We awoke again to find a gentle blanket of snow on the rooftops of central Kyoto – another freezing cold day but beautiful and crisp. We started our day with another unusual hotel breakfast, with one highlight. They had just taken a tray of pain au chocolate out of the oven so I requested a couple of warm pastries. Is there anything better than buttery croissant pastry with melted chocolate? Artery hardening but delicious.
We decided to scrap our idea of a bike tour and instead catch the bus to Kinkaku-ji (or The Golden Temple). We headed to the train station and stopped for coffee. It’s amazing what you’ll do for a half decent coffee when desperate… we stopped at Starbucks on our way to the bus to both defrost and have our daily caffeine dose. It seems that Japan isn’t one of those countries where good espresso coffee can be found just anywhere, hence the Starbucks visit (we wouldn’t be caught dead in one anywhere else…!).
We caught the bus from Kyoto Station to Kinkaku-ji, and as we arrived it started snowing lightly. I had been to this temple before on a high school visit to Japan but forgot how postcard beautiful it is. Last time I visited it was hot, so it was great to see the temple and its grounds sprinkled with snowflakes this time. We strolled through the grounds taking photos and, seeing a small sign, stopped for a green tea (Macha – the traditional foamy strong type of tea) and a sweet. We sat on tatami, were served by traditionally dressed Japanese ladies and had a view through some screens of a Japanese Garden whilst enjoying our snack. We were the only ones there, it was so quiet, beautiful and traditional.
After Kinkaku-ji we boarded another bus to Nijo Castle. This Castle was originally constructed in 1603 and has two concentric walls of fortifications including walls and moats. We donned slippers to walk through Ninomaru Palace. The Palace features wood carvings, gold leaf and painted screens – another amazing step back into Japanese history. Having both read ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’, we tried our best to walk across the ancient nightingale floor without making a sound which proved impossible. Nightingale floors were designed to protect the occupants from sneak attacks and assassins – the builders constructed the floors of the corridors in such a way as to squeak like birds when anyone walks on them.
The grounds of Nijo Castle contains a large pond and a beautiful grove of Cherry and Plum Blossoms. Although we were too early for Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), the Plum trees were just starting to blossom so we enjoyed our sneak preview of the famous blossom viewing season.
On our way back to our hotel for an afternoon bath, we stopped at Biotei, a vegetarian restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet. It was a simple vegetarian buffet with yummy food, all you can eat for 900 Yen. We really enjoyed our meal and would highly recommend this place for lunch or dinner.
We ended our day by heading back to the Kyoto markets for some random snacks (sweet glutinous rice ball skewers, seafood skewers and fresh donuts, yum!). We were keen to buy a chef’s knife so popped in to Aritsugu, a knife store that has been in business since 1560. We purchased a standard chef’s knife and had our names engraved in it (Ari and Shimon!). We’re still using it at home now and it’s an amazing knife.
After this, back to our hotel for my first visit to the Onsen (shared bath). As it turns out, mid-afternoon is the best time to visit if you’re a tad shy about being naked in front of a room full of strangers. The bath at our hotel, whilst not traditional and beautiful, was functional and so relaxing. Siigh.
That night we headed north to eat and walked about 15 minutes. As our intended restaurant was closed, we decided to walk into one of the lit entrances with a Japanese menu at the front. We ended up by having our coats taken (even though we only wanted to look at a menu) and sitting at the counter in front of the chefs at Mamefuji. What an amazing dinner we had – 6 courses of mainly seafood prepared in front of us, each was a work of art. The head chef was very friendly and spoke English so we had a bit of a chat.
We returned to our hotel full, happy and tired.