Day 7 - Kyoto We were sooo tired this day. We slept in. When we finally dragged ourselves out of the house, we managed to hit up Kinkaku-ji, the world-famous "Golden Pavilion", which we found to be way too crowded for our taste. This was because we were traveling in November, the height of the fall tourist season thanks to the orange maple leaves (April is another big tourist season, thanks to the cherry blossom blooms!).
We wandered without checking our maps, just away from the big crowds and into emptier buses, and ended up at Ryoanji and then Tenryuji, another UNESCO World Heritage site! Japan is silly with these, and it's pretty amazing! Walking through these places, you could see the reverence for precision and beauty in every feature of the gardens, landscapes, buildings, and designs. It's like walking though a work of art.
We strolled around kind of at random and ended up walking through the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which was really neat! Everywhere you look is a dense maze of healthy, thick bamboo trees. Everything is green and lush and vivid, and the walk is nice and shady.
After we tired ourselves out wandering, we went to Menbakaichidai Fire Ramen and waited in line for about an hour for one of the coolest dinner experiences ever!! They light your ramen on fire! And the taste was actually delightful - smoky, charred, savory, salty, and perfect! Defintely try their gyoza, too.
Day 8 - More Kyoto
We decided to not fret about what we were missing out on (which was a lot) and to just focus on exploring and avoiding the crowds. With that in mind, we cruised back to the Arashiyama area and wandered. We ended up going to the Monkey Park Iwatayama! It's a family-friendly nature park where you walk your way up a huge hill and then hang out at a preserve full of macaque monkeys! There are macaques of all ages/sizes and they roam freely. There are certain safety measures to follow, but you do get to feed them and watch them very closely. It was a really fun experience and you get some great views of Kyoto from the hilltop.
After we walked our way back downhill, we decided to do a water picnic, so went to 7-11 and loaded up on snacks, then rented a paddle boat. There are stations for this all along the Hozugawa river, and it's very afforadble! We got to eat, enjoy the nature, and paddle around. After we returned out boat, we went back out toward the river to investigate a few pretty sights we'd seen.
We walked along the river as far as we could until it started getting dark on us, then grabbed a bus to meet some friends in the bright and lively Gion district, where we went to an adorable cat cafe, got turned away from a yakitori place for being gaijin (the first and only time this happened), and then ended up at a totally bomb yakiniku place nearby.
Day 9 - Last stops in Kyoto
We got up realllly late and had a few errands to run (reload cards, stock up on snacks, etc.) so got a slow start. Eventually, though, we made it to the place everyone who visits Kyoto has to see: Fushimi Inari! At this shrine, there are hundreds (thousands?) of red torii gates lining the shrine's walkways, dedications to the god Inari in the hopes that a business will prosper. Again, we found it too crowded for our taste, so we went through the gates for a few minutes, but then took a side-path and went exploring through some bamboo and looking at smaller shrines set up within Fushimi Inari. Then, we fought the crowds to pick a place in the area to eat at (first restuarant that looked empty, can't go wrong) and went early to go meet some friends back near Gion for karaoke and drinks in a private room (a super popular group activity in Japan!)
I was DYINGGG to see Pontocho Alley, the labyrinthine, narrow street in Kyoto with so much history that it's basically a living musem, so I dragged my husband over to it and made him walk it up and down like 5 times. After that, we headed back to our cozy hostel!
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