Thursday, October 20, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 3- Heian Jingu

After my adventure to Kiyomizu-dera and zipping back down the steep mountain at dangerous speed on my rental bike from the 9Hours capsule hotel, it was time to appraise my options for the next portion of the day. I stopped at a small kissaten for a cup of coffee and to sit on my phone and research where to go next. It was a lovely break and the small coffee shop was next to a river, providing a serene view by which to sip my caffeine. Once I ventured back out onto the road, I started towards another temple- but grew lost. I asked a jindikushaw (rikshaw) driver if I was heading the right way and he informed me my destination had closed for the day, but suggested my next stop; Heian Jingu!

Back onto my rental bike I hopped, pedaling away happily. Heian Jingu is easy enough to find- you'll know you're close when you see the giant red torii gate looming over the street, making the cars look like wee little toys. After the crowds at Kiyomizu-dera, Heian Jingu was a bit of a respite with a relatively small populace of visitors. This is not to diminish the beauty of the location- it's absolutely beautiful, having been a palace at one point in it's long life. Brilliant red paint gilds it's frame, decorated with ornate gold and green designs. There's a large expanse of open space leading up to the temple itself, providing a sense of isolation and sanctuary despite being deep within the city.

It was well worth visiting, and I was pleasantly surprised to have found it in such an unexpected manner. After exploring the grounds, I wrapped it up and headed back onto the road. I only had so long with the bike and wanted to take in as much as I could before my sojourn was cut short..

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 2 - Kiyomizu-dera 2013-01-26

After waking up a bit and getting some caffeine and food from the cute little onigiri stand by my hotel into my gullet to power me through the unavoidable hang over from my long night drinking and socializing with the crew at Pan and Circus guesthouse, I ventured forward on my rented bicycle from 9Hours capsule hotel and pedaled out into the city. Make no mistake, Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful city! Even on a cold, dreary winter morning the architecture and cityscape were lovely to take in. The sky was bright and weather crisp, making it an especially good day for a bike ride. I completely adored exploring it by bicycle, even when my dumbass decided to visit Kiyomizu-dera first thing in the day. The large, beautiful temple just so happens to be situated high atop a rather steep hill. Getting there was quite the journey and my glutes were on FIRE, but the trek heading back down the mountain was a blast! 

Despite it being a cold wintery morning, visitors were flocking to the famous temple en mass and it was surprisingly crowded. From school children to girls in stunning traditional Japanese robes (which can be rented for the day from many small shops), foreign tourists and curious locals. Even with the horde of visitors, I managed to find a safe location off the heavily traveled path to park my bike and ventured into the melee for my own glimpse of the famous locale. Small shops were abundant, selling various omiyage (locally sourced souvenirs) or snacks. Omiyage culture in Japan (and in Korea) is something else- it's an unwritten cultural mandate that for any vacation you're lucky enough to go on, you must bring back some kind of rarified local specialty as a treat for all those left behind, from coworkers to friends. Because this is such a widespread obligation, many, many shops and train stations (for those last minute shoppers) carry large packages of prepackaged locally created specialty goodies for easy dispersal among all your cohorts back home. All the food on sale looked so amazing, from fish on sticks grilled over charcoal until their skins grow crisp and the smoke-infused meat drips juice with each crackling bite to large steamed dumplings stuffed with a medley of delicious fillings bursting from their centers.

Between the majestic mountain views and ancient, ornate temple buildings it was an extraordinary place to visit. Well worth the sore legs!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Kyoto Day 2 - Part 1- Starting the day at 9Hours

For the duration of my stay in Kyoto, I stayed at 9Hours capsule hotel

Most of the capsule hotels in Tokyo are tailored towards businessmen who's long hours of work and the obligatory post-work drinking with colleagues and clients may lend them towards missing the last train home. Many even go so far as to prohibit women outright, which may be intended to differentiate the capsule hotels from love hotels, though I don't really see how a couple could do too much in a capsule- it wouldn't be impossible to get down and dirty in a capsule, but it wouldn't be ideal- and in a class conscious society like Japan I don't feel many women would be particularly enthused by the prospect, but I digress. Capsule hotels are often a budget friendly option for people who need a place to sleep, but due to the prohibition of women in many it makes it difficult for a lass like myself to get the full experience. 

Luckily, 9Hours is a different animal entirely, a capsule hotel that bills itself as a luxury capsule hotel and offers boarding for both sexes. The floors are segregated by gender, so ladies needn't worry about some creep keeping you up with his furious fapping (or snoring) late into the night in the capsule next to your's or peeping in on you while you rest. To be fair, having never stayed in a non-luxurious capsule hotel, it's hard for me to say if this hotel is truly opulent, but it was nice? Sorry, I just find the term luxurious applied to a capsule hotel a bit silly. In essence you're paying for a sleeping pod, which is a bit sci-fi and fun, but you're also opting out of having a private hotel room to yourself. No matter how swanky the pod, you're still 3 feet away from your neighbor in any direction, so you can only hope they aren't the type who saws logs all night long. The bathrooms/showers are shared, and while irrefutably many steps above the hostels I've stayed in, they aren't exactly overwhelming in their extravagance. They do offer a large, deep bathtub, as well as hair dryers and other amenities, which is lovely if you choose to make use of them. I didn't, but that's just me. Other women were happily blow-drying their hair or taking long baths. For me, this was primarily a place to rest my head and store my belongings (they have space to store your things in the lobby area). For my purposes, this was a great find and affordably priced with sufficient amenities and a few perks that were of great use. 

