Previously: a anxiety-filled, but delicious lunch of Gyoza
I had to walk with my bike for a few blocks – the Gion area is a strict no-biking zone. It’s a really nice neighbourhood, I can understand why they wouldn’t want people biking around it. It had lovely brick roads and amazing traditional-architecture shops / restaurants. The place is so aesthetically pleasing that it attracts wedding photos.
I passed by a Geisha (I’m assuming) on my way out of the area, so I grabbed a creeper photo from behind.
Still on my way out of the area, I happened across Meet Bowl – a beef restaurant. They had their menu displayed and I immediately noticed their “We Have an English Menu” sign and “Enjoy Japanese BBQ.” Hell yes I wanted some BBQ – the pictures of meat looked deliciously marbled. Since it was early afternoon, I marked the spot on Google Maps to return to for dinner.
It’s easy to get turned around in any city, so I was surprised to learn, as I followed directions to the Imperial Palace, that I was near the Nishiki Market and my hotel. Course, I had no time to stop by, but it felt nice I had inadvertently circled back to where I needed to be.
Kyoto’s Imperial Palace is in the middle of a gigantic, serene park. It’s walled, so you can only enter via a few entrances. I came in via the front, meant for pedestrians. Although a very historical place, biking is allowed in the park.
Following a path, I passed over a small bridge and I just had to stop because it was so picturesque. The rain let up allowing for some natural light. The water in the pond was still save for a few koi and ducks. The trees were just starting to turn, giving the foliage some dynamic colours. It was peaceful.
I really appreciated that the park allowed bikes because it was huge. I took a picture of a lane that lead to the Palace proper to show the scope of the place. Unfortunately, all the roads and paths weren’t paved, but gravel. On a bike, it was difficult to get through. Sometimes I was biking in stone gutters – trust me it was better than the rocks.
I enjoyed the scenery by circling around the Palace proper, thinking it was closed. Luckily, by pure happenstance I found the entrance and saw I still had time to go in and tour – and it was free! I parked my bike in the nearby rest area and quickly hustled back.
IIRC, I paid for an audio guide. Incredibly useful since I wasn’t part of a tour and there was little else that gave information in English. It was an informative tour, but the info has escaped me at the point of this retelling. I have some leftover brochures, however, which will go into my scrapbook.
If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, I’d say it’s worth a visit. I mean, it’s free – so why not? It’s probably incredibly beautiful in Spring because of blooming cheery blossoms. You can be in and out in 90-minutes or less, depending on your touring speed.
One thing I will mention, besides inserting the pictures I took; there was a small section of the palace that required ducking under a low-hanging door. It was raining on and off, so I had my umbrella out. Coming back, I accidentally hit a man with my umbrella and I felt so bad I rushed through the rest of the tour.
Following the curated path, I ended up back at the entrance. I handed in my audio guide, got back on my bike, and headed south back to the rental-bike store.
It was pretty much a straight path to J-Cycle. By this point I had been on a bike for 3-4 hours so my ass was killing me. I could barely stay on the seat. I was standing on the pedals for the majority of that last ride.
I pulled up at J-cycle and handed in my bike. It wasn’t at that exact moment, but late in the day I remembered it was election day! Considering the time difference, results would’ve been in by then! So, really needing a break, I went to the English-Foreigner pub I had been to the day before.
The bartender recognized me. I said a polite hello and then insisted they switch the channel to CNN. It was movie night, but since I was one of two customers, they conceded one television.
I’m not American but it still really sucked to learn Trump had won. I drunk my beer quick that day – but that was also because I was incredibly tired and wanted to relax.
I wasn’t at the pub too long. I was low on cash and I didn’t want to spend too much pocket change on beer. I think I only had one drink and then skedaddled back to the hotel.
My butt was hurting like hell (being on a bike seat for a whole day can do that). I figured it was an opportune time to use the hot tub in the spa. It was late afternoon, but I guess most guests were still out touring because there was almost no one around. I couldn’t have asked for a better relaxation experience.
I spent a fair amount of time in the spa, easing my glutes and unwinding from my long day. I hopped into the sauna, but didn’t stay long. I held out as long as I did because there was a TV in there broadcasting something about the 2016 Election. Course, it was all in Japanese so it didn’t really matter.
I recuperated in my cabin for the rest of the afternoon, up until I figured it was time for dinner and a bit more touring around the Nishiki Market. I didn’t have the energy for Meet Bowl, so I promised myself I’d visit the next day.
It wasn’t too late into the night, but I hadn’t eaten since the gyoza, thus I was exceptionally hungry. Browsing through back streets, I stumbled across some lovely stores I was too intimidated to step into – too much sales pressure. I remember passing by a used-clothing store that looked very trendy. Oh well.
I can’t remember the circumstances, but I passed by a ramen shop that was very popular. I’m not sure if this was by choice (à la searching on Maps for popular restaurants) or by accident (finding it first then checking it out online). Either way, I was intrigued by a sign that boasted some sort of accomplishment: Top 10 Something in 2014, or whatever.
But, as I walked in with the intention to eat, the foreigner trio ahead of me were turned away. The ramen shop was full and had a 45-minute wait. I huffed, unimpressed, and figured I could find ramen anywhere and it’d all be good. I kept walking along, looking for a place to eat.
I don’t believe I’ve gone into this extensively yet, but Japan has an entire industry based around fake food. From what I saw, it’s not possible for everyone to have then, but a good number of Japanese restaurants have a display case exhibiting their dishes with said fake food. All of them, from what I saw, is to scale.
Walking around the neighbourhood (through uncomfortably dark allies) I eventually passed by two restaurants, both with good-looking fake food. I can’t recall what the other sold (Ramen, maybe?) but the one I choose had a Japanese dish that intrigued me.
Before I had left, Jessica gave me a lot of advice about Japan and some things to check out. One was Okonomiyaki, a Japanese dinner pancake.
Peering into that case, I saw – to my understanding – Okonomiyaki. I was convinced so I timidly entered.
Side Note: I think a barrier between foreigners finding these small-time restaurants is that it’s kinda hard to tell if they’re open just by looking. I think there’s a way to know if you know Japanese culture – something about noren – but I’m not familiar.
I asked for a spot for one and the owner/chef sat me in a booth. I already felt justified in my choice of eatery, because the tables had a large hotplate embedded into them. Cool, because you could probably order beef or vegetables to cook yourself, but annoying because I kept hitting my knees on the hardware underneath.
It was late in the evening, so the place was almost empty. There was one table of four speaking in English (three Japanese entertaining a foreigner), and later in my meal two woman got a table. The menu was in Japanese with so-so English translations. I had an idea of what I was ordering, but I wasn’t confident about it.
I called the owner over and pointed at my best guess. He nodded, said something, and turned on the heating element. I think he warned me about touching it, but I had enough common sense to understand what was happening. He left, gathered ingredients in the kitchen, then came back a short while later with a bowl he promptly poured onto the hotplate.
I watched my meal get cooked in front of me with minimal interaction by the owner. It wasn’t that fancy teppanyaki stuff – just a guy making sure a hearty pancake wasn’t getting burnt.
I won’t bore you with the details, but it was awkward to eat. Since the Okonomiyaki was served in front of me, I only got a small side plate. I also wasn’t give a knife, so I was befuddled as to how I would eat a pancake – something so commonplace in my life – without one. I made due with the instruments given to me: some chopsticks and what looked like a cake server, but smaller.
I’m not going to say it was delicious, but I ate the whole thing.
Next time: A cooking class!