Tuesday 11th October 2016
This morning I woke up fresh as a daisy forgetting that I had Craig next to me. He was already awake though and so I got up and changed ready for the day ahead. First though, breakfast called to us so we sat with Arlene and her son admiring the unique display of food spread in front of us both such as cereal, banana raisin bread, fried sliced vegetables with the well-known green tea too. We were both trying to make small conversation with the son trying to make him laugh. With our bellies finally full, Arlene off to work and the son away to school, we prepared ourselves for our first full day in the beautiful Kyoto. To be honest we were more excited to get back out on the bikes discovering the city in our own way.
We soon left pedalling away really enjoying the glorious weather of clear skies and hot temperatures. The first main sight we wanted to see was of course the famous golden temple; Kinkakuji temple. The cycle towards the place was elegant watching on at the filled-up buses and cars knowing how horrible it must have been for them to be crammed up like sushi in a bento box. The thrill of dodging people too was truly amazing but soon it came to an end as we eventually parked our bikes just outside from the main entrance to the temple entrance walkway. Craig was as full of anticipation as I was due to the fact it was a good few years since he was last at this marvellous sight and he couldn’t wait any longer to return to its glory.
With a small admission fee to pay, we passed the checkpoint and almost immediately we came upon the spectacular sight of the Kinkakuji temple. Once again, I was lost for words finally coming to terms I was standing in front of this glorious temple without seeing it on a TV screen or heard through stories. The temple was almost surrounded by a large body of water which itself was very beautiful too with raised rocks, mini islands and the odd bonsai tree. The temple shone bright as the sun beamed down upon it but with this being a top sight of Kyoto, it resulted in the place being quite full of people. Time and again, we would cross paths with school trips and the kids would look up at us with both curiosity and amazement. They would also come up to us both and practice their English even giving us high fives and laughing.
We spent a great deal of time in this area before moving off following a pathway leading up a nearby forest hill which had the best of nature and the odd pond area with yet again Japanese structures and statues. We soon realised we were coming to the end of the trail when we caught sight of a few market stalls selling the typical trinkets and Japanese headwear. Although we did grab a couple of things here, we thought what better way to end the temple experience than to reward ourselves with an ice cream; green tea and vanilla to be exact. Our time was done at the temple and so we headed back to our bikes passing by waves of people as we made our way to our next temple experience.
The Ryoanji temple was our destination famed for its rock gardens, which would be something new for me to witness. It was a short cycle ride and we were soon arriving at the main entrance following the routine of parking our bikes once more and entering the temple grounds. Once again, we were full of amazement at the sight of ancient Japanese temples and gardens. We joined the small crowds of people and entered the temple with our shoes off completely amazed by the Japanese interior and tranquillity. Then we caught sight of the large rock garden area and decided to sit for a long while enjoying the sight and lack of outside noise.
With large rocks scattered throughout the garden was the white gravel spread across the whole ground but what was very unique was that it was raked in an artistic form around the scattered rocks which struck a chord in my heart; it was truly simplicity at its best and everyone was experiencing this alongside us. With all that there was to see here, we took our leave heading for another sight; the Ninnaji temple. We began to notice each temple we went to cost a small fee of 500 yen. To be honest once I caught sight of this temple I fell in love with it marking it as the best one for me personally. This was mainly due to the fact that the garden area was astronomically perfect in my eyes showing a truly peaceful Japanese setting.
I sat admiring the peace and quiet as the sun shone out bright and I could sense peace and Craig too coming to terms he was back in his beloved Japan. We felt truly at peace but we had to leave in order to discover more wonderful places Kyoto had to offer. Back onto the bikes we went racing through the streets feeling free with the wind blowing through our hair. Before we went to our next location we came across a diner called ‘Big Boys’ which looked like a retro burger restaurant. We were two big boys needing food so we entered immediately realising that they had great food to offer and what amazed us was of course the free refills on drinks which we definitely took full advantage of. We spent the next half an hour enjoying our burgers and conversations about what to do next and what to see. All the while we would witness curious eyes on us both by the kids and some adults too.