They even provide pajamas!

One of these perks was their bike rental, easily available at the front desk. I rented a bike for the day and in a few short minutes was mobile! I highly recommend this route for exploring Kyoto, as you get a completely different view of the city than you would from the bus, taxi, or train.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Kyoto Day 1 2013-01-25

After a long, stressful Christmas season working myself to the bone at Tokyo Disney, it was time for a well-earned vacation from the rat race. I booked myself some tickets to Kyoto, packed up a weekend bag, and prepared to board my first Shinkansen. I bought my ticket at the Tokyo Station Shinkansen booth/kiosk/center, where I watched the front desk girl struggle through processing a transaction in English. When I approached, I resolved to go through the entire process in Japanese, and I did! The young lady was quite relieved, though far too polite to say anything about the matter I could tell she was grateful not to be forced to stutter through a foreign language, regardless of my own proficiency in her language we were able to get things settled and I walked with tickets in hand for the days I needed.

Fair warning: bullet trains can be expensive. It would certainly have been cheaper for me to have flown from Tokyo to Kyoto, but I wanted the experience of riding a bullet train since they're nonexistent in my country. Seriously, America, what the hell? We were world leaders in the locomotive industry, and now we've fallen far down the roster with only a few old lines still running. Nearly every other industrialized country has a high speed rail system, and if there were one running from Las Vegas to any major city in California (though L.A. seems the most obvious due to proximity) it could completely bolster the tourist flow, both to Sin City and the coast! I get that population density versus open expanses make it less viable for the western areas, but what about the east coast? Cities are much more densely packed together and having a high speed transit system connecting the major cities of the region could lead to a renewed prosperity as people are capable of traveling. But I digress.

Riding the bullet train is lovely. It really is a pleasant travel experience. Not only did my window seat offer ample leg room for this tall girl, there were outlets to plug in my devices so that I would reach my destination with a fully charged phone, camera, ipod, what have ye. Some of my fellow riders opted to nap, others drank while others tucked into ekiben, or station lunchboxes. Ekiben are fun, with different bentos offered for different regions, packed with local delicacies or specialties. I made sure to pick one up for the journey back. 

For this ride, however, it was late and I left after work. I made sure to grab a coffee and bustled through Tokyo Station to ensure I caught my train on time. I'd booked a room with 9Hours capsule hotel, so no worries about finding a room. Just had to catch my train!

After arriving, I happened upon the Pan and Circus guest house/bar where a friendly fellow was standing outside smoking as I happened to stop for a curious glance. He invited me to join him and his friends inside, which might have been a dangerous idea anywhere else in the world, but I had a good vibe about the place. You can see more photos of the interior further down but it was really quite lovely! Very warm and inviting interior, and the guests were all very welcoming and friendly. I talked with a Korean gent, a man from Okinawa, a handful of Kyoto locals and several others. By the time I left for my hotel I truly felt like part of the gang, as the photos evidence. One young local man was even so kind as to cook dinner for all of us when it grew quite late and we were all a bit too tipsy to shuffle off to a conbini. I even met a girl who had the Japanese-ified version of my name! Say what?!

More photos after the cut!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Calico Basin Hike

Just outside of Las Vegas lies countless, nearly endless expanses of desert, rock formations and mountain ranges. Some mountains are capped with forest and get snow during the colder months, others get a sparse coating of desert shrubbery allowing the mineral filled rock below to shine. There's no mystery as to why our Red Rock National Recreation Area has earned it's name- the rocks are resplendent and come in shades of red, purple, beige and more. Wild burros, mountain lions, big horn sheep and rattle snakes proliferate the area, though they generally tend to be too shy to be spotted with any frequency. 

Given our proximity to great swaths of nature, hiking (and skiing!) are popular activities. I've been a fan of hiking for quite some time, having even been in a public hiking club during my junior year of high school. As such, whenever I get the opportunity to venture out into the great outdoors, I'm generally pretty quick to take it. On this particular day, my friend Julie and I had made plans to go for an adventure together. 

We met up early and after psyching ourselves up for the journey at her apartment, we packed up the car and headed out! It was a beautiful day for the excursion, early enough in the year that the sweltering summer heat had yet to fully settle in but warm enough to be comfortable. 

Have you ever ventured beyond the city limits of Las Vegas? One of the best parts of living in the city is how much nature is actually available and accessible just beyond it's limits. Lake mead is about 45 minutes one way, with aquatic recreation available, while Mount Charleston offers snow sports during the winter months and camping among the trees. Today, we went to Calico Basin!

More photos after the cut!