Kyoto is Japan’s historic capital, a UNESCO heritage site which contains temples and businesses which are hundreds upon hundreds of years old. It was thus with some surprise that I discovered that almost every trace that I had lived here only 3 years earlier had already disappeared.
There are three big festivals (or matsuri) in Kyoto: Gion, Jidai and Aoi. I never saw the Aoi matsuri when I lived here because after seeing the Gion and Jidai ones I learned that it was all the same thing over and over again and so not worth the crowds. However as we were here and the Aoi matsuri was on, it felt like a waste not to attend.
The crowds were terrible though.
This is a temple in Kyoto that has lots of stone statues of the buddha’s disciples. As you can see the statues are a bit out of the ordinary. Way back when I’d seen an ad for the place on a train but never got around to actually seeing it. This was my chance.
After visiting the temple I went for a short hike in the rain along a nearby river. It was really nice, but after seeing warning signs for bears and snakes I became aware of the face that if anything did happen to me, with no phone and not having told anyone where I was, things wouldn’t be looking so good. The hike wasn’t so enjoyable after that.
- I already knew that sumo was amazing, but seeing it live took it to the next level. Truly the sport of kings.
- The sushi at Tsukiji market is very good, but it would help to have some reference point besides 100 yen kaiten-sushi.
- Capsule hotels are great and probably the best option for someone travelling on their own (for bigger groups use a love hotel).
- The egg-shaped building previously seen in Barcelona and London is here as well. Something is up.
- Tokyo looks better at night.
I’m back-dating stuff because it’s taken me so long to get in front of a computer and don’t want to lose chronology.
Because my mom was going to be in town for graduation we figured it would make the most sense if her flight was at the same time as ours so that we could all go to the airport together and no one would have to wait by themselves for too long. So when she was getting her tickets my mom called me up to find out what time our flight was. I told her it was around 8am so she should book her return for the same time. Unfortunately I was thinking about the time for a different flight and ours actually left around 10:30 – in other words we had a bit of a wait ahead of us.
Even getting to the airport was a hassle. Because there were three of us with two suitcases each, a normal taxi wasn’t going to do it, we needed a van. So the previous night I called around and reserved a taxi for the next morning. Come the appointed time and we rush to the hotel lobby to check out and the taxi wasn’t there. We wait a few minutes, still no taxi. I call the company and they say they have my reservation and that the cab is running a bit late. We wait some more. Finally the cab pulls up a good 15 minutes late and we make our way to the biggest line I have ever seen at the Winnipeg airport. We begin to panic as my mom’s flight is supposed to leave fairly soon, but I see on the departures board that the flight is running late and that we have time. So we wait patiently, not worrying about a thing until we get to the counter where the counter-person lets us know that the flight is boarding and that we need to rush my mom to that plane ASAP. Cue frenzied rushing through the airport and a painfully slow trip through airline security resulting in me waiting outside the gate wondering if my mom made it on to the plane or not. After a few minutes without any pages over the intercom or calls to my cell phone I figured she got on OK and made my way back to Tomoko so that we could start waiting for our flight.
Because the tickets together were $800 cheaper with Northwest we decided to go with them. Sadly their flight to Kansai airport was booked solid so we had to fly out to Nagoya instead and then take the bullet train to Kyoto. But before that could happen we had to change airplanes a few times. First we flew on a tiny Canadair jet to Minneapolis. Then we waited in the airport for a few hours, doing some shopping and killing time (and checking out some very impressive vending machines – iPods, PSPs, digital cameras) before getting on our plane to Tokyo. The flight was alright and I spent most of it talking to the person seated next to me – a marine who was making his way to Okinawa for his first assignment. He knew nothing about Japan or the language beyond what his Lonely Planet guide told him and had no one waiting for him in Japan, he was just expected to report for duty in two days time at his new base. When I first heard this I thought it was pretty harsh, but the dude is a marine so he should be able to handle himself. Once we arrived in Tokyo we waited around for a bit and then got on our final flight – a short hop to Nagoya.
When I left Japan I didn’t surrender my alien registration (gaijin) card because it meant filling out paper work, and as I was going out on a return ticket they had no reason to expect I wasn’t coming back. So on this trip I was slightly apprehensive that my previous laziness might cause me some problems at immigration this time around. Thankfully there were no questions about previous stays, or anything else, and I was safely in Japan.
After some misadventures with the airport ATMs we got some cash, bought our bullet train tickets and 40 minutes later were in Kyoto where Shin was waiting to pick us up. Our 20 hour trip was over and we could move on to the business of preparing for Shin and Akane’s wedding.
Because we were already in Spain while it was going on, I decided that we had to go see the Running of the Bulls.
Long story short, Pamplona smelled like a washroom in a dodgy club and Tomoko and I really wanted a bull to injure someone.
With the show over by 10am, people get ready to binge drink through another day.
And with that we leave Pamplona behind and make our to Barcelona.
