed in the right direction for our bike parking so we can go in and see Ginkakuji Temple or the Silver Pavilion.


9. Ginkakuji Temple

We make our way to the entrance of Ginkakuji Temple. After seeing the Golden Temple (Kinkakuji), we were so excited to see how the silver one would compare. We walk through the prettiest row of hedges that are probably 5 metres high. We enter the grounds and we are immediately greeted with a Zen garden that is raked to perfection. We check out a few of the small halls and then we follow the path, on the lookout for silver.

The grounds here are my favourite in our whole trip. They are beautifully cared for and they are so pretty. Every season of the year would produce a different, and yet equally amazing, garden. The path goes up a hill and on our way back down I decide it’s time to Google the temple to make sure we haven’t missed it. Spoiler alert, it turns out there is no silver on the temple. It was never finished by the time the owner, Yoshimasa, died. I have to admit, there was a pang of disappointment, but honestly, the grounds were so pretty, it was hard not to just look around and appreciate such a beautiful space.

It’s getting on in the afternoon and since we have a fairly lengthy ride in front of us, we decide it’s time to head back to the bikes.


10. Honen-in Temple

We start cycling back along the Philosopher’s Path when I see the sign that points in the direction on Honen-in Temple. This temple was in my initial planning, but I thought it was one of those temples that I thought we could skip if we didn’t have enough time. We head up the steepest hill yet, so steep, we have to push our bikes. We eventually find somewhere to park our bikes and we go in search of the gate.

We have gotten there quite late and as soon as we walk through the main gate, they close it behind us. I look around and my breath is taken away. It is so beautiful. It is only a small area, but this is the type of area I could quite comfortably spend many a day in. It is so quiet and serene, everything is covered in moss, and it is just so peaceful here.

As it is so small, it really doesn’t take us long to walk around and soon we are back on our bikes and heading back to the bicycle rental near Kyoto Station. Today has been magnificent. When the idea first popped into my head, I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I didn’t think it would have such a lasting impact on me, but it did.




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Travel: Universal Studios Osaka

Today is the day we go to Universal Studios and I’m so excited! We walk the 15 minutes to Kyoto station and along the way we drop into 7-11 to pick up some breakfast to eat on the way to Osaka. We come across the strangest thing, bananas. Not any bananas but ones in plastic packaging. It’s like these bananas don’t come with their own natural packaging?! And the eggs and oranges!


We hadn’t pre-purchased our tickets, so we needed to line up when we got there. It really didn’t take long to buy our tickets, maybe 20 minutes, but then it took another 30 minutes to scan our tickets and get through the gate.


After we get inside the park, we make a bee-line for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I need to pick my jaw up as I am just so amazed by it. Diagon Alley is so much better than I imagined it would be, and Hogwarts is mind blowing for a Harry fan, like me.




I get Kate to go on the Flight of the Hippogriff with me. The line is short and moving really quickly until we get to the front of the line and then the ride brakes down! We wait over half an hour for it to be declared ok and then we hop on. The ride takes all of about 30 seconds and then it’s over! Not to worry, it’s still fun.


Afterwards, we get some Butterbeer. Warm for me and cold for Kate.  Mine tastes really yummy, although a little bit sweet. Kate’s cold Butterbeer is not nice at all and we end up throwing it out.


We then wander around the park a bit until we come across the Jurassic Park ride and we figure since the line is short, we may as well go on it. Considering it’s a cool day, there’s probably a really good reason why the line is short… and of course not knowing what the ride is like, we get wet!


I really want to go on the Flying Dinosaur, I’d even watched some YouTube videos before we left for Japan so I knew what it was all about. Kate decides it’s not for her, so I jump in the single line and I only have a 15 minute wait. During this time, Kate rides the Jurassic Park ride three more times and she now declares it her favourite ride. Anyway, the Flying Dinosaur is even better than I thought it would be. It’s awesome.


I did read that these parks are famous for their popcorn in Japan, so when we walk past a Minions popcorn stand, we can’t help but be curious about the chocolate banana flavoured popcorn. It was delicious!


We wander around a bit more and go on a few more rides and then the evening parade commences and we take a break to watch it.



