We have reached Kyoto at 6am. We didn’t have any accommodation booked for the oncoming days but it didn’t bother us yet. Leaving our luggage in the locker at the station we set off in a horrible heat (worse than in Tokyo since Kyoto was located in the valley), towards Fushimi Inari. This place was very important for me to visit.
I am one of those people who browse hundreds of pictures from different places and the plan to see them on the way of my travels, and however cheesy it may sound, take my own pictures in these places too. We have spent half of a day wandering through the Torii gates climbing up the hill, admiring hundreds of little Shinto shrines. On our way we met delightful Indonesian couple and walked with them for a while chatting about different travel opportunities in Indonesia and experiences from Japan so far. So, for anyone who’s interested, best time for going to Indonesia according to our friends is June-July and a trick for saving on accommodation is renting a place, which may be cheaper than staying at the hostels. On the top of the Inari mountain there was an amazing view over Kyoto, so we took a few panoramic shots of the city among the mountains. After exhausting mostly because of the weather climb, we headed back to the station, regaling ourselves with green tea flavoured crushed ice on the way, popular summer snack on the city streets. Although, this was only the beginning of the green tea flavour madness. As it turned out, Kyoto offers whole range of delightful titbits with this flavour. From ice cream and crushed ice, through traditional Japanese sweets – spongy cakes filled with sweet beans, to the fancy desert which I discovered on the streets of east Kyoto, green tea parfait – compilation of ice cream, jelly (both flavoured of green tea of course!), fruits and sweet beans, YUM!
After returning to the station we picked our luggage and headed to the tourist information to sort out the accommodation for the incoming nights. Unfortunately, it turned out that most hostels do not have any available spaces (obviously!), the ones that did exceeded out financial possibilities. Using accessible there computers we searched any potential hostels we could stay in and marked the on the map getting ready for tour around city with backpacks on our backs. When we reached our first hostel in eastern Kyoto – Santiago Guesthouse, we have been told that there are two available bed but both in female dorm so there was no chance for Dan to stay. Luckily nice hostel receptionist helped us checking other options and called other places to check whether any has got two beds for us for sure. This way we landed in the coolest, nicest and interesting place to stay in Kyoto – Rakuen Guesthouse, being thankful that everything happened the way it did. Atmosphere of this place surprised us at first. The owner of the guesthouse turned out to be a very positive and friendly guy in his late twenties living in Tokyo, who as far as I understood, inherited the house and decided to turn it to a hostel. He was there when we stayed, but most of the time lovely Joanna from Shanghai took care of all the business and management. Apart from her there were no other employees, only volunteers who would come and deal with all the work in the guesthouse for the opportunity of a free accommodation and food. Hostel was very small itself and thanks to all this added up the atmosphere there was amazing, hippie, sociable, very friendly and positive. Every night there would be a dinner for everyone and all guests would gather together to eat, chat and have fun.
Second day in Kyoto turned out to be the best. We went to conquer the eastern part of the city, which was suppose to be the most beautiful. Starting off from Kiyomizu-dera temple we strolled through amazingly climatic old streets feeling almost as we travelled back in time. All the little shops had a range of beautiful traditional handmade products, we tasted the best honey ever sold on the streets there, admired the process of creating traditional ceramics from Kyoto and beautiful outfits of local strollers. There was a last thing missing to my complete happiness – the sight of a geisha. Apparently it is not so easy to spot a geisha there since they rather try to avoid tourists and work mostly in the evenings in the area of Gion. Therefore, when I saw this beautifully dressed Maiko walking up the street with full make-up and hair gorgeously done in a traditional way tears came to my eyes with the realisation that my biggest dream from a few years back just came true! I say this although, I am still not entirely sure whether that was an actual Maiko or a regular Japanese woman who has used the services of one of the geisha’s parlours since such experiences are offered for tourists.
