Saturday, October 31, 2015

Day 17, Oct 31: from The Earth (Toba) to Kyoto

Day 17, Oct 31: from The Earth (Toba) to Kyoto

Weather: It’s Halloween and Saturday, is that an orange moon and a horde of hobgoblins THB sees? Crows with two legs? Three?

Oh, and the weather: low 60s dropping to the 50s at night, maybe even the high 40s. THB puts on his cashmere hoodie, there’s a real chill in the air (and it feels great).

THB doesn’t rouse until after the colors in the sky have changed at sunrise.
There's someone out net fishing early today
There’s time before breakfast for one last open air soak. The Japanese breakfast is as yesterday: excellent.

It takes two shuttles to get us to the train station; THB and DB remember it from last time and know not to get anxious, they’ll get us to the station in time for the 10:35 train.
At the shuttle change-over, lots of turn and wavers
At the Toba station THB buys a few meat filled bao and two rice balls for our on-the-train lunch. $17 and we split three ways.

The Earth has purchased train tickets through to Kyoto for THB and DB, $35 each, and part way for M, who stays on the train while THB and DB get off to transfer. Parting is such sweet sorrow, it’s been 10 big and long days together on the Kumano Kodo and then easing back into real life at The Earth.  For THB and DB, it was around $350pp per day which includes two great meals and all the soaking you can do. Drinks came to around $20 with dinner each night and they comped our Dragon Nests and shoju tasting!  
The main landmark outside the train station
We arrive in Kyoto at the main train station around 1:20. As we are exiting who do we run into but our dinner partners, B&P from the KK hike. Totally random, we hadn’t finalized plans, just started exchanging e-mails. There must be 5-10,000 people in the station, so running into each other in front of the station is very bizarre.

We cab to the Ritz Carlton (big splurge stay on the trip), $11. The room is gorgeous!

After consulting with the concierge, DB has a gallery walk plotted out and we go off chasing art for 2 hours; no art of note to report except for work in the RC lobby.
Kohei Nawa (aka bubble boy)

Could be Ken Mihara (we own a piece of his, THB will post a pic of it if this piece in lobby is his)

Drinks at the Ritz and dinner at Katsukura with B&P, a nice catch-up after all the days on the Kumano Kodo together. Katsukura is a tonkatsu: they serve primarily breaded and fried pork cutlets, priced by quality and quantity. THB and DB eat here every time we’re in Kyoto. It gets a very mixed clientele, lots of locals and some foreigners. The staff doesn’t speak a lot of English. The pork comes with all you can eat cabbage, rice and miso. Dinner for two with beer and sake: $40.

THB and P have very small ice creams as we stroll the streets: $2 each

The streets of Kyoto near the restaurant are bubbling over with the 17 to 30 age bracket, plus some are in Halloween costumes. We drop B&P off at the subway and we’re back in our room by around 9, ready to rest up for tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Day 16: The Earth

Day 16: The Earth

Weather: Who cares? Cool, mid 60s, slight breeze

We’re spending the day at a tremendous, top of the line ryokan. We’re doing what most Japanese do not do: stay two days in a row and don’t ever leave the property.

Breakfast: THB has the Japanese breakfast, DB and M have the western style breakfast. THB is in heaven, it might be the best meal of the trip.

If you eat western style, you get a napkin!

THB's rice container

The western breakfast

Mid-morning: DB and M visit the “public” onsen, THB takes a nap.
Deck shoes are one size fits no westerner
First a note about the middle of the day: ryokans don’t really serve lunch, they expect their guests to check out by 10 or so (the vast majority) or go off for the day (everyone else).  So, we don’t see anyone else around the ryokan (other than staff) from around 10 to 2.

Lunch: THB has one of the best meals of the trip, tempura on rice. Light, subtle batter, perfectly cooked hot veggies and shrimp. Various pickles on the side, perfect coffee for dessert (THB learns later it is the same coffee he had in the morning, somehow it tasted better with lunch). DB has sushi and says same, it may be the best she’s ever had, including Mori Sushi in LA….did THB make the wrong choice….he doesn’t think so. M has udon and seems very content.
Tremendous tempura

Tremendous sushi

Afternoon: THB actually takes a walk, it feels great to be out without a pack on; DB and M visit the public onsen again; massages all around in the late afternoon.

Drinks: We visit the bar and have the bartender’s special cocktail, The Dragon’s Nest. THB and DB have heavy déjà vu: the same bartender made us the same drink when we were here two years ago. Excellent! He also supplies us with three types of shoju to taste. Shoju is a high alcohol spirit, usually served with water and ice. A sip is all that’s needed to know a) the potato tastes different from the wheat version and b) YOWZA, it’s an acquired taste.
Shoju taster

The Dragon's nest, the wizard does alchemy with alcohol 

Water with unusual ice cubes

Dinner: Another tremendous meal.
·      Aperitif of orange liqueur
·      Assorted hors d oeuvres: abalone, prawn, pumpkin, crab, sea urchin

·      Assorted sashimi: tuna, sea bream (same ones DB saw at lunch as sushi)

·      Ise lobster (tremendous, worth staying the extra night for)

·      Pacific saury sushi, squid marinated with cod roe

·      Beef with grilled hen-of-the-wood and asparagus

·      Steamed sea bream with Jew’s ear

·      Pickles, rice with mixed fish, miso

·      Dessert: pumpkin terrine with fruit