Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

This was a day of travel so really not a lot to say. We started the day with a trip to Sukiya for breakfast again then made our way back to our room to pack for our trip to Kyoto. Checkout was simple and we caught the hotel shuttle to Hamamatsucho station. It is a different story visiting these places with luggage as we slowly made our way up the escalator out of the bus station, into an office building then past small restaurants and into the station proper.

I took this opportunity to pick up the final, major, train ticket for our journey and that is the ticket for the train that will return us to Tokyo at the end of our trip from Nagano. These last tickets are not free with our JR Rail pass as we can only use this for one week (beginning today) so mother had to pay with her credit card (she has been having a bit of problems with this since when they had the machine to you it is all in Japanese so you cannot tell what it is asking and she has been simply pressing the “OK” button when handed to her and not typing in her PIN as the machine is actually asking for…this has caused a bit of concern as the credit card company may see these odd things happening and cancel the card…luckily, of course, I have cards as well just in case). With these tickets this is the last major worry that is off of my mind. We are now familiar with the lady who speaks very good English at the station so this made everything very easy. All of the tickets are now safe in my wallet and we are ready to go.

We had to show our now active JR Rail passes to the attendant who let us through the gates into the station itself. Of course we had to go down several levels to catch our local train. We took the Yamanote line to Tokyo station to pick up our Shinkansen to Kyoto. Of course, I had made sure we were plenty early so we spent about 45 minutes waiting on the platform for the train to arrive. It was interesting looking in the various stalls selling food and magazines on the platform. So much of the food looks very good and very interesting. I snagged a hot drink for mother and a coke for myself along with some potato chips.

What to buy...

Of course, like any good tourists, we took video as the sleek bullet train (Shinkansen) arrived. I think it looks a bit ugly but mother seems to think it looks pretty nice. It was interesting to note that this is literally the end of the line as the tracks stop here. From this point the train heads out to Kyoto and then, possibly, further south.

Shinkansen Arrives

Of course, the train pulled up perfectly to the correct spot. Our tickets specified the car and seats we were assigned and the markings on the platform indicate where you queue for which particular car so there is never any doubt. We obediently queued up to wait to board as the doors opened to let out the arriving passengers then shut again. We watched as a team of cleaners boarded the train like a well-oiled machine to do their work. One thing they do is swing around all of the seats - A feature I very much enjoy as I hate traveling backwards. Every seat on the train can face whatever direction you wish as each row of seats and can be rotated. We have seen people traveling together set the seats so that they face each other so it is very flexible and useful.

Eventually we were let onboard our newly-cleaned train for the trip to Kyoto. The weather today is not great - Overcast, cool and difficult to see anything. As a matter of fact, despite being quite close to Mount Fuji (Fuji-san) we did not catch even a brief glimpse of it. It was interesting watching out the window though as we passed through small towns surrounded by unspoilt mountains - They very much revere their green space here so it is left alone leaving the buildings to the valleys surrounding them. The landscape got flatter as we got closer to Kyoto being obviously alluvial plains - Sections of land formed by sediment that runs off of the surrounding mountains meaning the the land is very flat but high in nutrients therefore ideal for farming and, of course, building. Kyoto is very much like this - High hills/mountains all around but a large flat interior on which the city is built (with a river running north and south through it).

Passing through Nagoya...

We only stopped a few times as we made our way to Kyoto. There were some interesting things to see out of the window including the Panasonic “Solar Ark” which is a giant dark blue smile-shaped building purchased very close to the train tracks. Generally, the scenery just passed by very easily.

A few short hours later we were in Kyoto.

The hotel we are staying at is quite well known in the city indeed, according to many guides is is THE place to stay, so we had been told to catch the free hotel shuttle from the train station. As the hotel is quite some distance away it is good they offer this service but it was not entirely clear where at Kyoto station to catch it. The station is very long and has several different areas where people can enter or leave it - For example, those people catching local trains or long-distance (Shinkansen) trains. We exited the station from the nearest exit and found ourselves where a number of hotel coaches were parked picking up guests. I thought this was a good sign so in my stubbornness thought there was no need to confirm (despite not seeing the hotel name on any of the stop signs) and just wait for it to show up. A few minutes later we saw a bus with our hotel name on the side go by on the street, on the other side of the station car park…but it never came to where we were standing even after five or ten minutes went by. Then we saw it go the other way. We were in the wrong spot. Mother checked with a local porter and found out that we were to pick our hotel coach up from a completely different area at the other end of the station (where, it has to be said, no other hotel coaches pick-up). So, we headed over there to find the queue already started with a couple dressed up like they were going to a wedding with Gucci luggage in tow (the real stuff, not the fake darling!). We were at a bus stop on a bit of a concrete island between the street and the station car park. Not the most obvious place but looking back I noticed another big entrance/exit for the station where there were signs for the hotel shuttle bus…shame there weren’t any at the exit we used.

