Saturday, 31 May 2008

Last day in Kyoto for a while

Today we decided to take it a bit easier and walked down the Philosopher's Path. We had lunch in a great place and had okonomiyaki - a pancake like thing that my friend Darshi at work had told us about. It's cooked on the table - the middle of which is a hot plate - as the photo shows.

The afternoon was spent at the Heian-jingu shrine. The shrine is famous for its beautiful garden. Here's some images from it.

Enjoy the wildlife video below too.

This evening we took the train from Kyoto to Hiroshima and had another very smooth journey on the shinkansen. We managed to get our laundry done - there's a laundrette round the corner but you have to get your clothes out quick before they stink of cigarette smoke! We're staying about a kilometre from where the first atom bomb was dropped. No doubt a very difficult post tomorrow...

Friday, 30 May 2008

A busy day at work

We're really packing it in with the sightseeing! Our last full day in Kyoto was spent by going for a 2-hour walk in the morning from Fushimi Inari Shrine to Tofuku-ji shrine. The walk goes through more than 10,000 torii gates (pictured below) . The gates are offerings by worshippers, and they cover the hiking trails behind the shrine. At times there were so many torii gates that it felt like we were in a tunnel! The shrine is also famous for the numerous lanterns hanging everywhere (see below right). We also saw some turtles in a lake.

The walk finished at Tofuku-ji which is an important temple in the Buddhist religion. We were particularly interested in the Zen garden (pictured below). Although not as polished and popular as Ryoan-ji that we visited yesterday, this garden certainly had a lot of appeal. And we really enjoyed the peace and quiet away from the tourist hoards of Ryoan-ji!

Getting away from it all backfired though when we went to Todai-ji in Nara (below left), reputedly the largest wooden building in the world. It was swarming with bus loads of school children and tours. Inside, it houses a 15m high buddha and two ornate wooden guardians which were created in 1203 - one of which is shown below.

We also visited Kyoto Tower and Kyoto International Manga Museum.

Very tired and need a holiday now!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Kyoto Sightseeing

Following yesterday's strenuous exercise, it was a late start for us this morning. However, we visited some photogenic temples today. First was Kinkakuji Temple with its golden pavilion. We also got accosted by some more teenagers for a photo.

We then contemplated the zen garden at Ryoanji Temple. Various interpretations include mountains peaking through a sea of cloud; islands in the ocean or, my favourite, lion mothers taking their cubs across a river. (A very kind Japanese gentleman explained this all to us). The photo below is taken from the only spot from which all fifteen rocks are visible at once.

Fundraising is also very effective at the temple. Simply throw a coin into the bowl. If you can reach the big bowl, why not try and get the smaller bowl. As the picture shows - you can't miss!

Lunch was as you can see below - very filling!!!! A bowl of udon noodles each. Mine came with 7 extra thngs whilst Jen has fried tofu in it.

We had an evening stroll through a very confusing geisha district. Were the salary men just having a meal and conversation? Was so much privacy required? Were lots of lone women arriving by taxi into the area? We also manage to catch the Kiyomizudera temple as the sun was setting.

A late post tonight due to a trip planning....

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A walk in the woods

We tackled our first Japanese mountain called Buna-ga-take (1,214m). The walk started off steeply, ascending a number of switch backs before finally reaching the summit. With vegetation the whole way up, there are no views until the summit. We were glad we had the compass and altimeter.

Below - Buna- ga-take from the summit of Goten-yama (1,097m) and Andy on the summit.

Navigation was reasonably straightforward, following a number of trails. It was interesting to see the impact of previous landslides, flash floods and rock falls along the trail. One of the main route points was a ski centre. However, when we got there there were no buildings to be found. In fact the whole infrastructure had been taken away in 2004 - including the cable car which would have provided us with a short cut down to the next valley.

Below - snapshots of the trail.

