Thanks to an impressive series of alarms we managed to wake up before 9am, throw any leftover stuff into suitcases and be at the checkout desk by 9:45. We were off to the subway station, suitcases in tow, in what I would probably say was the later part of rush hour. There was a small kerfuffle hauling cases on the subway, but this was mostly due to escalators going in the wrong direction and the fact my suitcase weighed more than a small hippo.
Hauling all the bags around had definitely killed my desire to shop so we headed straight to platform 18 to wait for our train. It was 20 minutes before departure so we just hung back watching trains for a bit. I found it quite amusing that the male cleaners wore blue outfits and the female cleaners wore pink ones. That would probably be seen as discrimination these days in the UK!
Before long, our train rolled up to the platform and we were lucky and bagsied some space at the end of the carriage to store our suitcases. We settled into our seats and then had a spot of bother when a random guy jumped on, expecting us to move our full, heavy suitcases so he could put a box not even three inches wide in there instead! This baffled me as all the seats had enough legroom to stockpile a bunch of those if need be! The man wasn’t listening to my reasoning so I sent Chris up there, man to man, to resolve the situation. Either somehow he managed to be more diplomatic than me, or the guy took a fancy to him, because the guy swiftly found somewhere else to store his mysterious box!
The train journey went by quickly, and we were enjoying our first experience of the shinkansen. We had decided against the rail pass as we’d cobbled our own itinerary together for which the pass wasn’t worthwhile. Once we got out of Tokyo there were some great views, a mix of green fields, flat angular cars and pachinko parlour signs! I managed to get a great shot on my iPhone through the window which was impressive for the speed we were hurtling by at.
After a while I delved back into the book I was slowly getting addicted to, balancing this with an intake of junk food, and before long we were arriving at Kyoto Station. We sprang up, collected our suitcases and were off to figure out a whole new subway. As was the theme, the escalators were all tumbling towards us, so we dabbled in a bit more heavy lifting and hauled our cases up some stairs. Thankfully it was a quieter time of day, so we didn’t have to maneuver around any unwanted obstacles.
The subway was easy enough, and we hopped into a carriage with what appeared to be an entire school trip and rode the three stops to Karasuma station where our hotel was. I was paranoid I had something stuck to my face as a few of the kids were looking in our direction and giggling like mad. Hopefully it was just our western noses and my blonde hair – I told myself that’s what it must be after frantically but slyly trying to check for any other reasons!
We arrived and subsequently started power walking like beasts, only to find we were headed in the total wrong direction. We swiftly did a half turn and proceeded power walking back, much to the amusement of a Japanese couple just casually passing by. Perhaps they thought it was a new exercise craze, stomping about and hauling the biggest suitcase you can find behind you.
Our hotel, Hotel Monterey, seemed a lot fancier than the Sunroute and had far bigger rooms, with even sexier bathrooms. The location also couldn’t be beat and the staff were all very friendly. The only minor annoyances we had was air conditioning that was either off or arctic, and a TV positioned on the side wall which was a bit awkward and impractical, but we weren’t really there to watch TV anyway. The mini fridge had loads of space which is always a bonus.
I did find it quite funny that they wouldn’t have us taking our suitcases up to the rooms ourselves, but when they came to deliver them, the poor woman was smaller than me! I guess she was very skilled at doing so because I would have failed miserably doing that with a stack of cases and maneuvering around tight corners.
We had a brief power-rest while deciding where to head to first, and settled on exploring Nishiki market. It was a busy Thursday and everything was open, we passed a few shopping streets along the way and I was pleased to see a bunch of sock shops and arcades, although I don’t think Chris was. The market was packed full of interesting foods, but most of these were a bit too exotic for us, especially with my seafood issues – a lot of sights and smells there that had me on edge!
I did pick up some of the traditional candy to give as gifts, which I never got around to trying – it just looked like a snazzier and more colourful take on sugar cubes. The man working at the stall had surprisingly good English and was chatting away to us about the UK economy etc – we were impressed with the depth of his English especially being an older man.
After a few other purchases and ogling some strange pickled cucumbers we cut back to one of the main streets, and found ourselves in Daimaru department store searching for something to fill our bellies. We headed to the basement through some kind of supermarket and emerged at one of the best food floors of the entire trip. So much choice, and free samples to be had everywhere! We were a bit like kids in a candy shop so ended up putting together a bit of a “pick-and-mix” of Japanese fried chicken, vegetable tempura and some hot dogs with fresh buns at one of the bakeries.
It would have been rude not to sample a few other things whilst doing the rounds too – there was some powdered green tea jelly that tasted like poison, some peach jam that was amazing, and some raisin bread, which was also good. From here we headed off in search of a park to eat our lunch picnic style. This ended up being a small trek, due to Chris being in charge of directions after finding on his map app that there was one “close by”. Close by meant a hunger fuelled power walk that took us past our hotel on a bit of a trek.
The food was all cold anyway, so the walk was no big problem and I guess it helped to offset some of the calories! On the way we picked up some drinks from the ubiquitous vending machines and realised how much we’d started relying on them and would miss them once we got home. We sat on the grass with our picnic and took part in some more people watching, a mix of people on bicycles, buried in books or walking with really cute dogs. We munched our lunch in the calm and noticed the absence of traffic – a strange but welcomed moment of silence after a few hectic days!
We strolled back up to the hotel after exploring some of the park, there was a nice bridge area that was really pretty, but the light was low in the sky and the only photos we got were glaring ones. There was a brief rest at the hotel for our feet and to put more sensible shoes on, and we headed straight back out to explore some more of Kyoto. We were already thinking of dinner, clearly a hungry day today!
We explored the perimeter of the downtown area and I managed to not get too distracted by the shops, there was more of a “traditional” vibe already, even though we hadn’t left the buzz of the city. We took a shortcut through a skinny side street glowing with red lights and stumbled across an Okonomiyaki restaurant, with a bonus English menu. Once we were sat out we were excited to see it was one we could finish cooking ourselves at the table – I love interactive dining! My flavour of choice was pork with spring onions and poached egg, and Chris went for a cheese and bacon one. We threw a portion of cheesy potatoes in as well to do our magic on with the grill.
The food was all good, along with the Okonomiyaki sauce and mayo – there was a small error where somehow some cuttlefish was added to mine, but thankfully there wasn’t a lot, and there were no prawns to be seen so I just peeled it off and got over it. Another food item ticked off the list!
Afterward we had another stroll, enjoying seeing everything lit up for the evening. We strolled over toward the big river and up to Pontocho. This place was crammed full of tourists, so not as serene as we were expecting, but was still interesting and pretty to see. We walked the whole length of the lane with no geisha sightings, which wasn’t a surprise due to the sea of visiting faces walking around, cameras at the ready! We headed back to the room via the shrine by Nishiki market which was unfortunately not lit up, where it was time to rest those tootsies as no doubt there would be plenty more walking tomorrow.