My decided route has taken me to Japan for 6 weeks as my starting point, and I must admint that 3 days into the trip I was starting to wonder what I was doing as I had spent 2.5 days in bed in a hotel room with manflu, and then promptly managed to twist my knee on my first venture out around Tokyo, but already after just 9 days, I'm really glad I made the choice to come here. On the plus side of being ill, I had booked myself into a nice hotel for my first 3 nights to get over as much jet lag as possible before hitting the hostel dorms so at least I could quietly die in private and spend all day sleeping!
Day one of being partially human again I made it out into central Japan and spent the day walking around aimlessly, stumbling across ancient temples and Japanese zen parks in the middle of the city. One thing to note here is that it is seen as quite offensive to blow your nose in public so I also spent the day getting quite a lot of uncomfortable stares!! My first impressions of Tokyo were that it really isn't as crazy or busy or vibrant as I had expected it to be, which is probably to be expected on a Monday day time, but I have heard from other travellers since that it is, if you're in the right parts, so I'll be finding those places when I go back towards the end of my trip!
Without wanting to spend days on end wandering around a big city aimlessly, I made the decision to start adventuring out and the next day took the bullet train to Kyoto which is one of the the ancient capitals of Japan, and home of the Geisha's and Samurai's (it's not unusual to see Geisha and Maiko walking around the streets), as well as hundreds upon thousands of temples and shrines and palaces and castles all sprawled around a big modern city.
Trust me, you could spend 3 or 4 days just walking around Kyoto itself there are that many to visit! But there is also so much more to the surrounding areas of Kyoto that after 4 nights of being here I have only spent half a day in the city so far.
My first stop was to Arashiyama to the west of Kyoto, famous for it's autumn colours (and cherry blossom in the spring) on the slopes of Mount Arashiyama, bamboo forests,
Tenryu-ji temple, and Okochi Sanso gardens built by a famous Japanese actor which climb up into the mountain and give amazing views down into the town.
The colours really are amazing with the hillsides starting to turn reds and oranges and browns, and 2 weeks more it will look spectacular as it has only just started, so I might have to try and get a stop here later on en route to somewhere else.
Next up was Fushimi Inari-tasiha, a big shiny red shrine sitting at the base of a small mountain, with paths leading to the top of the mountain lined by thousands of shiny red torii (gates to most of us!) and 32,000 shrines on the way up through the cedar forests!
Since discovering in Peru earlier this year that I have a tendency to get lost and my instincts always seem to take me the wrong way (although I could argue that it's the right way for a bit more adventure!), it really shouldn't be a surprise that when I decided to wander off down a pretty unlined path it took me from 2 thirds of the way up the mountain back down to the bottom on the opposite side that I started on, and around a big loop walking back up a very steep path back to exactly the same spot I had wandered off on about an hour earlier... I definitely got a workout that day!
After resting my legs for a whole evening, the following day I headed a bit further out on the train going north and went to Hikone castle, an early 17th century castle sat high no a hill overlooking Biwa lake. The ride out was only 50 minutes and the castle is in the top 4 of castles to visit in Japan, yet from the moment I got on the train in Kyoto to the moment I got back off again later that evening, I didn't see another white tourist the whole day and seemed to be the local attraction for the Japanese tourists! I lost track of the amount of people wanting to know where I was from, and others that were too shy to ask just staring at me!! The castle itself is a beautiful 3 storey wooden pagoda style castle looking out over the lake which I am sure would be stunning on a clear day, and has a stunning botanical gardens in the grounds. My final stop of the day here was at the little tea house overlooking the botanical gardens where I sat and enjoyed a sweet cake (more like turkish delight) and cup of green powdered tea whilst being the centre of attention again.
Although I haven't yet finished seeing all around Kyoto, today I have to leave as it's the weekend and there is not a single hostel room available tonight! So I'm heading out to Nara, the ancient capital before Kyoto, and will be heading back here to finish it off later.
A few other Japanese quirks I've seen this week.... Controls on the toilets for heating the seat and customising the water temperature for the bidet, and whether you want the bidet water stream oscillating or not (Yes, I have tried all the settings out!) Buttons in the female loos that make flushing toilet noises to avoid any embarrassing toilet noises being heard. Puppies wearing nappies. I'm sure I'll be adding a lot more to this list as the weeks go on!!
So, 2 months exactly since arriving back in the UK I have left again! 2 months of trying to decide where to travel to, booking it all up, taking a short vacation to Santorini, dog sitting in Cornwall, and have laser eye surgery.... sounds much busier than it really was!!