From Kathmandu to Kyoto (via Hong Kong), within the space of 3 days.
Kyoto is just a little more refined than Kathmandu. Views are aesthetic; traffic controlled; traders polite; and toilets heated.
Our brains nearly melted.
Japan was actually a late addition to our itinerary – we went there on holiday a few years ago and absolutely loved it, but at least in the first itineration decided against re-visiting (we’ve basically not gone anywhere on this trip that we have both been to before). However, when we changed the itinerary a bit to fit in with leaving later in the year than we had planned, we had to knock some time off some of our earlier countries just due to weather etc. considerations, so we ended up with a “spare” 10 days which we thought could be filled rather nicely with a trip to see the fall foliage in Japan. Now I’ve spent quite some time over the past few years in the States trying to go fall foliage viewing (or “leaf peeping” as it’s rather brilliantly known over there) and have had little to no success – picture the two of us, having driven five hours up into Vermont, standing by a sorry looking faintly pink turning maple tree and frantically trying to persuade ourselves that this is what we’re here to see. No matter though – we love Japan anyway, and in particular we LOVE the food here, so we were extremely excited about it all, and had spent many a happy evening in slightly less sophisticated parts of the world booking our ryokans and salivating at the thought of all that raw fish (or indeed any fish – we’d been landlocked for so long we’d started to forget that you can eat finny things).
Did we see any foliage? OHHHHHHH YES. Finally we got our payday and boy was it worth waiting for. This being Japan, rather than the great displays of thousands of maples in the forest that you get in North America, maples are displayed individually against a background of lesser trees, usually in a famed garden or temple. People come to admire the specific trees – there’s special viewing points and any number of folk taking close up photos of particularly pretty foliage. There’s probably at least a dozen haikus being composed any time you visit a decent maple spot this time of year. Fortunately, having been to Japan last time at the cherry blossom time of year, we know the trick to being able to enjoy all this – get up early, be at the more famous sites at opening time and leave before the tour buses arrive. That way you get your lovely Zen experience, have a happy witter about the ephemerality of all things and compose your haiku without being elbowed out of the way by frail looking Japanese grannies posing for photos (cue cheesy grin and peace sign – we’re not sure why this is the pose de rigeur, but trust me, it is). AND then you get to feel all smug over your lunch time soba.
We had a wonderful couple of days in Kyoto: day one was a rainy day so quietish with a nice stroll in the covered market; day 2 we made up for it, visiting Ginka-kuji (which was a favourite from last time and managed to perhaps be even nicer this time with a gorgeous maple display), then a wander down the Philosopher’s Path stopping at Honen-in (quiet and lovely), Eikan-do (MAPLES!!!!), Nanzen-ji (least favourite) – all before lunch! James then retired hurt (ok, I may have been a little over ambitious), leaving me to head to another few temples in the afternoon, before joining him for a spectacular kai-seki dinner.
Day three unfortunately, James got sick – not sure if this was a reaction to the kai-seki the night before, or a delayed reaction to Hong Kong festivities, but anyway, it kept us both out of action for the next 36 hours or so – and allowed our hotel to rape and pillage us by charging rack rate for an additional night (to add insult, the hotel we should have been at has a 100% payment same day cancellation policy. Ouch. Definitely a contender for our most expensive day on our trip to date). He’s absolutely fine now though and rather excited about the extreme weight loss that he may well have experienced!
All of which left me feeling a little sad….I love Kyoto and we did have a wonderful time there, but there’s definitely some regret at having left the town on a slightly sour note; and without having seen quite a few of the more spectacular sights at this (absolutely beautiful) time of year.
Perfect excuse to come back here again maybe?