Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kyoto was awesome

Ah, the joys of hostel life!
Kyoto actually worked out really well.
The other 6 in the room with me turned out to be quite decent, so I had some company as I trekked around Kyoto for three days. It's nice to make friends on the road.
And Kyoto was wonderful and beautiful. Peaceful, picturesque and charming. Breathtaking even. And WARM! Able to walk around with short sleeves for the first time in a month. I had been feeling quite proud of my Californian self being able to tolerate the 0 degree weather in Beijing until the Canadian I was hanging out with told me that it was 30 below in Edmonton at the moment... 30 below celcius!
The hostel was in an ideal location. Smack in the middle of town, within walking distance to a few train stations, restaurants, Gion and some temples.
Plug: bAK pAK Gion Hostel, booked via hostelbookers.com.

So after being spoiled at my aunt's house in Osaka, I was ready to tackle the trains and trekking the trails in Kyoto. It's not as small as Nara, so what looked like a decent walking distance on the map frequently ended up being pretty far... But the exercise was good to burn off those huge meals I was eating!

The temple complexes were beautiful- many had extensive grounds and beautiful gardens. You could spend all day at one.

The bamboo groves were enchanting... Hearing the wind through the leaves, seeing the light filtering down greenly... It didn't really matter where you walked, every road had something interesting. Omoshiroi.

Philosopher's Path- leading you down beside a small creek in a quaint neighborhood, kind of reminded me of the Venice canal area in LA, but even cuter. The neighborhoods here are all so tiny- roads barely fit the cars that drive down them, the train crossings looked like toy train tracks! And the trains were always so colorful. My favorite was the green velvet seats in the Keihan Line. I would always fall asleep navigating my way home, on the heated seats.

The best was yesterday afternoon's mission- getting from the Philosopher's Path to Fushimi-Inari Ji before dusk... Walking through endless neighborhoods, passing other shrines along the way that were also totally cool- but having to pass them by because we were on a mission... Including Nazen-ji shrine, which was the breathtaking one- first glimsped through the pine trees at a distance- enormous wooden building like a silhouette at first- materializing into a fantastic scale that dwarfed the trees around it, hazy in the cooling afternoon air, which was UNSEASONABLY WARM!!!!

It gets even better. We hop on a train and make it to Fushimi-Inari as the sky is darkening- but the lanterns leading up were lit, so we kept going. This shrine is known for the thousands and thousands of torii gates that were constructed into tunnel-like pathways that traverse for miles up and around the mountain, and also by foxes. It was unbelievable. Especially at night... It got dark, and there were very few adventurous souls out hiking up through the torii gates at this time. Every so often there would be a break in the tunnel and there would be a cluster of shrines. Lit up by lanterns and streetlights, it was dramatic and mysterious. The dominating color was bright orange, the color of the torii gate. You could buy little gates and add them to the collections on various shrines. You could buy big gates too- there were tons and tons. At what we thought was the top, we sat down to rest, and were joined by a couple of badgers. Magical! Chilled up there with them for a few minutes, and then attempted to find the way down. Went another way, just to see more, realized we were going the wrong way when we ended up walking down a path with absolutely no lights, but it was lined by a musical little stream... Wow... Upon backtracking we realized that we hadn't reached the top, and were in fact nowhere near the top... Looking up from certain points you could see the lanterns highlighting the characteristic orange color high above our heads. These torii gates were truly a formidable monument.

Hiked back down just in time to reach the hostel before 9:00pm, to pick up my bags from storage, grab a quick bite from the 24 hours supermarket Fresco next door, and head out for the bus station for my 23:10 bus. Which was really not bad- utterly unremarkable in fact. Sat in seat 1A, in a ladies only row, and once I figured out how to recline the chair I was able to pass out on my inflatable neck pillow (Lifesaver, that one!). Recliner seats aren't all that comfortable, but I'd take it any day over stinky feet blanket beds. The road was nice too, no airborne moments!

7 hours later, I woke up at Tokyo Station and subwayed it back to Khaosan Asakusa Annex Hostel, where I'll be staying for the next 5 nights. The girl at check-in told me I should stay another week, because the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom by then. Right now they are just starting, a few trees here and there blossoming. I'm tempted, I'm very very tempted.

For now, I will take things as they come. Heading out to the musuem in Ueno park again... Had attempted it when I first arrived in Tokyo, but I was truly disoriented at that time. Had to recoup from China- it took me a couple of days! Feeling much better now and ready for anything.

Peace out gang, until later.

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