I go where the "in" crowd goes

Now, I haven’t slept on a futon since I lived in London in 1986 and I now remember why – I no like. Pip and Eams professed comfortable nights’ sleeps, but I kept losing my pillows over the back and losing my feet out the end and being uncomfortable on my side and snoring too loudly on my back. (Perhaps I reveal too much!) Still, we rose at a reasonable 9-ish and headed into the streets of Kyoto armed with a photocopied map from the hotel desk with 3 highlighted areas on it. Yellow was the covered shopping district. Pink the restaurant zone and a pen-circled area called Gion across the river.

Temple off the shopping street

Firstly though, we needed to follow the breadcrumb trail we laid last night back to the Cafe we spied with the espresso machine. Found it – Yes. Found it – Closed. Doomed to roam the streets decaffeinated. We followed the covered shopping road down toward the major streets and found that several doorway openings off the arcade led to beautiful temples, kind of like how wardrobes often lead to wintery kingdoms. They offered little oases of relative tranquility amongst the retail pandemonium in the arcades outside. Eventually, our need for coffee drove us to select a cafe with a Starbucks like logo, called Choco Croc on one of the major streets. Nice pastries and reasonable coffee; tiny seats and tables…

Okonomiyaki Stall

The streets were crowded. No, really crowded. We moved along toward the bridge across the Kamogawa (Kamo River) as part of a human tide – the only escape was to perform a kind of spin out into a shop doorway. Despite the surge of people, there was no suggestion of  danger or worry about pick pockets – just a fear that someone might bow and bring the lot of us down. We made it across the bridge and along the street for a short distance before spinning out down a side street into the relative calm of an ordinary crowd. Just round the corner was a food stall selling what I’ve subsequently discovered were okonomiyaki, the making of which held us spellbound for a good 10 minutes. (Re-commenced breadcrumb trail to enable return at lunch)

Gion District

Our innate sense of direction was serving us well as we had followed our noses and ended up in the highlighted Gion area without once referring to the map. The Gion district is a preserved area with traditional buildings dating from the middle ages. You can feel your ninja senses twitching and the urge to leap backward onto a roof is hard to resist – I did though – only a real ninja can resist those urges. Mixed in with the beautiful traditional buildings are also a smattering of uber chic designer small buildings which create a fabulous mix. We traversed the Gion up towards a very large temple on a hill overlooking the city – Chion-In. Lots of pedestrian traffic and lots of traditional dress heading up the path to the huge temple gate. But alas, after the climb to the temple, those okonomiyaki were calling- steps were retraced and a course set. We ordered two (Eamon wasn’t too sure) and sat on tiny stools set in the street near the stall. These are rice pancakes with salady bits, two eggs, pickled ginger, bit o’chilli, fish flakes and more – major yummy thing. Eams could not resist after a tentative taste of ours.

Gion District

We were getting tired of foot by this stage and decided to head back to the hotel for a rest before the challenge of finding a evening restaurant. We did a spin back into the MOSH-path and were swept back over the bridge into the city. We swung by Cafe Lucca just on dusk, around 5pm and discovered it open. It was only down to 2˚ C so we naturally chose the outside seating for our several short blacks of high quality and delicious taste. We then chose a different street back to our hotel and found a long, narrow street filled with beautiful upmarket stores and, The Tin Tin Shop! Also of interest was a second-hand shop filled, and I mean filled, with pyrex of all descriptions and colours. We cast aside these distractions, eventually, and returned to the ryokan for a short rest before laying on an extra layer or two and hitting the street again.

Same story as last night – all reserved only. However, there was a chinese restaurant behind a rather large queue, that only had a small queue, so we jumped at it and found ourselves seated within 15 minutes. Chinese food in a Japanese context. Pointy chop sticks and wasabe. An excellent meal later we headed back out into the cold, crowded streets and home via the 7-11 for an ice cream to take back to the hotel.

We needed to check out and arrange a cab for 10 to 5 in the morning before we headed to bed. Thankfully I decided to play with the hotels auto wake-up call system ’cause our iPhones decided their alarms would not be ringing any more. The tatami treated me a little kindlier that night.


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