There was lots of wildlife along the walk including rabbits, dear, Japanese fire bellied salamanders (newts) , lizards, maybe monkeys and a couple of snakes - which did nothing to ease Jen's frog/snake phobia. One snake was very impressive - about a metre long and just watched us. Luckily we were above it on a board walk. On the way back down though we found a sign (see below). Apparently, it says that the snake was a mamushi - or Japanese pit viper, one of only two poisonous snakes in Japan. I think it also says that mamushi like to be handled by humans and stroked under the chin.

Below - the snake warning sign and some good size logs for the fire!

A really interesting walk. Looking forward to the next one already... However, it's a rest day in Kyoto tomorrow.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Light my fire

Today got off to a bit of a bumpy start with us opting for a Japanese breakfast. I have to say it wasn't very enjoyable. There were some beans that looked like cocoa pops wrapped in a sticky, Indiana Jones like spider's web, a raw egg, some rice, miso soup and coffee. I decided to add the egg to the miso soup to 'cook' it but this instead ruined the soup.

First and last stops of today's visits were the Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji temples. Below - the amazing gravel gardens in Ginkaku-ji with a Mt Fuji like dome on the right of picture. Also below - the effect of temple overload.

Between temples, we managed our first Japanese ascent, Daimon-ji yama (466m). This hill is the Arthur's Seat of Kyoto with lots of great paths. On the slopes are the fire platforms used to create the great 'dai' for the yaki festival in August.

Below - panorama from the 'dai' site looking towards Kyoto. Also below- the festival 'dai' alight on the hill.

We finished off with an evening meal on the 10th floor of the Kyoto station building. Cheers and thanks for all your messages.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Not your average Virgin pendolino

Today began with a quick tour of the Sensoji temple. No pictures of the temple but here's some impressive koi carp in the grounds (left - click for larger image).

Shinkansen Hikari

We then caught the Shinkansen Hikari train from Tokyo to Kyoto - a distance of 513.6km covered in just 2 hours 43 minutes (average speed 189km/h including stops, max speed 270km/h). No delays and on time to the minute. The fastest train, not covered on our passes, does the same journey at an average speed of 218km/h (max speed 300km/h, better acceleration).

When the train arrives in the station, a team of people clean and rotate all the seats 180 degrees (see team waiting below left).

Before boarding, it's important to get your bento box. This was today's lunch (above right). Here's a six second taster of the journey (below).

Kyoto Station

Kyoto station is pretty impressive - an 11-storey building with the train station at the bottom. A lot of school children were around, and their homework was to stop and practise their English (and get their photo taken) with as many tourists as possible. We thought they wanted us to take a picture of them, not the other way round! The children choreographed the photo themselves - it's so ordered.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Oversleeping in Asakusa

Bit of a disaster this morning. We were supposed to get up at 7.00am to have a look around the fish market. However, our new chinese watches only managed to wake Jen up. Indeed, I slept soundly for a further two hours before an anxious Jen managed to break into the dormitory to check my pulse. And it was my idea to get up ridiculously early too!

In spite of a necessary change of plan to the day, we had a great time looking at the Meiji-jingu shrine - a very popular venue for Japan's rich and famous to wed. (Please note - I forgot the camera this morning so today's photos are courtesy of the world wide web)

Lunch has to be mentioned because Jen chose the vegetarian option - labelled bean curd - which then came swimming in a rich, spicy mince meat stew.

After lunch we made our way over to the Tokyo Bay area. The view to the 918m long Rainbow Bridge is obscured by a scaled down copy of the Statue of Liberty. In the distance, there's also the Tokyo Tower- higher than the Eiffel Tower from which it is cloned. We got to the bridge at dusk, rather than at nightfall as this picture below shows. The walk over the bridge was great and the sunset was breathtaking - one of the best trip moments so far (day 3).

We finally wandered back via Ginza (above right) - a long and very upmarket street - before arriving back at the International Backpackers Embassy here in Asakusa.