30.12.2009 - 01.01.2010 4 °C
Getting to Kyoto, even on the slow train, was a matter of a mere couple of hours and two changes of train. It was almost impossible to detect where one city finished and another started so it was not a very interesting trip. Kyoto, from the train station, is less than impressive, just another city:
I was beginning to wonder what I had got myself into. Then there was the very long urban bus trip out to the hostel: Kyoto buses are very good in that they have an electronic voice to announce each stop, and for most (but not all) stops there is an English version as well. I'd been on the bus so long and there had been a few non-translated stops that I was convinced that I had got on the wrong bus and would have to ride it back to the railway station. About two stops from the end, and on the very edge of Kyoto (I actually saw countryside), I was finally there: the Utano HI Hostel (although they also called it a pavillion). Once there, I felt I was in heaven: a new, spacious and rather flash hostel
There are some professional photos on this very site. They just got everything right with this hostel, and I'd have happily stayed for a week. There was even a little temple right next door:
After checking in and being told they had sold out of the evening meals (well, maybe not everything was perfect) I went for a walk around the district - it was raining a bit, so I had some periods where I was hiding in doorways, but it was interesting to look around a suburb. I think I went into every supermarket and checked out the various cafes and food places. The supermarkets had lots of pre-packed food, but most of it I didn't really know what I'd do with it: I did have some tempura shrimp (each about 6 inches long)
These were delicious, and wherever I went, I'd look out for more (although the price was so horrendous in some places, I'd give them a miss).
It was just after I'd started an ice cream and it began to rain that I was kidnapped. I was sheltering under the verandah of a noodle place, and the fellow came out: despite him having no English and me having no Japanese, he was very persuasive and within a couple of minutes I found myself gesturing at some pictures on a menu card (they all looked the same to me). Five minutes later, yet another food discovery: Miso Ramen. Back home, I'd decided I didn't like miso soup, so always left it untouched but here, here it was delicious. Of course, Miso Ramen is a little more elaborate that plain old miso soup - there are noodles, some vegetables and (most delicious of all) a few slices of wonderfully tender and very tasty meat, often pork, sometimes beef.
I would have happily stayed in the hostel over the New Year period, but it was fully booked so I was hoofed out after a single night, back to a hotel in the centre of the city. After spending half an hour stuffing all my belongings into a not quite big enough locker, I set off to inspect one of Kyoto's famous Zen Gardens, attached to the Daitokuji Temple complex (on Dragon Treasure Mountain).
This complex had about two dozen temples:
Each has its own zen garden - because it was holiday time, I couldn't get in to see many of them, but still seem to have managed an overwhelming number of photographs.
The general idea of a zen garden is that it is a very formalised representation, with sculpted trees, raked stone or sand but with no water.
My actual New Year's eve was a bit of a dull affair, as I hadn't worked out anything I should do (beyond getting a bunch of bakery products and some beer (this came out of a vending machine)). Ah well, it wasn't quite as weird as New Year's even 2008, stuck in Dracula's home town with nary a bite to eat.