In Seoul, via Osaka!

So I haven’t blogged for a couple of days, but it’s because we haven’t done anything too exciting – we have been on the move. We left Kyoto and our lovely hostel yesterday and took the bus to Kyoto Station. Sadly, I had decided not to attempt Harry Potter Wizarding World in Osaka. I KNOW. I regret it too. But it was going to be too hot, too crowded, too expensive, and too much of a time risk for this trip. So next time! For sure.

The train to Osaka is real short, and we planned to find coin lockers for our luggage and see a bit of the city before heading to our hostel. This would have been the perfect plan had there been any available coin lockers large enough for my suitcase, or any space at the luggage desk. The luggage gods were not smiling on us. It was actually totally okay though, because I elected to sit and drink a green tea latte and read this amazing book (It’s called ‘The Sunne in Splendour’ and it’s by Sharon Penman, and I borrowed it from my dear friend Alfie and it’s about the life of Richard III and it’s completely amazing…okay, I’ll get back to the travels) while Sean went exploring. When he got back, we went for yummy ramen and then trekked across Osaka (and by trekked I mean, sat comfortably on a train) to our AirBnb right near the airport. It was a really comfy, compact little flat, and we went for a walk later on to find some dinner (Italian FTW, including creative dessert), and were home relatively early.

‘Foccacia’ with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon. AMAZING.
Truffle ice cream! Mmmmm.

This morning we upped and left the flat, hopped on a very short train to the airport, and had a BREAKFAST PANCAKE! It was actually amazing, despite consisting of pancake, bacon, egg, prosciutto, tomato sauce, mayonnaise, avocado, and mashed potato. I bought some really disappointing peach rice cakes (peach momiji manju is MUCH nicer) and they even fed us lunch on the 90 minute flight to Seoul (thanks Korean Air!)

At the airport, Sean’s lovely mate Keith was there to collect us, which meant we got to his apartment a lot quicker than we would have via public transport. He is with the US army, so we are staying on the base with him. Tonight we planned to go out for dinner and see Seoul Tower, but North Korea totally threw a spanner in our plans (well, actually, they threw a shell at South Korea), so the base is on alert, Keith is at work, and Sean and I are hanging at his apartment. Sean planned to do a tour of the DMZ tomorrow (the border between North and South), but I highly doubt that will go ahead given that parts of the border are being evacuated. We shall see!

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Arashiyama

I said yesterday that today we would probably get up to something tiring and BY THE BEARD OF ZEUS DID WE EVER. I’m very tired. And very impressed with myself to be writing this blog post right now. So we got up and went to Arashiyama, a beautiful district of western Kyoto that feels a little more rural than the more central area. It is situated beside the Hozu river, and we had beautiful weather for it today, with bright sunshine and the horrific humidity we have become somewhat accustomed to. We went walking through the Bamboo Forest, down through Arashiyama Park, across the Togetsukyo Bridge, and up to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Honestly, I thought the climb up to the Monkey Park could be my last. I was wearing shorts to try and keep my legs cool, but the sneakers I was wearing made my feet hot, and then the rest of me felt like lying down and dying, just so I wouldn’t have to walk anymore. I decided against it however, as I have a few things to live for. Up the top, you get a fabulous view of Kyoto, and a fabulous view of the bright red monkey butts of the Japanese macaques that live on the mountain. You can feed them, and take photos if you are respectful and stay away from them and don’t touch them – they are lovely and cuddly-looking, but they are wild animals. I am extremely glad I went up to the top.

We stopped to refuel with a coffee, iced chocolate, and complimentary origami supplies, then caught the bus back to Kyoto for an early dinner at Ippudo (aka our second home). We joined a huge crowd at 5.45pm in Gion for a show at Gion Corner which demonstrated seven types of Japanese performing arts – tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Kyo-mai dance performed by maiko, Koto Zither (a harp type instrument), Gagaku court music, Kyogen theatre (a comic play), and Bunraku puppetry. It was a beautiful display, but I feel it was too crammed – the whole performance was less than an hour. Also, get there EARLY to get a seat at the front. Otherwise you will spend the whole show trying to see over the sea of camera phones held aloft.

THEN we came home for showers and onsen. I am attempting to pack for Osaka tomorrow, and also to get an early night. Time will tell!

Kiyomizu-dera

It would not stop raining today! Luckily, that didn’t stop us enjoying Gion and it’s little shopping streets, through Maruyama Park, eating YUZU FLAVOURED ICE-CREAM! and then heading up to Kiyomizu-dera. I had been here in 2013, but the view from the top today with the rain showering over the hills was incomparable. Unfortunately it also meant that we were incredibly sticky and humid, so we ended up sticking to shopping centres in the afternoon before heading back to the hostel for a much-needed shower.

Luckily we were able to meet up with Theo and Jamie once more for CRAZY AWESOME yuzu ramen and pork dumplings, and then go walking around the streets of Kyoto. It’s been a relatively early night thank goodness…we’re not sure what we’ll get up to for our last day in Kyoto, but I’m sure it will be something tiring!

