Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 11 Kyoto

Day 11: Kyoto

QOTD:  Do you want to sit in the front seat?

Weather: mid 80s

Pics:  Moss Temple, Tenryu-ji monastery, bamboo forest, lunch spot, Ryoanji Temple, Takashimaya display, shots of dinner when camera was working

The breakfast buffet at the Hyatt Regency is the stuff of dreams. THB has been thinking about it for three years. It lives up to the memories: strong decaf au laits, great baguette, sausage, bacon and eggs, mini chocolate croissants (with almonds on top), and raisin toast. Tomorrow: THB starts on the fruit, smoked meats, prosciutto, yogurts, etc. Maybe on Wednesday THB thinks about returning to the Japanese breakfast. TBD….

Bed is firm; it’s no Route Inn Hotel hard. THB is trying hard here to not start over talking about the breakfast.

Today is Temple and taxi day; we meet E&J in lobby around 9 and cab to the Saiho-ji Moss Temple on the outreaches of Kyoto. The entrance fee is $30pp (cash only), the highest around (in all of Japan? Maybe). Before touring the moss garden (which is special), a group limited to 150 (it might be 75 in morning, 75 in afternoon) congregate in one of the temple buildings, listen to monks chant (mesmerizing) for 20 minutes, paint our wishes and address on wooden “ruler” size sticks, then present the sticks to the appropriate gods, bow, and then walk the grounds.

Taxi to the Tenryu-Zen Monastery, $5/pp entrance, which is half price today because the main temple is undergoing repairs. A view of a very serene little lake, and then we walk through the grounds to exit into a bamboo forest. THB and DB have hiked through several bamboo forests this past week and this one is not bad! Lots of celadon “trunks” (does bamboo have a tree trunk? A stalk? A shoot?), very pretty.

A short stroll down the side of the Monastery to a shopping street where we find a noodle spot for lunch: two tempura shrimp and cold soba noodle combos, shared beer, $30, and a box of cinnamon-flavored manju to share, $5.

Taxi to Ryoanji Temple, $5.pp entrance fee, a view of a 25x50 foot spectacular rock garden, something THB does not remember seeing 3 years ago. Also a well done garden.

Taxi to the Gold Pavilion, also known as Kankaku-ji, another $5/pp entrance fee, and a view of a very impressive gold-leaf multi-story pagoda in the midst of a small lake. Unfortunately, THB’s camera goes balky again here, so no pics (E&J will forward some for later viewing).

Taxi to the last temple of the day, the Takashimaya department store. By now, you’ve figured out we must be running short of cash, so our first visit it to the seventh (and top) floor to visit the post office ATM. This time, we withdraw from two accounts, we’re now cash heavy (also coin heavy, it is tough to get rid of all the coins that come your way in a cash based society where the smallest bill is equal to $10 at today’s exchange rate).

E&J&DB do some small shopping, THB does some sitting in the always convenient boyfriend chair.

Taxi back to the Hyatt Regency to rest up before…yes, another taxi to dinner.

Dinner at Bow Sprit is unbelievably good, and not just by hiking standards. It is unbelievably good by Bay Area standards (and if this is a mediocre meal for Kyoto, Kyoto is the best eating city in the world). And, the camera continues to be balky, so THB cannot show how great the presentation was, and it was really good. We are the only ones here tonight, though there is plenty of room for others. The only person we see, our waitress, is almost literate in English in explaining the dishes, and when she struggles to find the right words, uses a Toshiba version of the i-pad to help us.

Appetizers (all small): noodles with roe, sesame tofu two ways, veggies in gelatin, bluten stick with miso, salmon sashimi

Three pieces of sashimi with Kyoto lime

Chrysanthemum soup with something soft underneath (scum of tofu curds)

Stacked salad, from bottom: eggplant, tomato, fried fish "stick", shredded lettuce and balsamic dressing

Potato and rice cracker with hints of veggies (think matzoh ball) in thick gluten floating on top of egg custard (better than it looked or sounded, the custard is great)

Combo plate: chestnut (in chestnut looking "shell") on top of potato birds nest, thin slices of rare roast beef, assorted veggies, small tempura mushroom and "pine needle" of toasted soba noodles

Four pieces of sushi rice topped with pickled cucumber, eggplant, ginger, Chinese cabbage

Green tea, pineapple sorbet (though some thought it was grapefruit)

Draft beers, sake, $97/couple  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 10: Hosokute to Kyoto

Day 10: Hosokute to Kyoto

QOTD:  7 miles before lunch? 65 miles in a week? No problema….

Hiking Haiku:

Raven’s call, breeze skims
Across the trail top, a
Japan melody.

Weather: high 60s, feels warmer on the blacktop and no breeze

Pics:  Breakfast, French pastries on the Nakasendo, after 7 days with DB Fusao no longer needs tech support

Fusao provides a mini bio: Fusao Ariga, Japan Travelogue, Finnish Japanese; lived in Tokyo and Kyoto for 17 years;  now lives in London with wife and two kids; loves daifuku mochi filled with azuki bean paste and photography; guiding in Japan for 12 years. 