Following days passed on sightseeing the most popular temples and palaces. One morning I was left alone, going crazy in the same time, because Dan looking all miserable informed me he might have had a heat stroke. I was willing to believe this since the temperature and humidity were insane and we both have already had some serious sunburns. But a few month after the trip he admitted it was a cheeky conspiracy to get me a Christmas gift from Japan without me knowing. So I went by myself to the Silver Pavilion but already after a few minutes I did not regret being alone. That’s the thing about travelling alone – you are actually constantly surrounded by other lone travellers and you are more likely to meet and hang out with other interesting and cool people. That’s exactly what happened then to me, right after entering the Ginkaku-ji I met Johanna, cool girl from Alaska who live in Korea and was travelling around Japan.
We were hanging out together for the rest of the day sightseeing Nijo castle and chatting over green tea deserts. Johanna introduced me to interesting ‘cultural’ customs over in Alaska for the wintertime, like spitting on the ground when the spit should freeze while falling, or more spectacular one – spilling the kettle of boiling water and watching it evaporate before touching the ground! You can see this on Youtube, happens also in Russia ;). With all this and circumstances prevailing in Kyoto Johanna looked absolutely grotesque! Pale, white skin, covered from feet to wrists with thermal clothes, face covered with sunscreen and umbrella in hand. We had so much fun, moreover my new friend was a Japanese history enthusiast, so while sightseeing she loaded me with plenty of tittle-tattles!
Due to the lack of money and resignation from most of our other plans in Japan we decided to stay in Kyoto one day longer too. Visited the rest of popular temples including Kinkaku-ji the Golden Pavilion and Zen garden in Ryoan-ji. Apart from this after so many days of awfully high temperatures we have lost all our shame and went to have a ‘swim’ in the Kama river. Water was so deep it almost covered our knees! Nevertheless it was amazing just to lay down in the river and cool down, the effect did not last long, we have dried out completely within 20 minutes. Our departure flight from Japan was in Osaka therefore, we needed to make our way there but did not assume any longer stay in the city. We decided on spending one day in Nara after hearing lovely stories about town inhabited by deer from other travellers. As an animal lover I had a really strong need of seeing it with my own eyes. We took morning train from Kyoto to Nara and hit the streets in search of deer. It didn’t take long, our aim was to reach Todai-ji, temple with the biggest wooden Buddha statue in the world, according to the gossips there was suppose to be lots of them. Although, already on the way by pagodas on little squares we saw animals lying down in the shadow or nibble on food from tourists. There were little stalls selling deer crackers for 100 yen, we obviously got some and started feeding and petting them too. However, those deer were not tamed, they were wild animals that came out of forest to capture some food and got used to people, yet they still can get very aggressive and dangerous trying to pick stuff from people’s bags or backpacks occasionally kicking, biting or hitting with antlers. I personally found myself in an awkward situation with one deer too, since he wanted to eat all my crackers and I wanted to share with other deer too, this nasty greedy one dived in my bag when I wasn’t looking at him and pull a paper out. We started wrestling over this paper and unfortunately I only got half of it back. Walking down the boulevard towards Todai-ji we saw indeed the largest amount of those lovely animals, most of them lying in the shadows and barely breathing because of the heat, but some of them still strolling among people trying to scavenge some food.
In the evening of the same day we reached Osaka and the first hours passed on searching for an internet café which we needed to print some maps of how to get to the hostel we booked in Kyoto. We got lost and nervous wandering in the city centre at night and when we finally found internet spot we could not communicate at all with people working there and ended up signing up some subscription and paying insane amount of money for two computers for 15 minutes, unlucky. Later on we strayed more looking for hostel as we took the wrong exit from the underground. Seemed like we were getting a little tired with our stay in Japan, fortunately some girl spotted us on the streets, asked whether we are looking for this hostel and showed us the way since she stayed there too. In the hostel itself – as usual, socialising with great people vol. II! And our last day we spent ultimately tired and overwhelmed by the even higher temperature wandering the streets of Namba district. End of our trip has been topped with absolutely delicious proper sushi in proper sushi restaurant. The phenomenal taste of octopus in creamy vinegar sauce and massive red sun on the horizon bid us goodbye and since then I know one thing for sure. I haven’t got enough of this absolutely stunning country and desperately need to go back there!