OK, I know that was a really negative post. I do have some good things to say about Kyoto, though, I promise! While the main attractions may not have been my cup of tea, these are the experiences I enjoyed most:
Rendezvous on the Riverfront: The Kamo River runs thru the heart of the city and its banks are bustling with life. While nearby restaurants open balconies in the summer where patrons can sit riverside, you can also grab a couple of beers and some snacks from a nearby Family Mart and have your own sunset picnic. That’s exactly how we spent our first early evening, and it’s one of my favorite memories.
Just Peddlin’: While bike lanes come and go, Kyoto is a surprisingly bike-friendly city. We biked to and from Arishiyama, approximately a 45-minute ride from central Kyoto. Despite our route being along a busy main street, it was an easy, flat ride. We encountered several other bikers, and cars were mindful as they passed.
Monkeying Around: The Iwatayama Monkey Park is home to more than 100 wild snow monkeys. They roam freely across the grounds with visitors, and you are allowed to feed them in a designated area. We had a great time watching and interacting with them. The park is also located on a mountain from which visitors are treated to beautiful views over the city.
Geisha Hunting: I successfully achieved my mission of finding a real live geisha! As it turns out, with a bit of patience, they’re not that difficult to locate. Once seen, however, they’re gone in a flash. Hanamikoji Dori, just south of Shijo Dori, is the central thoroughfare of the Gion district. There’s a gate marking the entrance to the street, and immediately to the left after you enter is Ichiriki Ochaya, the most famous of Kyoto’s teahouses. It is here, at the intersection across the street from the teahouse, where you should wait for a glimpse of a passing geisha. Primetime is said to be from 4:30 – 6 p.m., as this is when the geisha are leaving for work. I waited here during that time period on a Saturday evening and was treated to three passing geisha, one of whom I saw twice. I chose to use my iPhone instead of my camera, with the thought that I could more quickly take pictures with the phone. I didn’t take into consideration that the iPhone’s poor zoom meant that I would need to be quite close in order to get a decent shot. Since I didn’t want to stalk or invade their space (as I saw one girl do, who quite literally followed a geisha down the street, only a mere one to two feet behind), I was left with low-quality photos but a lot of excitement.
Teppankayi Time: We had the best meal of the trip, and one of our best dining experiences ever, at Teppankappou Sou. From the moment we entered, every aspect of our evening was exceptional – from the attentive service to the outstanding cuisine. It is a tiny establishment, with counter seating for two parties. The counters are separated by a wall, resulting in a private and personal meal.
It’s All in the Family: On our final night, we trekked through a torrential downpour for what proved to be a perfectly lovely sushi dinner at a third-generation family-run establishment. The sushi was prepared by a father-son team, and the mother was also onsite. The son has spent time living in America, Canada and Australia and recently returned to help with the restaurant. It was also here that we finally tasted the Kyoto-style sushi sabazushi, pickled mackerel.