We eventually left the area now heading deeper into the city trying to find Kyoto’s Manga museum famed for its anime and comics. It took a quite a long session of pedalling to get near our destination where we would encounter built up areas full of people weaving through each other and quite often we would knock into people. Eventually we arrived to the sight of a handful of people lying on fake grass outside the museum reading anime comic books. However, our first port of call was the nearby ice cream parlour, which was our form of a pitstop. Time went on until we walked into the Manga museum immediately catching sight of the gift shop area and library filled with elaborate in your face colourful drawings and comic books all around us.
We spent a while looking around and I recognised a few anime themed gifts and comics such as Pokémon, Dragonball Z and Yu-gi-oh which was interesting. What I loved about the comics in Japan or pretty much any reading material was that it was read from back to front which was bizarre in the eyes of a westerner, but was truly fascinating nonetheless. Pretty soon though we would take our leave heading back for the long cycle back to Arlene’s apartment. The route we were cycling was guiding us to the main river of Kyoto; Kamo. The river was a very long stretch of water and right alongside it was a cycle route. Therefore, we changed from the tarmac roads straight onto a crushed stone track and from here on, we did nothing but pedal enjoying the straight route north passing underneath several bridges and passing by other cyclists and walkers.
A long time passed until we were closing in on the apartment but first we suddenly came to a stop as we had located something unique in the river. What we could see were stepping stones but perfectly carved into turtles. We parked up and took a walk on them feeling great at the sight of the water rushing towards us and around us. As the river was quite wide, it meant there were a lot of turtles to jump on to get to the other side and so we both took the leap. We were enjoying it to the fullest as though we were both kids again jumping around but what was even more great was the race we decided to have to get back to our bikes. We suddenly ran off with me taking greater risks than Craig to get in front of Craig and it paid off as I had won.
Anyway, back on our bikes we went and very soon pulled up outside the apartment still in one piece. The constant cycling along the beautiful river resulted in us both taking a long and well-deserved rest whilst conversating once more with Arlene what we did for a living. She had also prepared us some lovely coffee and biscuits but what she didn’t realise was that Craig took her favoured chocolate biscuits; 1000 shames upon him I thought as we all laughed. The biscuits however would not be enough to feed us so with the night sky above us both we took our leave heading for a nearby restaurant.
Just as we walked outside, Arlene’s son was outside with his friend who was curious about us like everybody else. They were busy playing football down the narrow yard so I thought I would join them trying to impress them with my tricks. To be honest it took a while to get back into the swing of things but somehow managed it with a flattish ball. They were also impressed at the fact I was spinning the ball on my finger so I became a kind of teacher for Arlene’s son showing him how to do it. Progress was slow so I gave him a break as Craig and I took our leave.
The first and decent place we came across was an automated service restaurant where we would walk into the restaurant, choose our food by a computer and await our food to be cooked by the chefs. What we loved most was how cheap the food was so we wasted no time entering the small place. Numerous attempts and decision-making brought us to the conclusion of ordering a classic Japanese dish called Katsudon. To be honest we were basing the food by the look of it and it looked really nice on the computer. We didn’t know if it was going to taste bad but we couldn’t have been more wrong if we tried. Every bite was greater than the last as we dived into pork meat, egg and rice.
The evening was great with another experience under our belts and so with no haste we made our way back to the apartment already going over our plans for our final full day out in the fascinating Kyoto. We thought tonight was going to be peaceful too but we decided to have a right good laugh about an upcoming cycle documentary of Craig’s life which I called One Speed, One Basket. This fitted in very well due to the fact Japanese bikes all had baskets, which we adored and took full advantage of. Eventually, the laughing monkeys finally drifted off to sleep remembering the invisible line drawn in the double bed.