While I’m sure that there are lots of neat things to do there, Madrid was pretty much just a stopover between Granada and Pamplona. This was made worse by having lost our guidebook. But there was one thing that we did want to do, visit the Prado museum (it’s name in Spanish is Museo del Prado – the Prado Museum, but it’s really an art gallery). So we put our things in a locker at the bus station and then made our way to the museum.
The Prado is a renowned gallery and houses lots of great works. Here’s a link with some of the more famous ones. Sadly, the first thing we did when we got there was use their washrooms (so much better than the one at the bus station), and then had some breakfast in the gallery cafe.
But after that we got serious about art. Half-way through we realized that there was a simultaneous Picasso exhibition going on and that we really wanted to see it. The exhibition was to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the repatriation of Guernica and was actually split between the Prado and Reina Sofia museums. Sadly to see it, we had to re-enter the museum (but didn’t have to pay extra). So we took in the half at the Prado and then gave ourselves a lunch break.
Whenever we eat out we spend far too long deciding on where to go. Basically we veto everything we see until we are far too hungry, tired and/or angry to look any more and then settle on the first thing we see. This was no exception. We happened upon a restaurant that was having a really cheap lunch special and decided to give it a go.
The food was really good. We decided to get gazpacho for our appetizers (it was our first time having it) and were hooked. I miss gazpacho. The main was tasty and filling, and then came dessert. I ordered something called a Crema Catalan in the hope that it would be similar to crème brûlée. It was :) and was sooo good.
After that we made our way to the Reina Sofia museum, but on the way I gave a euro to a really shady dude with some made-up story of woe because he spoke English. Tomoko was pissed off at me about that for a long time after. Checked out the museum, saw the regular collections as well. The Reina Sofia houses all the 20th century art while the Prado has the older works. Between the Reina Sofia and the Tate Modern, I’ve got to say that I like modern art more than the classical stuff.
After a few more hours of art we both had enough and wanted to see a bit of Madrid, so we made our way to Puerta del Sol, because hey it’s the centre of both Madrid and Spain (in that all distances were measured from there) so why not? From the museum to the metro we walked through one of the coolest train station ever.
Train station + jungle = all kinds of amazing
Tomoko was less than impressed (although the humidity in there may have had something to do with it).
Lots of people hanging out there, lots of shops too. We did some shopping. We also made use of the bookstores by looking through their guidebooks to get information on accommodation for the remaining legs of our trip.
After the shops were all closed we went off in search of food. This took a very, very long time (I guess we weren’t exhausted enough yet), but eventually we found somewhere that was just too compelling to not go to – Kono Pizza.
Pizza in a cone, what could go wrong?
The guys working the counter were quite friendly and helpful in explaining our menu options to us. Tomoko thinks they were gay (I guess we’ll never know). After finally deciding on our order we sat down and waited for the pizzas to be made (they use a conveyor oven deal similar to the Quizno’s sub-toasting set-up).
Then came the moment of truth.
It was pretty good. After eating it I was still hungry, so I had a salad pizza (ie not cooked) with basil, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella which was even better. If and when they make it to Canada I recommend giving it a try.
We made our way back to the bus station to get the overnight bus to Pamplona.
By the time we got to Granada from Córdoba we were fairly bored of seeing the sights. We had our tickets for the Alhambra for the following afternoon but for our first day we went shoe shopping.
From before we left Tomoko had been looking for shoes to wear on the trip. I kept telling her to get something comfortable like a sport sandal or some Birkenstocks. She kept looking for cute sandals that would give her foot no support and prematurely cripple her. By the time we had gotten to Granada her sandals and feet were in pretty bad shape so it was necessary to get something. Eventually she settled on a pair of Birkenstocks, but not without a fight.
In the evening, after dinner. We had the best ice cream I have ever had. One scoop of Ferero Roche and one of coconut. It was amazing.
There were lots of Arabs in Granada, so it was pretty neat. The city had a feel that it was still inhabited by the Moops.
The following day we just wandered around the city, ending up near a monument to Lorca, but didn’t actually get to it. After lunch we started our trek to the Alhambra.
The thing to realize is that the Alhambra is a fort. So naturally it would want to occupy the high ground. This meant we had to walk up to the higher ground, which was just a bit long.
To keep it from getting too crowded, only a certain number of tickets for the Alhambra are issued in a day. Furthermore, your ticket specifies a half-hour window to visit the Nasrid Palaces. You must enter the Palaces in that time, but are free to stay for as long as you want.
When we got to the Alhambra there was only about half an hour before our allotted time so we were suggested to go straight to the palaces. But we had time to look around the on the way.
Then we had to wait in line to get into the palaces. Because they let everyone in at the same time, the first few rooms were really crowded as we hadn’t all been separated by our differing paces yet.
Generally we take more time than other people because I always take a lot of pictures. I took way too many here.
But eventually they kicked us out because they were closing for the afternoon.
When we got back from the Alhambra I realized that I couldn’t find our guidebook. If it were just a Spain guidebook it would be OK, but it was a Europe guidebook, which meant that it had our itinerary for the rest of Spain, France and England.
That evening we were heading out to Madrid so I had one last chance to have the ice cream. Sadly we couldn’t find the place so we had to leave without having it.