THB’s version of Fusao (as always, THB’s version is semi-fiction): Dad in the Japanese foreign service and met Fusao’s mom on blind date on assignment to Finland, fluent in Japanese and Finnish (THB cannot vouch for this) and British,  in his early 40s, wife grew up in Birmingham and works for the BBC, boys are 5 and 3 (so he has no idea what is really coming, none), reserved and informative (great combo) and polite, loves chatting up the innkeepers and restaurant folks (which seemed to get us preferential treatment), takes photos with camera and i-phone (allowing THB to get in his high-quality shots unobtrusively), always prompt, hardly ever took a wrong turn, encouraged us to make up our own rules (e.g., cab to the top of the mountain, start early, etc.), enjoys good cheat eats (as does THB, especially on the road), and most importantly got us to the end all in one piece with smiles on our faces. Highly recommended

Up and at ‘em by 8:30 so we can be first in line at La Province when they open at 10am. We’re actually a few minutes early, order two mini-muffins (THB is not quite sure about what they resemble: stiff sponge cake?) and a mini cheese cake tart for DB, and a chestnut mousse on a cookie for THB (both excellent), two cafĂ© au laits,  $19. THB’s camera goes haywire for a few hours, so no close-ups of our elevensees.

We’re on the road again by 10:30, and at the end of the hike right around noon, in time for Fusao to get us 3 orders of stir fry noodles with egg on top and bits of pork and veggies mixed in, all for $5 a plate (camera not tried, too bad because meal very photogenic).

Three trains later, we’re in Kyoto at 3, say goodbye to Fusao, take a short cab ride to the Hyatt Regency ($7.30), and greet all three of our bags. Park Hotel has got the big back here from Tokyo and the Route Inn Hotel the two little bags from Ena. Everything is working smoothly!

Time to wash up, empty all the bags, rearrange everything, and sit down for a drink in the lobby to await E&J, who stroll in at 5:30 with their own stories of their first two days in Kyoto. Drinks for 4, $46. Dinner in the Japanese restaurant in the Hyatt: small portions (sashimi for DB, grilled chicken for THB, a shared small mushroom and eggplant salad seemingly minus the eggplant), free glasses of wine when they take 30 minutes to tell us the wine we ordered is not available, $55/couple, and off to bed.

Day 9: Ena to Hosokute

Day 9: Ena to Hosokute

QOTD:  How far did we walk? No need to round up!

Hiking Haiku
Granite blocks laid flush
Guide us to glorious views
A labor of love 

Weather: mid to high 60s, feels warmer as we get further into the walk

Pics:  Room at the Route Inn Hotel, on the Nakasendo (note headless Jizo in trailside shrine and your faithful correspondent and partner with packs on...the second couple walking away is the only pair of Japanese hikers seen in 7 days), murals in Hosokute, inn, our shoes for the entire hike, dinner

Dept of clarification: The wash yesterday cost $5, $3 for the washer an $2 for the dryer. The mattresses at the Route Inn were harder than sleeping on the floor (for those you on the India trip….remember the place we stayed at during the holiday? As hard as those beds).

Sports fans, this is the big one! THB and DB manage 14 miles today, an all time high, a new record, a first, and all in under 8 hours. Who knew?

Breakfast buffet where THB specializes in rolls, a sausage with scrambled eggs, and some yogurt topped with canned fruit (with those cherry red grapes). Send our bags ahead again and carry just our essentials for the next two days; THB has decided that since internet is not available tonight, the netbook is going to meet us in Kyoto.

Pick up lunch of sushi and rice balls, $10, and off we go around 8:45, an early start requested by THB.  And go…and go…and go. Among the sights and smells and sounds: a golf course, pig farm, chicken farm, and a race track. This is the only day on the trip we see more than two other hikers: one Japanese couple (see pic) and a group of 7 or 8 gringos going the other way. 

At the afternoon break, Fusao checks on our bag being sent from Park Hotel in Tokyo to the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto. The bag has not arrived, mostly because it got sent to the Hyatt Regency in Tokyo. The Park Hotel assures Fusao that the problem will be fixed. 

More walking, and then along a road through small towns, some more walking, and in another post town some youngsters with a pet praying mantis. More walking along the trail, then more walking along the road, and around 3:45 we arrive at our ryokan for the night, greeted with tea and cake. There are 4 Japanese guys rotating through the bath, and after they’re done DB and THB take turns. Ahhhhhhhhhh….

Dinner is excellent, the proprietress is known for her cooking. Grandma is known for how loud she plays the TV in the front room (the “walls” in the inns are made of paper).

What’s the difference between a ryokan and minshuku? Damned if THB knows, except they seem to have made up the room (moved the low table and laid out the futons). There’s only one bathroom (it’s downstairs, not that great for those that need to go in the middle of the night). The mysterious east?