When Tomi was invited to give a talk in a conference in Kyoto (with all the expenses covered), we did not need to think long if we wanted to make it a vacation trip together and spend some extra days exploring Kansai region after the conference.
Since our flight was relatively early in the morning we took a train to Paris the day before and spent the night at the airport hotel Citizen M. It was kind of cool and hip, but we were impressed neither by their dinner nor breakfast.
We landed in Kansai International Airport very early in the morning, and the first thing we wanted was to take a shower, since we still had about seven hours before we could check in at our Airbnb apartment in Kyoto.
After a ten-minute wait (instead of the promised hour) we were directed to automated shower booths that were supposed to give us 15 minutes of warm water. Initially we both had some trouble operating the system, but eventually 15 minutes was way more than we actually needed.
From Porta we walked to Nishiki market passing Higashi Hongan-ji temple on our way. This is one of the two dominant Hongan-ji temples in Kyoto (East Hongan-ji), the other one being Nishi Hongan-ji (West Hongan-ji), which tei visited later.
After a lot of walking we fetched our luggage from storage at the Kyoto station and took a taxi to our apartment, which was located just north of the Imperial Palace. We found this shopping arcade with an excellent supermarket just two steps away.
Too lazy to cook anything for dinner we bought some "finger food" from a stall in the arcade; "two of those, two of those and two of those!" We enjoyed the skewers with store bought fresh noodles. Yummy!
(little trivia: in Singapore "finger food" means food that one chooses by pointing a finger at at a stall)
We ran to Kamigamo-jinja, which according to Lonely Planet is one of the Japan's oldest shrines, established in 679. However, the current buildings are exact reproductions of the originals and date from 17th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, the main hall was under covers for renovation.
CNN recently wrote that "there are 5.5 million vending machines in Japan -- one for every 23 people, the highest ratio in the world." They are very convenient when one goes running and does not want to carry water.
We stayed relatively late, but heard next day that some of the conference participants had stayed much longer and even continued their excursion to another karaoke lounge, with the results that one of them failed to show up to give his talk the next day.
This bird got a a lot of attention. Of all the attractions Tei visited during the three days, this castle was clearly the most popular among the tourists --- it even got crowded at places, whereas both the Imperial Palace and the Botanical Gardens were quite empty and quiet.
It started to drizzle so the covered shopping archade/street Teramachi-dori was very welcome. And the suddenly begun hunger was soon relieved by Lipton Teahouse's lunch set: hambagu and fried shrimp with rice and salad.
Fast forward --- once Tomi's conference was over, in no time we found ourselves in rainy streets of Nara. We had some difficulty in finding Guest House Route 53 Furuichi Ryokan; it turned out there are two guest houses with the same name and we found the wrong one first.
On our way back to the guest house (which was like 50 meters away) we stopped at Tsunoya bar for sake tasting. We asked the bartender for recommendations and chose three (for 1000 yen): A (balanced), B (sharp), and J (cedar cask matured).
Our first destination of the day was the Tourist Office at the railway station to find out how to get to the Enjo-ji temple by bus. From there the goal was to take a forest walk that followed an old pilgrimage route back to Nara.
The deities of Asahi Kannon. There were a number of Buddhist rock carvings by the walking route, and they were conveniently marked in our map. Otherwise, we would have missed most of them, since it was a grey day and light was scarce in the woods, and most of the carvings were meters away from the trail.
At 7pm. we left for dinner, but the places we had in mind were already closed or about to close. Despite looking like an ordinary boring mall restaurant from the outside, we eventually (after passing by a couple of times) chose LBK Craft, a gastro pub that is run by an American who had lived in Japan for 20 years.
After the normal morning routines we took the backpacks to the storage at the Nara station, and walked to Nara Palace Site. It was not very scenic walk, and when reaching our destination we found ourselves in the middle of huge construction site. They were doing landscaping and in general, improving the palace site for better visitor experience.
Finding a place to eat was again an adventure since places were either full or did not have English or picture menus. Finally we were seated in a private room in Ichiyoshi (with a non-functional server call button, which we found out after waiting for 15 minutes for the server to appear --- very uncharacteristic Japanese service). We ordered a seafood hot pot and edamames. The hot pot was rather small so we order eel sushi rolls for dessert.
We had chiffon cake with coffee or tea for breakfast at Ichie. Then we boarded a bus to Kumano Hongu Taisha, and in an hour and a half we were there. The Meiko-line bus was super comfortable and served both tourists going hiking the Kumano Kodo but also locals who went to work or school along the line.
At 8pm. we found ourselves at the counter of Kanteki restaurant (there had been no seats for us the night before). The place is smoky and full, no English is spoken, but the service is very friendly. Of course, we attracted quite a bit of attention since not many westerners find themselves there; there place is somewhat hard to find since there are no signs outside.
We ordered several items in this izakaya style place: eel sushi in place of the eel dish we ordered but was not available, kimchi pork, deep fried eggplant, sweet potato tempura with two large pints of Asahi. We were also offered chestnuts and chestnut chips (chestnuts were in season).
We finished the evening in Cafe Solo, where we tasted Japanese whiskeys, Youichi (Hokkaido) and Suntory. We were also offered tasters of Suntory Umeshu plum liquor matured in a toasted cask and distilled potato beverage shochu.
We quickly checked the nearby Horin-ji temple (or that's what we thought) before crossing the Aizu-gawa River. The wife of the abbot invited us to see their Japanese garden. Next thing we found out was that she was making us green tea and serving it with bean paste buns. She introduced her 75-year-old mother, who had visited a Buddhist temple in Italy on her European tour in May. She was very proud to show us photos she had taken in her trips in France. We also signed their guest book. The visit was very nice and heartwarming, although a bit strange.
Then it was time to find a place for lunch, but even if it was already noon, all the places were closed (it was Tuesday). Finally, on Ginza Street we found Cafe Rurucoro. We had their lunch sets, one each.