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Trip Report Reporting from Kyoto

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Ah, Kyoto. All the other cities in Japan seem like a prelude to the best of them all. It is our second visit (last time was six years ago) and I was wondering if it would be as special this time as it was the last. No disappointment--it's still wonderful! We have only 3 nights here this time--just enough time for another taste of some of its highlights.

We arrived yesterday late morning by train from Kanazawa. Since we couldn't check in to our hotel until two, we decided to stash our bags in coin lockers at the station and use our JR Pass to get to the amazing fox shrine, Fushimi-inari, just a couple of stops away on the Nara line. We had missed it last time so it was high on our list to visit on this trip. What a place! The sky was cloudy and showery, which probably kept the number of visitors down but didn't spoil the visit. The hundreds of closely spaced orange torii gates that make their way up and the hill, seemingly going on forever, are truly photogenic (and reminiscent of the striking Christo exhibition of tori-like orange flags that blanketed Central Park in New York a few years back--did he get his idea from Inari?). There were also a multitude of small fox shrines, complete with stone foxes, partway up the hill that made for an eerie scene in the gray and rainy weaher.

After we made our way back to Kyoto Station we retrieved our bags and took a taxi to our hotel, the Palaceside, appropriately named since it is right across the street from the Imperial Palace. It's a moderately priced hotel ($140 a night including breakfast), nothing fancy but comfortable enough, set in a nice neighborhood with lots of places to eat nearby and right on a bus line. Plenty of Westerners here--Kyoto definitely has the most Western tourists we've seen.

After checking in we still had time to walk to Nijo Castle, a good walk but very pleasant, in time for the last entrance at 4:00. We spent an hour there, visiting the building and the beautiful garden, and were serenaded with "Auld Lang Syne" as we made our way out of the grounds.

Just across the street is the Kyoto Kokusai Hotel, where we stayed last time we were in town. We remembered an Indonesian restaurant just across the street at the side of the hotel, rakuen asia, that had looked appealing last time and found it again. We had a drink in the relaxing Kokusai lobby and then walked crossed the street for dinner--delicious and highly recommended if you are looking for Indonesian or Thai food. After dinner we made our way back through the narrow, quiet streets of the neighboorhood to our hotel.

Today brought Typhoon Songdo to Kyoto, which meant a total washout in terms of the weather but didn't stop us from pursuing some fun activities, all of which we walked to: shopping at the Kyoto Handicrafts Center; visiting the Heian Shrine and its gorgeous garden (beautiful even in the hard rain); attending the exhibit of painted scrolls, calligraphy, and portraits of Shinran, the founder of an important Buddhist sect, which was on display at the Kyoto Municipal Museum (a pricey $15 each), along with a very temporary exhibit of the best paintings of the year by Kyoto area artists; and more shopping, in the covered arcade on Teramachi Street, where we bought a fresh supply of Uji tea at a lovely tea shop. In between was coffee and cake at a cute little shop not far from the museum. All this in mostly pouring rain (thank goodness for the umbrellas we bought a few days ago in Kanazawa)! We were pretty soggy when we arrived back at the hotel, but now we've dried off a bit and plan to go out again soon for dinner at a neat-looking Japanese/Italian bistro we passed last night.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring less rain--we plan to bus to the Golden Paviliion and to Ryoan-ji, and possibly go on to Arashimaya if the weather breaks.

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