Early morning our 6th day in Kansai, we checked out of our hotel and proceeded to JR Kyoto Station for a train ride for a day trip to Nara. It was a fairly short journey, only 40 min if I recall correctly since the two cities are very close to each other.
奈良 Nara, like 京都 Kyoto is an ancient city. In fact, it is reputably older than Kyoto, being the capital city of Japan during the Nara period. The city celebrated its 1300th anniversary in 2010 and our trip was scheduled then, in hope to catch some of the festivities and celebrations. Alas all was not meant to be and the trip had to be postponed til early 2011. But that is another story altogether.
First thing when we’d reached Nara was to find a luggage locker at train station, which thankfully was not too difficult to locate. No way we are lugging our bags around the city! Then it was off to Nara Koen, a mere 10 min walk away, but we’d opt to take the bus instead. Recuperating from all that walking in Kyoto and saving our legs for all is to come!
奈良公园 Nara Koen is basically a vast grass field which seemed pretty ordinary to start with. But its “occupants” are far from being ordinary! Serving as “messengers from the gods”, sika deer roam the compounds freely without barricades whatsoever and despite the signage found all over the park to remind that they are wild, the deer seemed very domesticated and definitely very used to humans. Souvenir shops around the vicinity capitalise on the animals and sell “deer biscuits” which one could purchase to feed the deer. Judging by how brisk business was and well-fed the deer were, we weren’t about to contribute to the Japanese economy this way. So no, we didn’t get any biscuits, but most certainly had lots of fun watching others do it! Sometimes we couldn’t make out who was more entertaining, the people or the deer.
After our little tour at Nishiki Market, we found ourselves at Daimaru Kyoto, located in between Kawaramachi and Karasuma stations. Won’t miss the chance for a little “tour” of the depachika as well. True enough, the basement is filled with little takeaway corners representing various big names which have found themselves in Kyoto. The one that struck us most was a small little booth by the famed Belgian patissier cum chocolatier, Jean-Philippe Darcis.
Apart visiting kiyomizu-dera 京都清水寺, we headed northwards passing through numerous small lanes which we so well-preserved of Kyoto’s glorious past. Some of the houses have been standing for hundreds of years. Even rebuilts were modelled after the old design. If not for the people, one would have been transported back to the Edo period…
After waking up to a cold and lazy morning, we took a bus from outside the hotel to Kyoto Station. Though the train station is nearby, we opted for buses instead as its cheaper. Moreoever, we get to sightsee along the way, and hopefully chance upon something which would be interesting. Today’s itinerary is to cover Higashiyama, which literally means the “eastern hills” of Kyoto. We had glimpses of the place yesterday since Gion is located there. Today’s walking trail would bring us from Kiyomizudera to Heian Jingu.
2nd day in Kyoto, we woke up to a pleasant surprise. it had been snowing the night before and the neighbourhood was enshrouded in a white veil. barely 6 am in the morning but the sky’s already quite lit but the air was chilly and dense. the neighbourhood was still in slumbers, quiet and peaceful saved for an occasional but infrequent bark. probably an Akita. clouds ominous and grey brood in the distant mountains foreboding a storm making its way down the hills. True enough, it began to snow again.
Pâtisserie Henri Charpentier (PHC) is easily the most “accessible” french bakery in Japan, with many takeaway outlets in depachikas of the major departmental stores like Isetan, Daimaru and Takashimaya, all over Japan. In fact, I don’t recall not seeing them at any of the departmental stores we went to! If one is forced to draw comparisons, PHC is like BreadTalk in Singapore, only that the former is much much much much much much…better, especially for a pastry junkie like me!
As we were on our way, leaving Gion to cross Kamogawa for Takashimaya Kyoto, we chanced upon our first french pastry shop in Kyoto, Pâtisserie Gion Sakai. Amidst the traditional Japanese architectural infrastructure of this part of the ancient city which beared two-storey shophouses with wooden framed doors, this establishment seemed like the most unexpecting and perhaps awkward juxtaposition. Nonetheless, we are glad that we have found it.