Day 4 - Monday (cont'd)
Upon our arrival we headed to Hotel Kanra, which is a boutique hotel, very design-focused but also very Japanese. I loved it, so much so I didn't want to leave, but they only had space for us on one night - I guess I'm not the only one who loves it!
That night we went out for Okonomiyaki. It was better than last time, and I liked the yakisoba. After dinner, we walked around the futuristic-looking Kyoto station for a bit, cruising the Isetan department store, which made me realize how far, as a genre, such things have fallen state-side. The grand staircase of the station was impressive, but the fact that there's a Cafe Du Monde there that !does not serve beignets! was not.
Day 5 - Tuesday
We started with a very nicely presented, but slightly-too-foreign breakfast at our hotel. It turns out that as interested in food as I am, and as open to new items as I try to be, it's a big challenge to adapt my breakfast preferences. I remember this from my visit to Brazil back in 2000, when I encountered strongly garlic-flavored meaty black beans for breakfast. I wound up loving those beans at other meals, but in the morning, it was just too much. Likewise, whole fish (their eyes seem to follow you), mysterious pickled vegetables, and uber-runny eggs are not for me at 7 am, not matter how much my fellow dinners enjoy it. I do love the rice though, which is flavorful enough to eat on its own.
The first sight we headed for in Kyoto was Fushimi Inari, which I'd loved so much on my last trip. This time around I still found it a fantastic place to visit, but we quickly discovered that on a weekday morning it's also a favorite among school groups, and the tranquility of the shrine is rather marred by the hordes of thundering pre-teens racing through the lanes of torii gates at top speed. We gave it a shot, hiking up the mountain in the hopes of outdistancing them. I had ambitions of making the top, until as we were all out of breath we passed a sign that told us we had another 4km to go. Since by this point in the trip I already had a serious case of tired feet, I quickly gave up on that project.
Just like last time I visited, right as we were leaving, the skies opened up and it started to pour. We returned to Kyoto station in a heavy cloudburst, and decided we'd check out "ramen alley" before going anywhere else. Bowl 2 of ramen for the trip was much better than bowl 1, not least because we had the novelty of paying at the vending machine outside the restaurant. I ordered the shoyu broth instead of the miso the way I usually do, and I was very pleased with my choice. Just don't ask me the name of the restaurant we chose - it was whichever one looked like it had the biggest crowd at that particular moment.
We left the shop in another cloudburst, but that matters less when you're a tourist, and we wandered along through Gion, to the well-preserved but even more touristy pedestrian streets of Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. Along the way we stopped in a spot that had a plaque about geisha, and somehow wound up as part of a school group's vacation photos.
Eventually, we made our way all the way up to Kiomizu-dera, which unfortunately was still largely under construction, just as it had been two years ago. But this time it provided a great spot to stay in out of the rain, and I was actually brave enough to drink the waters that draw such a crowd. I later read that they're supposed to provide success in study, which perhaps explains why the cute little pudgy Chinese kid in front of me in line was gulping the stuff as fast as he could!