Sunday, 27 December 2015

Sightseeing in two cities in one day

Date: Sunday 27th December 2015

Weather: A beautiful sunny day in Kobe. It was still sunny in Kyoto when I got there however, it was a lot colder.

MP3 track of the day: Day Trippin – Red Hot Chilli Peppers
















I awoke at around 7:30am and proceeded to the hotel's dinning area for my final breakfast. As normal the croissants had run out, and were only re-filled once I'd finished eating. I packed my bags and left them at the hotels reception stating that I would be back around midday to pick them up. I then proceeded to my first attraction of the day. The time was 9am.

The skies were once again blue and so I decided that I would indeed take the gondola up the mountains to get some stunning views of the city of Kobe and to see a herb garden (actually, I couldn't give two 'hoots' about the herb garden; it was the view I wanted to see). As my hotel was close to the waterfront, I had to walk through the heart of Kobe, and out again, always heading in the direction of the nearest mountain. Though Kobe is a large city, due to it's geography it is long and thin meaning that it didn't take me long to reach the foot of the mountains. I arrived at the start of the gondola where two old Japanese women were contemplating purchasing a 'gondola and lunch' combination ticket. For me the choice was simple; I would just buy a return gondola ticket as I wouldn't be up there long enough for lunch.

The gondola was tiny; in my minds eye, I had a vision of a large cable car taking me all the way up to the top but no, it was a tiny cabin only big enough for four-to-six people. Once inside a safety notice asked me not to dangle out of the window, rock the gondola or stand up. I wasn't really planning on doing any of these. The view was very good as we climbed almost vertically. The sun was rising with me therefore, it blinded some angles of view. I proceeded to look outside eager to get to the top so that I could start taking photos. I though I'd reached the top when we pulled into the next station however, I was told that this was just a midway station and that I should proceed onwards. Once I'd left this midway station, I realised that it did serve a purpose. The herb garden was spread along the mountainside between the final station above me, and the midway station which I'd just travelled through. I was therefore supposed to get off the gondola at the final station, leisurely walk down through the herb garden until I made it back to the midway station, where I would take the gondola back to the base station. Clever that!

Once at the top, I arrived in some unopened Japanese tourist trap. There were few buildings around me however, all of which were designed like some 1800's German village – with a castle – and all buildings had a shop or two inside. Like I said, fortunately none were open as I was pretty much the first person up. I therefore ignored 'Deutsch land' and went to look over the wall at the view. The gondola had pulled up within a small valley along the mountain top. I could therefore see out directly in front of me however, both sides were concealed. I therefore made my way into the herb garden in search of a better view below.

Now, anyone with a passion for herbs would, I'm sure, enjoy this place. With it's windy paths, well labelled herbs and it's relaxed atmosphere, a person could spend two to three hours up here just getting away from city life. I didn't have two to three hours. Like a bulldozer I charged through the herb gardens taking the shortest path to where I thought were the best views of the city below. I was starting to think that this had been a mistake as most of the viewing spots were 'okay'. This was until I'd reached the 'green houses' which, at the back, had a very nice viewing spot down onto the city. The greenhouses themselves weren't too bad either; they housed some very exotic plants and a nice bit of art representing 'motherly love' … I think.

Back on the trail I cut my way through the last parts of the herb garden until I was back at the midway station. The herb gardens had been designed to look 'European' which, though it begged me to ask the question 'why', I realised that it was for the Japanese palette. I got back on the gondola and proceeded back down, taking in the view at every opportunity because, in all honestly, it was on the gondola where I got the best angles.