Path of Philosophy and Daimonji

After our Samurai Joe adventure yesterday, we headed back to Ippudo for dinner with Lucy, a Canadian we met on the tour. Ippudo was packed, yet still delicious! Then I had cinnamon flavoured umeshu (YUM) at a little bar on the Pontocho and headed home.

This morning we slept in…and in…and then got up and did a load of washing. But after that, we took a bus to Kyoto Station to enquire about rail tickets for Osaka. It turned out to be a non-reservable train BUT our trip was not totally pointless, for we purchased a pig-shaped custard cream chocolate tart thing!!

BEST EVER. Then we took another bus to the Path of Philosophy 🙂 This is a BEAUTIFUL stretch of Kyoto, and last time I was here I stayed right near it, so it was very nostalgic being back! And we found delicious coffee so Sean was happy, and I had a matcha shake, which was just as great as I hoped.

(The coffee place was called Bambi’s, hence the decoration). We headed back to the hostel, me to shower, and Sean to go check out the nearby onsen, which was apparently quite enjoyable! Then we headed back to Gion to meet up with Theo and Jamie from the other night, and went walking for a good spot to view the mountains around Kyoto. Our visit this year has coincided with the Obon festival, and the visiting of the spirits of Japanese ancestors to their homes here. The final night, Daimonji, was tonight, and culminates with the lighting of fires on five mountains around Kyoto to guide the spirits of the dead back to the spirit world. We walked along the riverbank – there were heaps and heaps of people, but after Miyajima fireworks it felt positively luxurious – and my camera sucks, so I didn’t get any decent photos, but we saw two of the five characters burning (it’s rare to see more than that, because the fires don’t burn for very long). It was brilliant! And really beautiful to see the fires lighting up and then burning out. We stopped for Thai on the way home, bid Theo and Jamie farewell, and are back at the hostel ready for bed!

Kyoto!

We have been in Kyoto for well over twenty four hours, but we’ve been so busy I have not had time to blog until now! We left Hiroshima first thing, but the train to Kyoto is relatively fast, so we were at our hostel by 11.30 in the morning! Checkout was not until 4pm, so we left our luggage and headed to Nijo Castle, famous for (among other things) the nightingale floor of Ninomaru Palace, which chirps and sings as you walk over it. A very old-school alarm system. Nijo Castle was beautiful, and its within walking distance of our hostel by MY GOODNESS was it hot, and we found ourselves taking long extended breaks to sit in the shade and drink huge amounts of water and have yummy snacks, such as a massive bowl of shaved ice drenched in mango juice (see below). Bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

Kyoto buses however, are fantastic, so after we finished at Nijo, we bussed back to our hostel to check in properly. Our hostel is an old Japanese house, over eighty years old and made of wood. The staircase is the steepest staircase I have ever encountered bar none – it’s more like a ladder. Our room is really spacious, with tatami and futon to sleep on. The bathroom, kitchen, and ‘lounge’ are really just like a very crowded guesthouse – there is stuff EVERYWHERE, but in a cute and endearing way, rather than a scary hoarder way. We basically collapsed beneath the air conditioning and lay there, too tired to even blog. After a couple of hours, we got up and set out in search of food. Both our host at the hostel, as well as a truly lovely little old man at the Kyoto Station information booth, had given us some really useful maps of Kyoto. In 2013, I went to eat at a really yummy place at a strip of eateries called the ‘Pontocho’. I don’t know the name of the particular shop – it is written in a Japanese alphabet – but I took a photo of the front of it, and we used that last night to find the place once more. Success! We had this gorgeous lemon-y citron broth in a hot pot (apparently the broth is made from a fruit called a yuzu?), with pork, chicken and vegetables, and a dish of the best pork dumplings I have ever tasted in my life, EVER. And then to top it off, we met some brilliant Americans who are teaching in Yokohama. Theo and Jamie showed us where to go for nomihodai, which is where you pay a flat fee for a certain amount of time, and in that time you can order as many drinks as you want. We paid for 90 minutes, and tried lots of different Japanese alcohol. All-you-can-drink sounds like it might end disastrously, but in fact, it’s a great way to try all these different things on a budget, practice your Japanese (though Jamie was fluent and did all the work!), and get to know people better through great conversation. After a spectacular evening, we caught the last bus back to our hostel and went straight to bed!

