Published: September 27th 2010
September 26th 2010
As I drowsily became accoustomed to the morning sunshine and the heavy humidity, I hesitantly poked my head out of the tent. As I expected, we had reached a new low in 'slumming it'; we were sleeping in a car park.
Upon arriving very late the previous evening, we had found the campsite closed and so therefore had just pitched anywhere. However, as I tried to smooth out the gravel indentations in my back and straighten out my twisted spine, I realised that this was likely to test even Rich's resolve. Amazingly, he agreed! Tonight we would sleep in a hostel.
We had arrived the previous day after a slightly tedious day on the trains, this time crawling upwards through Honshu, where the gorges and tumbling forests were replaced by a more industrial feel as we passed Osaka and Himeji. We were heading to Kyoto, and then Tokyo: this was to be our first real taste of Japanese city life, technology and culture.
After having checked out of the car park, we headed into Tokyo, and booked ourselves into a little hostel by the rail station. Now was the time for pampering, traveller style. We soaked in steaming
hot showers and watched the results of days of hiking spiral down the plug hole. Appliances were charged, cups of tea were drank, matresses were greeted with sighs of distant recognition. After completing loads of washing, I was even able to wear clean boxer shorts and abandon the 'inside out' technique. We were refreshed, and ready to explore Kyoto.
In the Lonely Planet, Kyoto is described as a city that 'grows on you', whose beauty isn't instant, but is instead more subtle. As we progressed through the station area and beyond, this description seemed very apt, and I realised that in the 48 hours we could devote to Kyoto that we wouldn't be able to do the city justice.
Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed with Kyoto. There is no doubt that there are some beautiful spots. The temples and gardens of Gion are very pleasant, and provide time for contemplation. Humble streets thread through the city chaos, and serenity can indeed be found in the most unexpected spots. Very often you will round a corner, to be met with a deserted shrine and fairy lights. The train station is an engineering feat, as huge expanses of metal
gnarl and entwine skywards, throwing people together in a frenzy as they clash in a bizarre mix of transportation, reatail and cuisine. All of this was very pleasant, just not breath-taking. After all, I had heard Kyoto mentioned in the same breath as Paris, London and Rome, so perhaps had had my expectations unfairly raised.
In Kyoto's defence, it does the simple things very well. Nikishi market is enthralling; Rich and I made our way through the tight streets, gawping at the luminous orange vegetables and squirming seafood, trying to guess whether a food would be sweet or savoury. We dined at a good restaurant, where we had a Japanese speciality of onomiyaki (a sort of pizza where ingredients such as seafood, cabbage and noodles are mixed with a standard batter and egg mix and fried*). We even encountered a slightly arrogant, opinionated Frenchmen (I kid you not....who would have thought it!?) who gave us a very considered opinion of Dubai: "it eeezz sheet". Less funny was the realisation during a cross-legged conversation that Frenchmen apparently don't believe in underwear. I hope that is not the image of Kyoto that I remember on my death bed.
a walking tour of an area concentrated with temples and gardens on our final day, we had some time to fill prior to our overnight coach to Tokyo. Therefore we had our first experience of a Japanese Manga cafe, where we paid 1200 yen (10 pounds), but had unlimited internet access, icecream and drinks within a forest of comic books and cartoons. I also introduced Rich to his first Onsen, where we hopped between a range of pools, saunas and water temperatures. One was actually so hot that I actually let out a little scream as I leapt out of the tub like a greyhound out of the traps. As we dragged our now redenned and wrinkled selves to the bus station, I began to get that stir of excitement that I so love about travelling. We were heading to Tokyo, the city of light, bustle and technology. We had plans to meet Japanese friends, to sleep in a capsule hotel and go to a baseball game. As we settled in to our seats, we reclined, lights were dimmed, and my wallet slept soundy, unaware of the beating it was to get in the following days......
* Alas, being
a Japanese dish, it is slightly spoilt by the finishing touch of a strange, thick worcester-sauce and fermented fish flakes. Don't get me started on fermented fish flakes. Or pickled plums. I digress......
There are more photos below