Once down, I by-passed the 'open mouthed staff' (they probably couldn't believe that I was already finished) and headed to my final attraction within Kobe. Even though I'd blitzed my way through the herb garden, I was still running behind schedule. What made it worse was that my final attraction was located close to the sea therefore, I had to cut through the city once again. My guidebook is celebrating it's fifth birthday this year therefore, though most of the attractions listed were where my guidebook said they should be, I have now come accustom to find that the prices for said attractions might be a little more expensive than advertised. When I got to Kobe's museum that was indeed the case again however, the price listed in my guidebook was three times lower than what was shown on the 'customer board' outside of the museum. This made me wince. After much pondering, the reason the price was so high was because the museum was currently running a special 'world exhibition'. There were mummies sarcophagus' from Egypt, parts from China and many other things from many other countries. The thing I wanted to see was the museum's collection of Namban; old Japanese art showing the 'southern barbarians' (i.e. … us). With these not being on show, the high price tag and my dislike of seeing items out of context, I decided to knock the museum on the head. On the down side this left two things within the Kobe area which I still had to do another time (the museum and going across the bridge I saw yesterday) however, the good thing was that I was now back on track, time-wise. I picked up my bags from my hotel and proceeded to Kobe's train station where I only had to wait eight minutes for my train to come in. It was a 'semi-rapid' train meaning that it would only make limited stops on it's way to Kyoto. I should therefore arrive within the hour.

Whilst on the train, I had planned to read my guidebook about the city I was about to visit - to remind myself what it was that I'd planned - however, for some reason I didn't really feel up to it. Instead I looked out of the window and watched the world go by. A few rows in front of me was an American couple with two young children; one of which had probably just learnt how to make coherent sentences because neither father or mother could shut him up. The other was unable to speak and so, to get his fair share of attention, he would scream every once in a while. I listened and I watched as the two parents fought an ongoing battle to keep their children entertained, to make sure that they still had all of their possessions and to make sure that they hadn't missed their stop. Every time the train stopped the child who could speak would ask if this was their stop … four or five times! Now, I suppose I will have children at some point in the future – maybe another fifteen years away??? - and from what I was witnessing, I wondered why anyone even bothered travelling with children. In a family car, fine; but catching trains, planes and buses … surely it isn't worth it. I continued to watch as any energy the parents did have, got sapped out of them by either their children or the fact that neither of them could read any of the information available to them. It was at this point that I realised that the need for workhouses had returned. Wouldn't it be great if there was somewhere you could drop your children off while you – the parents - had a well deserved rest. Being a workhouse, the children stationed there could actually be doing work in order to pay for their parents holiday as they enjoy it. A sort of 'Pay as you go'. I could just see it; “...Johnny Farthington. I've just received a credit card statement from your parents in the Caribbean; looks as though they 'splashed out' on another expensive dinner tonight therefore, you'll be working until 9pm again...”

Finally I arrived in Kyoto at around 1pm. Instead of staying in a hotel, I would be staying in a sort of 'B+B' (without the breakfast) within a shared wash room. This didn't bother me in the slightest as the place was cheap (£20 per night) and – as I soon discovered – it was only a fifteen minute walk from Kyoto's main station. Once I had arrived, I was greeted by a lovely old lady who didn't speak a word of English. She showed me around this 'maze of a B+B' and, at 1pm, allowed me to put my bags in my room. I was then shown where the washing facilities were. All was fine. I returned to my room where I didn't unpack; I just retrieved my guidebook and cameras and locked my door. I then left my accommodation twenty minutes after I'd arrived.

With the time being almost 1:30pm, I had time for one attraction before things started to close. I therefore walked to Nijo-jo, the Shogun's palace which – due to a huge miscalculation on my part – was a lot further from my hotel that I had originally thought. It took me almost an hour to get there, which wasn't helped by the fact that I got stopped at every pedestrian crossing I wanted to cross. Built at the time of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1603-1616), this lavish fortress was said to be designed to protect the city of Kyoto however, due to it's size and extravagance, it is pretty obvious that it was also to show the emperor, and his subjects, where the power in Japan truly lied. 200 years later however, it was in this same palace that the period of the Shogun's ended when the Emperor Meji received the last Tokugawa Shogun's resignation. As this was a site which I hadn't visited before, I paid the 400 Yen asking price and went through the gate. For the first time, my five year old guidebook had 'over-stated' the cost of an attraction.

It didn't take long to discover why today's price was less than the price five years ago. The grounds of the Shogun's palace, though lacking in colour, had been neatly kept with flowing paths, well pruned trees and beautiful grassy mounds encircled by small bamboo fences. The reason the price had been lowered was because it was only the grounds which were open. The inside of the Shogun's palace was now closed for the winter and would reopen on January 5th. When buying my ticket, I had no idea that this was the case though, looking back now, I don't think it would have changed my mind as I usually prefer the outside of buildings to what can be found in the inside. I therefore followed the instructed path taking photos of the buildings within the walls of this palace. I enjoyed wandering through though, after a while things began to repeat themselves and so I quickened my pace. Before leaving, I enquired at the office as to a small house called Nijo-jin'ya. Out of the two (Nijo-jo and Nijo-jin'ya) it was the Nijo-jin'ya which I really wanted to see. It is basically an old house filled with false walls, nightingale floors and hidden paths to protect the lords whom would stay there before paying homage to the Shogun. Sadly - and I already knew this – but, because the house is privately owned I have to pre-book a visit and I need a Japanese translator. That being said, I still wanted to find out where the place was because there might be a possibility, in the future, that I might return. After a short walk I found the old house and made a 'rememberball'.

The sun was falling fast and, though most attractions were now shut, I still had some information I wanted to gather. I walked from the Shogun's palace to where the Emperor use to live and proceed north though the park which surrounded his old 'gaffe'. I walked back to the place where, five years ago, I had taken a photo of a girl in a Kimono (I wonder what she is doing now) and found myself outside the Emperor's old palace. To be able to go into the palace you have to pre-book and request permission – just like Nijo-jin'ya – however, I wondered if it was closed for the winter holidays just like the Shogun's palace. I found a palace guard and it was confirmed that, though this is one of the very few times the Japanese find themselves with a few days holiday, this too wouldn't reopen until most people were back at work. Is it just me or does anyone else find that kind of logic ridiculous.

With darkness approaching I left the palace ground bewildered and a little bit annoyed. Due to all of the travelling I'd missed lunch. I noticed that their was a nice looking restaurant on the opposite side from the Emperor's palace grounds however, I decided to walk further towards my B+B before tucking into a meal. I mean; I found myself on Kyoto's main road with an hours walk ahead of me; I would surely find loads of restaurants.

Five Starbucks, three McDonalds and a billion other caf├ęs. The Japanese have managed to evolve to require only coffee and burgers for nourishment. I found nothing which took my fancy. I even walked past my B+B and I ended up back at the train station. This wasn't want I wanted because I knew that any restaurant near here would be busy and sure enough, when I went into the underground shopping centre, most restaurants had a queue of people waiting. My stomach urged me to stay however I declined. I dragged my weary feet and went to find somewhere new. Giving up on trying to find signs for restaurants on the streets, I went into the nearest big shop I could find – which was an electrical shop – where I discovered that, on the 6th floor, restaurants selling all sorts of food were open for business. I had a quick look at all of the restaurants, finally choosing a steak house where I ordered a steak – funny that – with a side of onion rings. The meat was delicious and the portion size was just about right. It was a little expensive therefore, after eating I popped into a local convenience store to buy a dessert which was cheaper, and probably more yummy, that what was being offered in the restaurant I'd just visited.

Once back at my B+B, a younger woman was at the front desk. She was pretty nice, chatty, spoke English extremely well and has a x-university friend who lives within my home town in the UK (she has even been over to the UK to visit). We chatted for a little while before I headed up to my room to get ready for an early night.

So when I visited Kyoto the last time, I looked around the centre and the east side of the city. Tomorrow my plan is to do the western suburbs along with a place called Arashiyama. Tonight however, I shall watch a bit of TV, read through my guidebook, make a plan for tomorrow and try and have a early night.

It's good to be back in Kyoto!


Merry Christmas

Toodle Pip!

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