Exasperated enough (I think we are also tired) the small shuttle eventually arrived to take us to the hotel. Mother’s bag is particularly large and bulky so had to be man-handled by the staff (“no, no, we can do it…”) into a small luggage rack inside the door. It was a nice trip through the city. We passed through the Gion district, where the geisha’s live and work, then past the Yasaka Shrine then onto the hotel. It helps that we visited previously so this all was quite familiar and Kyoto is not really all that big. On board the bus the driver called out stops along the way as many guests will use the shuttle as free transport around the city (unfortunately, it only picks up at the hotel and the train station so while you can get off in other places you can’t get back on…). Our hotel - The Westin Miyako - is built on the side of a mountain on the east side of the city.

Hotel Shuttle

20 minutes after leaving the station we arrived at the hotel that we also remember passing by on our previous visit. We made our way up the steep drive and around to the modern front door. The foyer is large and spacious with a waterfall first greeting you and the check-in desks to the left with the rooms spreading out behind the waterfall and to the right. Checking in we then made our way up to our room with our luggage with a porter who followed us then showed us around our room which is located quite a ways along a corridor a few floors up.

Fountain in the Hotel Foyer

Our room here is much smaller than in Tokyo. Entering the room there is a bathroom with a bath/shower and, of course, electronic toilet.


Directions for the Toilet

Then the main room has two (ok) double beds with a night-table between them and on the wall facing is a long desk/dresser and a television mounted on the wall above.


The plus about this room over the one in Tokyo is that we have free Internet so I spent a few minutes setting up my phone and mother’s laptop to use it. The large set of windows looks out over a disused tennis court (well, it is not really summer right now anyway) and the trees of the mountains beyond. To the far right we can almost make out the buildings of Kyoto stretching below us.

Kyoto in the Distance

After all of the travel and hotel stuff we had basically managed to use up most of our day so we decided to head out to find something to eat. Before we left the hotel we had a bit of a look around as we had been told about a pool. Eventually we found it but saw that they wanted 500 yen a day for access. Oh well. The first floor has a large restaurant that we saw does a buffet breakfast and to the right of the main entrance there is a small cafe that has a case containing some really nice looking pastries (!). None of these particularly appealed for dinner so we left to see what we could find.

One of the problems I knew we might have with this hotel is the fact that it is located quite a distance away from anything. I remembered that previously when we were in the area it was difficult finding public transportation and restaurants here so I did not have very high hopes as we walked down the driveway to the street below.

Obviously this area very much caters to the guests from the hotel as we passed by a few small galleries and up-market boutiques. At one we stopped to have a look at some very nice looking pottery arrayed outside of the shop. We eventually walked in and had a look at some of the local clothing and textiles. Everything here is always so perfect and beautiful looking.

We had passed a few places selling cheaper food - Noodles and fried dinners but we eventually found an ideal candidate for dinner. It was a small traditional looking restaurant complete with strips of cloth hanging over the sliding wooden door. We ducked our heads and entered to find the interior was entirely made of wood - Minimalist but very elegant.

We found that this restaurant specialised in “Kaiseki” which is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal. There were only a few meals on offer so we picked one while we were served some barley tea. The meal was absolutely amazing - Just very tasty - Not very strong flavours, just very fresh and nice. The main was a tray containing a bowl of rice, a vegetable udon noodle soup and a sliced japanese egg omelette. Even the containers were amazing - the omelette was presented in a pristine pine box with snug fitting lid. The dishes were simply but pleasantly arranged.


It was so peaceful in the restaurant as well - There was another table of tourists a few tables away but they were, generally, very quiet so we were able to enjoy the light classical music being played throughout. The whole place probably only seated about 40 people anyway.

Restaurant Interior

By the time we left the restaurant it was dark. The stores were closed as we passed by returning to the hotel.

It was nice to have a quick talk with my wife over Skype tonight and show her our new room and the view from the window (not so easy considering it was dark but I tried). It is certainly not the Tokyo hotel room but it is quite nice. We are going to be here far longer than we are in Tokyo, hopefully that means we will be able to relax a bit and enjoy Kyoto. We do love Kyoto and this is why we have planned to spend this week here. We really do prefer it over Tokyo though I have to say the only real draw for Kyoto in terms of tourism is the many, many temples. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot of them while we are here. Fine with me.

>> Next: Day 6

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