Kyoto in a day...

Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
Trip End Oct 01, 2008

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

I plan on waking up bright and early but these plans are lost in translation apparently as the ryokan decided not to wake me up with my complimentary breakfast.  By the time I wake up and am ready to move (9:30), they are no longer serving breakfast and actually have nothing left for me.  Normally, I would let it go and maybe get a little upset, but I had already hit my head on a few of the many doorways made for midgets that morning (and a few more the night before), so I put my foot down and demand to be fed.  They suddenly find a croissant and some fruit left over...  I make assurance double sure that they understand to wake me up the next day by telling them to kick me or pour water over me to make sure I am up if they have to as they serve me breakfast in bed!

I hop on Blue at 10am and proceed to hit every major site in Kyoto by dinner time.  First stop is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site (I wonder how many of those I've seen so far on my trip...) Nijo Castle.  Originally built in 1603 as the residence of the first Shogun, it wasn't completed until the third Shogun took power.  The most impressive part of this large complex with an inner and outer moat was the Ninomaru Palace.  The palace is a one story series of linked sections totaling 33 rooms with impressive wall paintings chosen according to the unique function of each room.  The coolest part of the whole building was the "Nightingale" floor, which utilizes people's weight to cause a squeaking noise as you walked down the hall so no one could sneak around.

Blue and I ride through some neighborhoods and stumble upon an organized soccer game which is clearly a Sunday club game.  The only difference is that the entire field is dirt. It may be an even dirt, but it definitely provided for a dusty game as well as some irregular bounces which didn't help the already struggling sides.  No goals were scored and no real chances were given up in ten minutes so I decide to hop back on Blue and move along.  Next stop, the world famous rock garden of Ryoanji Temple.  The entrance is marked by the beautiful Kyoyochi Pond which houses some mandarin ducks, supposedly, but I didn't see any.  The "Tsukubai" stone wash-basin was pretty interesting.  The inscription says something along the lines of "I learn only to be content."  Apparently this fits in with Zen philosophy by conveying that if you are not content you will be spiritually poor even if you are materially rich... I like it!  Moving on, I finally find the rock garden that is claimed to be the standard for which Zen gardens are to be compared to.  To say that it is simple is an understatement. 

It was just a bunch of rocks in the middle of some gravel and regardless of how long I stared at it, the significance didn't come to me.  My imagination ran wild and still I saw a bunch of rocks placed completely randomly with no meaning behind it... I'm still thinking and maybe the point is that you need to just be content with the world as it is and not try to make it something that it isn't???  I don't know!

A brief refueling stop and I'm on to the nearby Kinkakuji Temple.  This temple houses the Golden Pavilion which was someone's house in the 1220's and is literally made of gold.  Well, at least the top two floors are coated with it.  The 1st floor is in palace style while the 2nd is the style of a samurai house and the 3rd is designed as a Zen temple.  The glare of the gold off the adjacent pond is worth the price of admission and I stop to think why anyone would want to live in such a flashy house.  I'm stumped yet again...

Next on my whirlwind tour is the Kyoto Imperial Palace and National Gardens.  This enormous palace complex houses baseball diamonds packed with softball players, tennis courts packed with families and couples alike, and plenty of park benches and green space crowded with picnickers.  In other words, despite a lack of relative beauty to the other structures, this place was packed.  I realized that this was a very local crowd and that they came here to avoid the tourists swarming all the other places.

Not to be forgotten along the way were the Sosenji Temple, Sanjusangendo Temple and Kitano Temmangu Shrine, all beautiful in their own right but after a certain number of temples they all seem to blend together.  And I didn't even make it to close to half the temples in Kyoto let alone taking the train to the supposedly beautiful Nara!

On the way back to the ryokan I decide to rock Blue through Gion one more time just to catch another glimpse of the "less-then-awe-inspiring" geishas.  My first sight isn't an elusive geisha, but rather a parade of some sort. 

I'm still not quite sure what they were celebrating and no one could really explain it to me but it was pretty cool to witness a small parade through the back alleys of historic Gion!

I try to find Bill but he isn't back at the ryokan yet so I head out to dinner in ponchodoro again where I have some of the best tempura ever! 

Trip planning update:  Today I found out that the ticket to the Champions League Finals I had originally arranged for was no longer mine, having been sold to a higher bidder at some point in the last 6 months.  I get pissed and realize that I am now without a ticket to the biggest sporting event of the year and housing in Moscow on the busiest weekend of the year, for an already tight hotel room market.  I look and find one hotel room for a mere $1,500 a night.  Hmmm... what to do... Well, a long time back I recalled hearing about this website,  While I am slightly skeptical about staying on some rando's couch, my options are limited at this point so I sign up, create a little profile and start "surfing" Moscow.   Within a few hours I have a response from one Victor Aspidov, a.k.a. my hero!  Victor, it turns out, has a couch to offer me free of charge.  I accept his offer and am excited to have an insider point of view for Moscow, and a free place to stay in the world's most expensive city!  If this works out, I may have to start trying it more often... and offer up my place wherever I settle down next, not that my couch isn't used on a weekly basis already!
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