Then we decide it’s getting quite cool and we decide we’ve had enough… but not before I get Kate to have a photo with Elmo and co!


We make our way back to Kyoto and decide to find somewhere to have dinner. Underneath Kyoto station is a shopping centre called CUBE. We find a ramen restaurant and we settle in for dinner. Chicken for Kate and pork curry for me.


Dinner is so good and we figure since we’re still out and about we might as well go across the road to Kyoto Tower and check out the view. Those who know me know I love fairy lights, so you can imagine my delight in seeing the city lights that seem to go forever. They are so pretty and mesmerising.


And then, after one very long and tiring day, we shuffle back to our apartment and sleep really soundly as we’re both exhausted.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Travel: Arashiyama and the Iwatayama Monkey Park

After the Sagano Romantic Train, we catch the train back to Saga Arashiyama station and we make our way towards Togetsukyo Bridge and Iwatayama Monkey Park. It is still raining but it’s not too heavy, so we keep going as we are looking forward to seeing the macaque monkeys.


After walking for about 10 minutes we get to the main street of Arashiyama. It is so quaint and there are so many gorgeous shops that we stop and look in along the way.


We even find a store that’s dedicated to cats. As a cat lover, Kate is in shopping heaven. She buys a bag and some bandaids with cats on them.


After we come out of the cat store, the Togetsukyo Bridge is quite close and we continue towards it. The Katsura River is so pretty, but unfortunately, it is such a grey and dull day with the rain, that it doesn’t look as beautiful as it normally would.



Once we’re on the other side of the river, we follow the sign to Iwatayama Monkey Park. There’s a shrine just outside the entrance. I don’t think I could ever tire of looking at tori gates.


We pay the entrance fee and we start the climb up to the top of the Mt Arashiyama. It is not an easy walk and whenever there is a seat along the path, we stop and have a drink and catch our breath.


We finally get to the top after about 30 minutes and we are amazed at how many monkeys are just hanging about.




At this park, you’re able to hand feed the monkeys. You have to go inside the building to do this though and you feed them through the wired windows. You buy a bag of apple pieces or nuts for 100Y, which is a great price for a little bit of fun. It was amazing to watch the relationships between the monkeys and working out the hierarchy between them.



We hang around the monkeys for about half an hour before we decide to get going. But before we head back down the mountain, we catch a glimpse of these sweet monkeys cuddling up.


Today has been an awesome day. It has been so full of different sights and experiences. Here’s one last photo of the Katsura River that I took on our way back to the station. So pretty.


And then we make our way back to the Saga Arashiyama station and then to Kyoto so we can go back to our accommodation.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Travel: Sagano Romantic Train

We make our way from the Bamboo Forest to Torokko Arashiyama station, where the Sagano Romantic Train will depart from and make our way to Kameoka Torokko station.


We get here early and purchase our tickets, which costs us just under 1000 Yen for the two of us. We are able to book a seat on the open carriage, but it quickly sells out after us and then there are standing room only tickets left.

We decide to wait the time out by browsing the gift store and buying some lunch. We have a good giggle at the Caution Crow sign, crows seem so tame to us in comparison to magpies!



When it’s almost time for the train to arrive, we are allowed down onto the platform. The train arrives at the platform and everyone is so efficient at getting on the train.




We settle in and the trip begins. Not long into the train ride, it starts to rain! Surprisingly we don’t get wet as there is some shelter. The scenery is amazing and I’m quite disappointed with the way my photos turned out as it doesn’t do the trip justice.



We stop briefly at Torokko Hodukyo Station, but I’m not sure why as there appears to be absolutely nothing here, except for a bridge across the river into the wilderness.


Oh look, here’s Kate and I. The lovely couple across from us took this photo as we’d taken one for them.


I wish this photo showed the true colour of the water. It’s was beautiful and aqua. So pretty! You can catch one of these boats back, but Kate gets motion sickness quite easily, so I wasn’t going to chance it!


After we disembark at Kameoka Torokko station it is raining quite heavily. Luckily for us the gift shop are selling umbrellas as there’s a 10 minute walk to the JR Umahori station to get back to Arashiyama.


 We get back to Arashiyama and then make our way towards Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama.