One atmospheric forest.
Kyoto – 2017
If Tokyo is the busy and trendy Japan destination, Kyoto is the beautiful more traditional one. Kyoto has countless shrines, Geishas walk in the street like you would walk to a grocery shop, ryokans are the recommended accommodation type to stay at – this is where you will have a taste of Japanese traditions.
We stayed in Kyoto for 4 days, but, to be honest, I wished we had a fifth day there as there were a few things we had no time to do. I guess that’s an excuse to go back, right?
After dropping our bags at our hotel we headed to Higashi Honganji, a big shrine, a stone’s throw away from Kyoto station. It is a complex made of multiple temples and very impressive.
Having worked up an appetite, we headed to Kyoto’s train station on the lookout for a place to eat. You may think that eating in a train station is a little sad, but Kyoto’s station is an architectural wonder and absolutely worth getting lost in.
Among the floors of shops and eateries, you will find glimpses of the city and some magical architectural moments. And on the 11th floor, you will find an excellent tonkatsu at Katsukura.
After lunch, we hopped on the JR line to Fushimi. A few tips before we start the visit: when visiting Fushimi wear comfortable shoes that you can walk-in for a good few hours and have at least a bottle of water per person.
Fushimi is one of the most famous touristic sights in the world with its thousands of torii gates lined along the mountain trail.
Warning – the first kilometre is hell! You will be stuck in a crowd of tourists stopping every two meters to take a picture. After the first kilometre, people will start to head back, the trail will get less busy and you will finally have a quiet moment to embrace the beauty of the place.
Keep climbing (you have to walk that tonkatsu off, right?) to the quietest spot and unspoiled views of the valley.
Then turn around and head all the way back downhill to the station. There is no shortcut exit there. Take one last (sweaty) picture, and head back to your hotel for a shower.
Freshened-up and starving, we enjoyed a ‘burnt’ ramen at Gogyo Ramen that evening.
We started the second day at the famous Bamboo Forest. You must have seen this place all over Instagram, Pinterest and other social media. It looks beautifully serene on most pictures right? Well let me tell you, in real life, it is MUCH busier. No silence and bird chirping noises, camera noises and ‘say cheeeeese’ is what you will hear the most.
The Bamboo Forest is breathtakingly beautiful though, and once you adjust to the flow of people you will see through the chaos its true beauty.
Get lost in the small alleyways around the forest and explore some of the shrines surrounding the place before your next stop!
A train and a walk later, we arrived at Kinkaku-ji. Again, crazy busy, again ridiculously beautiful.
There you will find the most beautiful gold-plated shrine, in the middle of a wonderfully Japanese-looking pond.
The park is gorgeous and I really cannot emphasise enough on how beautiful the golden pavilion is.
On our way back to the station we swung by Hirano Shrine, a peaceful ‘everyday life’ shrine where we had a few last glimpses of the cherry blossom season (we missed it by only 10 days!).
Our third day in Kyoto was a rainy one. We started the day sheltered into the shops of Shijo Dori. A bit of shopping never hurts anyone!
If you are only going to enter one shop, make it Daimaru, their food court to be more precise. Daimaru is comparable to Selfridges or Le Bon Marche and the food hall is amazing!
Talking about food, after salivating in the alleys of Daimaru, we headed to Nishiki Market for our real lunch. Dedicate a good 90 minutes to two hours to the place as there is so much to see and to taste.
In need of a walk after so much food, we headed to the small streets of Pontocho with the hope to run into a geisha.
Geishas there weren’t, but charming little houses to take pictures of there were!
The day was getting greyer and greyer but we still stuck to our plan and walked to the Imperial Palace park.
After so much walking and in need of something warm and comforting to eat, we ended our day at What’s for some delicious beef.
Luckily our last day in Kyoto was sunny and warm again, the perfect weather to end our trip at one of the most famous sights Kiyomizu-dera.
Kiyomizu-dera is easily recognisable from afar with its tall red pagoda.
We explored the shrine before getting lost in the traditional streets of Sannen-zaka.
Walking along the wooden houses was like a trip through time, and we FINALLY found some geishas!
Be aware that geishas are coy by nature and not easy to photograph. Respect it as you don’t want to come across as a rude tourist.
We wandered in Maruyama Park.
Our last stop before lunch was Yasaka Shrine, a beautiful temple just off Gion’s streets.
After a quick lunch on the go, we got lost in the streets of Gion, a lively neighbourhood where you will find designers’ shops, traditional ryokans, and, again, some beautiful shrines.
We stayed in two different places during our time in Kyoto. We spent the first couple of nights in Sakura Terrace, a perfectly fine hotel a short walk away from the train station, great to hop on the JR line to Fushimi and the Bamboo Forest.
The following two nights we stayed in a traditional room at Matsubaya Ryokan, a great ryokan with an amazing traditional Japanese breakfast and where futons are lot comfier than what they look like.
Now this post took me A LONG time to write, not because of the number of words, but because I have a major problem – I take wayyyyyyyy too many pictures. I had to go through the 7000+ photographs I took this year. It was long, it was difficult to choose but I did it! I selected three of my most favourite pictures I took in 2017.
As I mentioned multiple times before, I am not a professional photographer, far from that! I am more of a point and shoot person. What I believe I am good at though is paying attention to the small things. I see moments and I try to take a picture before they vanished away into a crowd.
So please don’t judge my technical skills as they are rather poor, but I hope you will see some sort of beauty into the three pictures below.
Where – Fushimi Inari Taisha
When – In early May 2017 during our trip to Japan
The story – One of this moment where I was just in the right place at the right time. I saw this couple walking ahead of us and was admiring their beautiful traditional outfits. They suddenly turned left heading to a small shrine. I quickly stepped out of the crowd, they were alone so I took a single picture. I usually take at least three shots at least, so I was lucky this one wasn’t completely blurry.
Where – Rua 1º de Maio, Lisbon
When – Late September 2017 during our visit of Lisbon.
The story – We were walking from Jerónimos Monastery to LxFactory and Andrew told me to look to my right, through a metallic fence, we noticed what looked like old traditional tramways. I squeezed my arm through the fence and snapped a few times and, luckily for me, the pictures turned out to be pretty decent.
Where – Chesil Beach
When – In late May when visiting the Jurassic Coast
The story – The weather was absolutely awful that day – rain and fog! We were disappointed of course but I found some magic in the colours. Everything was grey and beige. We drove past Chesil Beach, Andrew parked the car and actually stayed in it. I jumped out, took one step on the bridge and took this picture. It reminds me that even though the weather in England can be pretty terrible, there is so much beauty to be discovered.
Kyoto is amazing, that’s a given. It is full of history, world-famous sights, shops, and it is a foodie’s heaven. If you like to eat, and you are not afraid to try new things, the first place you have to head to once in Kyoto is Nishiki Market.
You will find the market in the centre of Kyoto a few back streets away from Daimaru. The market is covered which is fortunate as it was raining when we got there.
Walk along the gallery and get overwhelmed by choice and smells.
Note that you can shop for anything related to food there. Ingredients, serveware, the world renowned Japanese knives – the perfect destination to shop for some Japanese souvenirs!
Our strategy, after seeing how big the market was, was to walk the full length of it to see what all the options were, then walk back the whole way and start ordering some food. Doing so you won’t miss a thing AND you will walk off the calories – win!
Nishiki market is a very busy place and the main challenge is to reach the counters and then find a little corner to nibble, most of the time standing.
What is also fascinating about the market is that it has been around for several centuries, and a lot of the shops have been owned by the same families for generations. You literally cannot do more authentic than that, even if you were trying!
On the hunt for our lunch, we knew we very much wanted some seafood. Some were a little too weird or almost too alive for our liking.
Eventually, we settled for some Takoyaki, also known as octopus balls or doughnuts.
Looking at the guy cooking them is entertaining in itself! I mean, how fast can one human being move?
We also went for some ‘not too sure what it is but it’s delicious’ corn dog like seafood stick.
We grabbed a few more things, some crab legs, pickled vegetables, and others, but we got too hungry and I stopped taking pictures. Ooops!
So if you are a foodie like us, Nishiki will be right up your street! Be curious, try new things, and come home with some packs of dry mushrooms and kimchi.
One of the most impressive places to visit in Kyoto is the train station. You read that right, the actual train station.
It is very famous for its impressive architecture rising to 15 floors. The building is a futuristic take on architecture by Hiroshi Hara, where, spread other many levels, you will find shops, train’s platforms and many, many, many restaurants.
Our hotel wasn’t too far from the station, so on our first day, after dropping our bags, we headed there to see the view of Kyoto and grab a bite to eat before heading to Fushimi.
Once at the top of the station and after taking multiple pictures of the view we headed to the restaurant area where we found Katsukura.
As you would have guessed by its name, Katsukura serves tonkatsu – aka breaded and fried meat. It was also one of our favourite meal in Japan!
The queue at the front can be quite long as it is a fairly popular place, but it moves very fast. You won’t hang around too long in Katsukura, being in the train station the service is very fast so you don’t miss your train!
Once seated you have the choice between various meats or fish tonkatsu, I went for the crab meat cream croquette and fillet cutlet. All are served with shredded cabbage, a miso soup and rice.
One particular thing about Katsukura is the sauce making process. They are very proud of their sauces and you will be given several options to choose from at the table. You will then be given some sesame to ground yourself and mix with the sauce to create your preferred texture. We loved that entertaining step, it made us feel like we totally knew what we were doing (we didn’t).
Once the sauce was ready the meal was served. The pork was juicy, the crab meat croquettes were creamy; it was a very satisfying lunch. It is a great option for Westerners, as it felt like a more conventional meal with the meat and side of vegetable and rice.
The perfect meal before hiking uphill at Fushimi!
On our first night in Kyoto we headed for dinner at Gogyo Ramen. The restaurant is in Kyoto’s city centre right behind Nishiki Market.
You will know you are in the right place when you will see the queue in front of the restaurant and flames coming out of the kitchen. “Flames you said?” Yes I did! Gogyo’s signature dish is ‘burnt’ ramen, so to prepare it they literally have to burn it!
After queuing for a good while, we finally made it in and sat at the bar in front of the kitchen. Great way to have dinner while watching a pyrotechnics show!
One big big BIG highlight of our dinner at Gogyo was the staff! They were the nicest waiters we could have wished for! They helped us with our bibs (I told I am not good with chopsticks!) and when I said I had never tried plum wine they immediately offered me a glass of it ‘on the house’. By the way if you have never tried plum wine, make sure you do, it is delicious!
Genuinely friendly is the best way to describe the staff there!
Now to the food! Ramen can be extremely filling so we didn’t go too crazy with our order to make sure we could finish our dish (I hate wasting food!). We ordered fried gyozas as a stater, which we shared. They were really good and one plate was enough between the two of us, knowing what was coming next…
For mains we both went for the signature dish, the burnt ramen. Andrew went for a version with more toppings, I went for the regular one.
The taste is a lot stronger than a normal ramen. It is very smokey and it does have a burnt after taste so I am not sure everyone would like it. I found the texture to be oilier too but overall we did very much enjoy it.
As long as you are not expecting a classic ramen like at Ichiran, and that you are open to try new flavours, you will love the burnt ramen of Gogyo!
Also, if you are going, make sure to say ‘hi!’ to the lovely staff for us!