We surfaced around 10am, this was getting better but still not ideal for a sightseeing holiday! For breakfast, we decided to try the café across the street “Caffexcelsior” – this had completely different branding and spelling to the popular chain “Excelsior Café”. I wasn’t sure if they were related or if this was just blatant copying, but I had a feeling it was the latter. Being a weekend it was rammed full in there, with Japanese couples and groups of friends all doing the puzzles in some free newspaper.
Confusingly for us, the menu was only in English, but not one member of staff spoke a word of it! We thought it would have just been best for them to have a Japanese menu in that case? I ordered French toast and Chris went for a croque monsieur sandwich. Both of these were equally awful, taking around half an hour to appear when it was clear they had both just been zapped in a microwave. Soggy and tasteless, it was probably one our worst meals of the trip – definitely somewhere to avoid! The prices were similar to Starbucks (which was right across the street), and the quality was far worse!
The sky still wasn’t looking ideal, but today we were off to explore Arashiyama. We took the train there via Kyoto Station and rented some bikes at the other end. I could see how this place would come alive in the autumn but it was still pretty in mid September.
We jumped on the bikes and planned a rough route: heading to the bamboo forest, cutting through a park, riding along the river, across a bridge and up to the monkey park. This more or less went to plan, and the bamboo forest was awesome to see even though it was heaving with people. We should have timed it better and visited on a week day. This made it a small mission to maneuver the bikes sometimes, they could be doing with a cycle path!
There were a few people out on the river in paddle boats which looked like fun, we stopped off and watched for a while but decided against renting one. This was a really good viewing spot looking across the river and was a good postcard shot. We cycled across the bridge and it wasn’t practical to stop for photos without the possibility of knocking into other people – either on foot or cars and buses!
We parked our bikes below the hike up to the monkey park and got some drinks from the trusty vending machine. The entrance fee was 550 yen which we thought was very reasonable. I loved seeing the monkeys even though they did freak me out a bit each time they threw tantrums and started squealing at each other!
The hike up was a bit painful, but this was mostly due to us trying to do it quickly and basically jogging up, and me not bringing my asthma inhaler, which wasn’t clever. Inclines + heat + speed = me suffering a little bit!
We made it up fairly quick though, and I noticed the girl in front of me had made the trip up in 5 inch platform heels! Her poor boyfriend was half holding, half dragging her up as she tripped every three seconds making her look like an absolute fool! I think I would have preferred my chances barefoot!
As we reached the top, we arrived to a couple of monkeys fixated on us, sussing us out. I had visions of them stealing my drink can, or worse, the Michael Kors handbag! I was surprised how they walk past so close, basically brushing up against you. Twice I almost stepped on one not noticing they were right in front of me! There was also a baby monkey hanging right above my head almost sitting on me at one point too!
There was a “shed” type area where you could buy bananas and nuts to feed the monkeys. I liked the idea of only allowing them to be fed in one area of the park, as then they don’t associate humans with food and start climbing on you once you’re outside of the shed again. In the shed, they just sit there with their arms poking through the wire demanding food from you. And if another monkey swipes their food, that’s when war breaks out!
At first I was a bit weary to feed them (due to my wimpiness with wild animals), but I watched them gently take the nibbles from Chris’ palm for a bit and then felt brave enough to have a go. They were gentle with me too, it was really weird seeing their fingers and thumbs up close! I also found it entertaining watching how some of them preferred to peel the banana and toss the skin, whilst others just munched the lot!
The lighting inside the shed structure was a bit awkward for photos so we went outside to explore the main park area. There were lots of monkeys sitting around, playing, drinking from the pond, climbing on the roof, and one vain little one sitting right by a chair where people were posing for photos.
I counted three baby monkeys, and we wondered around for a while watching them. There was a Tokyo TV crew there, so we kept avoiding them, as I didn’t fancy being on TV, especially after the hike earlier – I probably still had a red face! They did manage to get a clip of me feeding the monkeys, but at least I didn’t have to speak to them – I’m far too camera shy for that!
They were all very well behaved (the monkeys and the TV crew!) and there were great views of Kyoto below us. The tower was even visible despite it not being the clearest day. I could have hung around longer watching them, but Chris dragged me off in search of food. We hiked back down, collected the bikes and headed to the main street across from the river and bridge area.
Chris wasn’t feeling generous so there was no shopping time to be had here, we parked the bikes and poked around to find somewhere for lunch. Nothing jumped out at us but we were now starving and chose a little place on the main street serving rice and udon dishes. Chris ordered the Katsu curry and I went for pork and egg on rice with a side of warm udon.
When the food came it was a little different to expected, Chris’ was fine, but I didn’t realize the egg was raw so wasn’t too sure on that! Raw egg and rice is a strange combination for me. The pork and rice were good, but the raw egg had coated everything and made a bit of a sauce so I couldn’t escape it. Also we didn’t expect the udon side to come in soup as it wasn’t mentioned on the menu. It was a very potent fishy brother that was far too much for both of us!
We gave a good effort and then collected the bikes ready to cycle back to the train station, passing through the bamboo forest again on the way. After the bikes were returned we tried to visit Kinkaku-ji, but I made a small error in not checking when the temple closed. We got off at the closest subway stop at 5pm, and realised it had just closed – oops!
Feeling a bit defeated, we headed back to the hotel to chill out for a bit and decide on dinner plans. We decided on Chifaja, a Japanese BBQ buffet place, another restaurant where you cook your own food which is clearly something we were a bit fond of on this trip! Their nearest restaurant was only a ten minute walk from our hotel and thankfully although it was busy there was a table for us.
I think the waitress liked us, because she gave us a table for six with loads of room! It was a cosy place you wouldn’t want to leave, cushions to sit on and you have to take off your shoes and switch them for a warm pair of slippers. I wish we had places like this at home to beat the January blues! Before we had even ordered, our waitress brought over some beef to get us started – one was a tasty brisket type of beef, and the other was tongue which we weren’t feeling brave enough to try.
As Chris always sees buffets as a challenge, we ordered a fair bit; salt and pepper brisket, beef rib, pork rib, sausage, mini burgers, bacon, and more. To go with the meat we ordered tortillas, potato salad, tofu salad, mixed veggies to grill and some Japanese mayonnaise. This was all in varying stages though, not at once!
We paid an extra 400 yen for unlimited soft drinks, and they had quite an extensive list which had far more choice than the other restaurants we’d been to. I tried a bright blue soda and Chris went for an apple one. I also figured out the Japanese word for ‘mushroom’ and ordered a batch of these to toss on the grill as well.
Munching away, we hadn’t realised we were near to the 90 minute time limit. The waitress came over for our final order, so we stocked up on some more drinks and Chris ordered a chocolate sundae. I knew I was going to order mochi, and went for the raspberry mille fueille and caramel pudding flavours along with some cheesecake. The raspberry one was amazing and I still think about it now! We convinced the lady to let us order a few more, and the apple pie flavour was also amazing.
Chris, despite being full to the brim, had to order ice cream because “A pudding isn’t a pudding without it!” Eventually we stopped inhaling food and waddled back to the hotel. So much for no more big meals! This restaurant was definitely worth it though and was one of our favourite meals of the trip.