 

 

 

 

 

This morning I DID NOT want to get up when we had to…but I’m glad we did. We had read about a walking tour of Kyoto with an 86 year old guide named Samurai Joe, and were interested, understandably. We bussed to Kyoto City Hall and found ourselves to be the only Australians on the tour (no mean feat, as I’m sure some of you will realise). Samurai Joe has lived in Kyoto his whole life, and has been running this tour for three years. It’s awesome. For 4000yen, he takes you on a five hour tour, through back streets and into little shops and museums, showering you with interesting history, culture, and FOOD from his beloved hometown. (Seriously, over the duration of the tour we were given green tea, Japanese sweets, baked goods, beer and soft drink, roasted pork, fried chicken, inari, tofu, bean cake, and sushi). He shows you traditionally crafted pewter and lacquerware goods, some beautiful artworks, explains the difference between types of green tea, takes you on a walk through Kyoto Gyoen, including through a beautiful old teahouse, teaches you how to write your name in Japanese calligraphy, feeds koi and tortoises, and shows you several temples INCLUDING an absolutely brilliant samurai sword display. The dude is a real life fruit ninja, throwing apples into the air and slicing them, carving through thick bamboo with one swing, and splitting an apple on top of someone’s stomach without hurting them. It’s freaky and wonderful. Also, we got to eat the apples, sliced by the samurai sword, and washed in temple water from a cool, underground spring and they were DELICIOUS. I would 4000% recommend this tour to anyone visiting Kyoto. Samurai Joe has a fabulous sense of humour and a deep pride in his city, as well as his tours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sayonara Hiroshima!

I’d like to apologise to the readers of yesteryear who were privy to a more well-written blog than I am managing these days. I used to have the energy to pull together eloquent, humorous and entertaining posts (modest ones, too), but now I feel like I am literally just listing what we did and putting some photos up. Perhaps these will not be as much fun to read back over, but at the moment, all I am aiming for is a record of what I did, so I can remember it later.

Today the humidity was OFF THE SCALE and we also had a lot of rain. However, we managed to pack in a pretty full day, which I am feeling right now, let me tell you. We went to the Peace Park again this morning, and though the Museum was still very busy, we were able to see more of it than yesterday. A highlight for me was a small collection of the paper cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki.

After a watermelon icy pole (yasssssss) and a metric crap-ton of water, we took the tram and ferry back to Miyajima – again, still crowded, but nothing like what we had previously experienced! We walked to a cafe that Dad and I had previously discovered in 2013 that did almost Melbourne-quality coffee. It did not disappoint Sean! We dodged deer and rainstorms to walk up and down the shopping strip, and we ended up at the Museum of Historical and Folklore Materials – a wonderful little museum that contains really interesting artefacts, but very little English explanations of them. Still easily worth the 300yen admission fee, especially for the traditional house and garden within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards we bought DEEP FRIED MOMIJI MANJU (see above), and then I purchased my weight in regular momiji manju to take back to our apartment. We headed back on the train, collapsed beneath the air conditioner and had a nap, then headed out for a final Hiroshima dinner at Ippudo! I will miss this city, even though it’s not as exciting as Tokyo. I intend to come back with the Peace Park Museum renovations are finished!

Lazy days in Hiroshima

Today was a very lazy day in comparison to yesterday…and the main reason was rain! It rained all day! I can’t describe how nice it is after the intense heat, though the humidity means it’s still pretty sticky. We slept in anyway, after such a big night on Miyajima, and we got up in time to head to Ippudo for delicious ramen lunch. We wandered through the shops to the Peace Park, intending to do the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, but it was INSANELY crowded and was really not worth the crowds. Also, for anyone interested in visiting before 2018, the East Wing, which has some really interesting stuff in it, is unfortunately closed for renovations. Instead, we visited the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, which I had not seen before, and it was very affecting – they play videos of survivor testimonies, and have a beautiful Hall of Remembrance, with 140,000 tiles to represent the (approximate) number of victims of the bomb. We plan to return to do the Museum tomorrow morning. We headed back home, stopping for a drink and to play more racing games on the arcade machines (I am getting seriously addicted), and then grappled with the washing machine despite all instructions being in Japanese with no English whatsoever. Currently waiting to see if we have operated the dryer correctly….

Clothes washed and dried successfully! And with that, we were off for okonomiyaki. It was 9pm by the time we headed out, and we were going to try a tiny little okonomiyaki place right near our apartment. At 9.15pm we asked if they were still open and he told us in broken English that he was sorry, they actually had closed 15 minutes ago and were just packing up. We said okay, and went to keep walking, then he asked if we were tourists and where we were from. Then he invited us in anyway! He cooked us DELICIOUS Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and chatted to us about Australia and traveling and food (his English was really quite good), and introduced us to his parents who were helping with the washing up. It was a perfect, uniquely Japanese experience, and I was so touched by his kindness.

We then went on an adventurous walk to a bar Sean had seen recommended. It supposedly had English-speaking staff, which we discovered was correct, but it also seemed to have every English-speaking person in Hiroshima jammed into it as well, which those of you who know me personally will realise is not my favourite way to spend an evening. HOWEVER, it got awesome. We met some great people (one of whom grew up in Burwood East and his sister knows my brother – too weird), and we wrote on the decorated walls of the establishment in permanent marker to commemorate our visit. We got home far too late, but it was a good walk, and we need to be up bright and early to meet new mates at the Peace Park tomorrow. Sayonara!