Saturday, March 29, 2014

The first solo travel (Part 2) : Kyoto

            Finally, I got to Kyoto, the land of history, culture and tradition of Japan after 9 hours on bus. My mission at that time was finding the way to get to my host house from the station. I used couchsurfing to ask for a place to stay instead of booking hostel and luckily, I got accepted by a Japanese man called Shoji. 

Since Shoji had sent me the direction, I found it quite easy to get there. It was a traditional Japanese house located in the southern part of the city, taking 20 minutes to go to the city center by subway. The house looked very nice, warm but what impressed me the most was tons of messages that previous surfers left on the wall. A Polish guy who was staying there at the moment welcomed me with a smile, gave me a short introduction about the house including its rule and showed me my place. Took a quick break, then I started roaming Kyoto. 

Every city in Japan has its own transportation system. In Tokyo, I chose to move with JR train and 1 day pass ticket (although I’ve got a Pasmo card), while in Kyoto, I bought 2 day pass ticket offering unlimited rides for buses and subways. Buses seem to be the most convenient public transport in Kyoto as they send visitors to every attraction. That’s the reason why travelers often buy 1 day bus ticket or 2 day bus and subway ticket. And don’t forget to take a map with you since it’s a helpful friend of yours on the move.

I went to Gion first as it is one of the main centers here. It’s easy to catch a sight of geiko and maiko (geisha) walking on the streets in Gion. Temples are everywhere, it seems every 100 meters 1 temple. The house architecture here is different from one in Tokyo. While Tokyo is full of high and modern buildings, those in Kyoto are just small and very traditional, which somehow reminds me of The Old Quarter in Hanoi or Hue in Vietnam. 

Geisha on the street
Before getting to Kiyomizudera Temple, I spent my time wandering Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka which are two nice streets lining with old wooden houses, traditional shops and restaurants. Lots of things are sold here, from snacks to souvenirs. I couldn’t resist stopping at every shop because they were very lovely and appealing, especially the snacks. If you are a matcha fan, Kyoto would be your paradise as they sell lots of things made from matcha here like matcha ice cream, matcha buns, … and ahhh, a lot, I can’t write all. However, there were too many tourists visiting here, which somehow ruins the beauty of these places. 

It's easy to catch a sight of girls wearing kimonos on the streets in Kyoto
Kiyomizudera is one of the most famous temples, also one of 17 properties of the world heritage sites in Kyoto. It has a unique architecture, from the main hall, we can see a fantastic scenery which changes with four seasons. It is very beautiful in spring with cherry blossom and in autumn with momiji. However it was a bit sad as there were no cherry blossoms at that time, the temple still looked absolutely magnificent though.
Outside of Kiyomizudera

The main hall

I stopped by Chion in Temple after Kiyomizudera, looked around the temple then off to the city center because it was nearly 5pm which is the closing time of all spots. While walking around the center, I saw a small street looking like a market with the word “Teramachi” on that so I decided to hit it up right away. And it didn’t make me disappointed. It’s absolutely amazing, the coolest place in Kyoto ever. Foods from fresh food to dried ones, from meat to vegetable, even snack were sold here. I stuck around the market, stopped at every shop and got a full belly with awesome food. I even got lost in that maze but it was a fabulous maze and I got wonderfully lost. Later, when I got to read guidebook, I discovered that street was a part of a market called “Nishiki”, best known for “the kitchen of Kyoto” where you can find every kind of food. Ahhh, wicked! 

a small shrine in Teramachi
food sold in teramachi

dried fishes
snack I ate - made from sweet potato

On the second day, the Polish couple and I headed south to see Fushimi Inari Shrine which is famous for thousands gates. We were impressed by the shrine since the beginning and spent lots of time there to go up to the top as we wanted to go through all the gates as well as the top. But it was very fun. The gates seemed to be endless, gates were everywhere. And the way leading to the top was super long (because of thousands gates), every time we looked at the map we all said “oh my god, where is the top?”. When we reached that (after some small breaks), we were stocked! Finally, we were on top! 
where the gates begin
with Alicija - my house mate in Kyoto
with Jacek - Alicija friend - another surfer
me with the endless gates background - my favorite photo
one more photo with the gates
endless gates
Then we separated at Kyoto station as I wanted to ask about a Pass through ticket for my trip to Nara and Kobe. After that, I was off to see Ginkakuji (or Silver Pavilion Temple in English) which is a Zen Temple. The architecture is very unique with corporation of temple and garden with a sand mountain resembling Mt. Fuji. On the way from the bus stop to the temple, I joined a group of Filipinos who were all from Manila. 

 garden with the sand mountain in Ginkakuji
zen garden
Ginkakuji - the silver pavilion
I planned to see Kinkakuji, another Zen temple after Ginkakuji but my time ran out as it was almost 5, so I went to the city center, strolled some shops, then looked for the Udon Museum where displays and sells all kinds of udon in Japan. However, I couldn’t find the museum (maybe my google map was wrong), so I ended up eating dinner with okynomiyaki at a random restaurant in Gion (but it was good). 

On my plan, the day 3 was spent for Nara but I missed Kinkakuji the day before so I decided to visit it before hitting Nara. Like Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji is a complex of Zen temple and garden, best – known for the Golden Pavilion. It looked fantastic but it was rainy that day so I couldn’t capture the best views of it. Moreover, I needed to go to Nara after so I didn’t spend much time there. 

Kinkakuji - the Golden Pavilion
a japanese traditional house
Kinkakuji - back side
In the evening after getting back from Nara, I met some new surfers from Poland (we had 6 Polish in total) and our host, Shoji – san, and had a great chat with them. Shoji – san is friendly and very inviting. Talking to him is extremely interesting. He has offered thousands travelers the CS house as a place to stay for 5 years, and gets request messages from surfers around the world every day. Other surfers who were staying there were very nice as well. I just met them for several days, even just a few hours but I could talk and share many things with them. Some of them share the same interests with me; for example, two of the Polish are crazy about Haruki Murakami just like I am. The time staying at his house, talking and exploring Kyoto with other travellers, who were my house mates, is fabulous and unforgettable! It can be said my first experience with couchsurfing went well! 

Last night in Kyoto with my host and other surfers
Match ice cream - one of popular snacks here
My time in Kyoto was short, which is not enough for me to explore this city but it’s always the time I will never forget. When giving quick hugs to other surfer, a thought of when I can meet them again popped up in my mind. I don't know but hope that day will come soon!

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