Friday, August 10, 2012

Mad Dash to the Finish

Tuesday was our last full day in Kyoto and therefore was our last chance to sight see.  There were quite a few very important places we didn't visit yet so this day was dedicated to getting to all of them.  The first stop was Nanzen-ji temple.  This complex of temples is on the south end of what is known as the Philosopher's Walk.  Philosophers used to walk along the channel between the temples and universities, hence giving the path its' name.  Nanzen-ji is known for a few things, namely its very large gate the Sanmon Gate, the gardens around the Hojo (main building), and an aqueduct.  The gate was indeed very large and impressive.  The aqueduct was unusual as expected since the western architecture clashed with everything else we had seen up to that point.  I think the most interesting part was the Hojo and gardens.  The Hojo has a number of painted screens which are beautiful and quite famous.  The rock gardens are peaceful and gave us a chance to relax and just enjoy the beauty of it all.  We spent a lot of time here and it was well worth it.

After leaving the temple we took the Philosopher's path up to Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion.  On the way up to the pavilion there were a number of shops and restaurants.  Since we were hungry we found one that looked good and tried our luck.  We chose well because the food was extremely tasty and I got to try Tonkatsu curry!

We reached the Silver Pavilion at the top of the hill, paid our entrance fee and entered the grounds.   We were astounded by how beautiful and well manicured they were.  Near the entrance is a large cone of sand which is around 5 feet tall.  There is also an impeccably manicured dry garden.  Across a small pond is the silver pavilion, which isn't actually silver.  It is believed that the name came about because in the past the pavilion was painted with shiny black lacquer and in the moonlight the pavilion would appear to be silver.  Once you are past the pavilion you go through a forest and come out on the other side of the pavilion before exiting the complex.  The floor of the forest is coated in moss, which gives a very cool effect.  We left in awe of how amazing the whole complex looked.

By the time we were finished it was almost time for our appointment to tour the Imperial Palace so we hopped a bus.  We arrived with plenty of time and waited in a large room with many other people and watched a video.  After a few minutes the tour guide came in, introduced herself and we were on our way.  We got to see many of the palace buildings (some are closed to the public) and learned a lot about their history and construction.  M asked a question about the white paint we had been seeing all over town.  Apparently is it applied to protect the wood from the elements and insects.  The white paint is ground up and burnt oyster shells, which are then applied to the areas of the wood where it was cut.  This also looks very attractive so it has a good dual purpose.

Our last sightseeing stop for the day was Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion.  It is named this because the top 2 floors are covered in actual gold leaf.  Seeing this in person was breathtaking.  The building itself is beautiful, but when it is combined with the reflecting pond around it, it is brought to a whole new level.

After this I made a mistake.  We were originally going to take the bus back to the hotel, get a recommendation and reservation for dinner, and then head out later.  Instead I decided we should explore the surrounding area and we took off going south.  The GPS on my phone wasn't working but I knew about where we were.  We ran into a bakery that ended up being very good and we had a snack.  After that however, we walked through neighborhood after neighborhood.  Eventually we were just trying to get back to a major street to catch a bus home, but it took about an hour and a half of walking to eventually reach a major enough street (near Nijo castle).  At this point it was near dinner time so we wandered around the Gion and Nijo area looking for a place to eat, none of which looked appetizing enough.  At some point we became desperate enough where we were going to spoil one of our Japanese dinners on McDonald's, but I decided to use a bit of knowledge I had picked up planning this trip - the train stations are often the heart of the city or district they are in.  With that in mind we headed to Kyoto Station and arrived at 9 pm.  At many US train stations many restaurants (if there were any to begin with) would be closed and the only options might be a McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts.  Not in Japan.  We had briefly walked though Kyoto station on our way to Nara, but we didn't grasp the immensity of the building.  As we entered we took the escalators up to the first floor of restaurants, but decided to keep heading up since the sign promised more restaurants were ahead.  5 or 6 escalators and 9 floors later we reached the levels containing the restaurants.  The station is massive!  As we entered the 10th floor restaurant mall lobby what should we see but Katsukura (the tonkatsu place from before).  After reviewing our other options we decided to take in some more delicious tonkatsu.  Again, unlike a US train station this one was busy (even the 10th floor!) and we had to wait a few minutes for a table, but it was worth it.  We both went with a much higher grade pork than before and it was very very good, much more tender and less fatty than before.

Full, but exhausted, we retired to our hotel and packed for the journey to Tokyo the next day.

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