We are officially starting our Japanese autumn tour! After the first few Tokyo posts, we are now getting down to business with this autumn trip that was full of wonders and surprises.
I won’t be telling you the whole route just yet, I have to keep some elements of surprise for each post, but know that we took full advantage of our JR Pass.
Our itinerary was actually not the most convenient – we were following hotel availabilities – but you’re free to scramble everything around if you’re planning a trip yourself.
As with last year, I decided to keep a little journal that I could show you during the stay.
Regarding transportation, we booked our tickets more than 6 months early, and got really good prices (600 euros for a 2 way ticket for one person): I’d highly recommend keeping an eye on the tickets as early as you can.
We chose to fly with Lufthansa (we were a bit worried during the strikes though) and there is basically nothing special to report there: the staff was polite, a mix of german and japanese flight attendants (“Ich bin Nihonjin!”), we stopped in Frankfurt for the outbound flight, and Munich on our way back, the food trays were all right, and there was a limitless supply of onigiris (hehe).
Once we arrived in Tokyo, we immediatly boarded a train for Kyoto (we didn’t opt for easy!).
Kyoto … by bike !
No time for transition, after a shower and a quick night’s sleep, the next morning we were up at 8 for a bike ride in Kyoto.
We had made reservations for this outing with Comptoir des Voyages in order to familiarize ourselves with the city (I had come in 2007, but it was really a quick stopover). And indeed, it was a great help.
We met up around 9 by the railway station: our japanese guide Annie was already waiting for us …. under pouring rain!
Yes, I know, not ideal for a bike ride, but that’s when you really see japanese adaptability firsthand: Annie had gotten us ponchos, umbrellas, and protective plastic bags for our bike baskets.
First couple pedal strokes under light rain … no matter the weather, I realize I’m sitting on a bike… in Japan … it’s solid happiness.
Memoirs of a geisha
First stop at Miyagawacho dori, a street where you can spot geishas: these elegant women, half lady companion, half swiss knife, excelling as they do in multiple ar forms (singing, music, dance, poetry etc.) well… over there they’re called “Geiko”.
You have to differentiate between “Maiko” (padawan-Geiko-in-training) and “Geikos” (experienced “geishas”, a bit older).
We were lucky to see some of them – the training schools are in this street.
There are also “non-authentic” ones, since a lot of shops in the area offer tourists a geiko/maiko makeover. I unfortunately didn’t have time to do on, but you can count me in next time I come back to Kyoto!
Hygashiyama and Gion areas
We’re up on our bikes again and off to our next stop: Kenninji temple.
Kenninji temple under the rain
The rain doesn’t seem to want to stop, but it just makes the place all the more mysterious. We stop and admire the 5 floor Yasaka pagoda.
Lovers on the Tatsumi bashi
We can’t not stop on the Tatsumi Bashi bridge, famous for being featured in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Spotted: two newlyweds on their official photo shoot.
We finish our tour with the Heian Jingu Shrine.
We draw one of the famous prediction paper that you have to tie on a tree if it’s bad (to ward off bad luck).
Lucky us! We won’t have to, Annie explains that we got the best predictions! I’m not really superstitious, but I imagine it won’t hurt to keep them preciously.
In the afternoon, we head back to the places we visited by bike in the morning, and walk through the small lanes that bring us back to the Kodaiji temple and Kiyomizudera … by night! It was magical.
And now for the food
I’ll end this post with some good spots in Kyoto: we’ll be back in the city later, so I’ll get to elaborate some more. But for now, here’s what I have:
SOBANOMI YOSHIMURA ( Matsuyacho, Shimogyoku,)
An authentic and delicious address, the soba noodles are handmade on the spot.
Soba ice-cream : crunchy !
HYATT REGENCY HOTEL (Higashiyama-ku Sanjusangendo-Mawari 644-2)
We stayed 2 nights in this hotel, following Comptoir des Voyages‘s good advice.
Indeed, we had to juggle between hotels and apartments during our stay; this time of the year is rather popular and busy. I’ll give you another accommodation option when we come back to Kyoto later on.
But at the Hyatt, the breakfast was hearty, and the service was amazing.
JUNIDAN-YA (570-6 Gionmachi Minamigawa Higashiyama-ku)
A mini shabu-shabu, quite cheap compared to the other options in the Gion area. Very comforting by a rainy day.
OKONOMIYAKI MACHIYA (CC Porta, 902-505 Higashi Shiokojicho, Karasuma-dori Shiokoji Iru)
Quite famous in Osaka, the okonomiyakis in this underground shop of the Porta mall (across from the Kyoto train station) were delicious. Yes, when I describe it like that it seems like a hard sell, but it was really incredibly delicious!
I tried their “modan-yaki” (okonomiyaki with cabbage, noodles and cheese sauce) and my tastebuds fell in love instantly!
To be continued…