In Transit days – Toronto – Kyiv, Ukraine – Istanbul, Turkey.
We started with a 9-hour flight with Ukraine Airlines from Toronto to Kyiv, Ukraine as our 3-hour stopover before making it to Istanbul, Turkey. We didn’t realize there was no entertainment unit or plugs available so that was a bummer. We were talking to each other about what seat preference we like and I said aisle and she said window – we got neither. The plane was an older model but it was 2 seats, 4 seats, 2 seats layout.
It was a long flight (9-10 hours) but at least we had a 3-hour layover in Kyiv, Ukraine. We did however find the mobile plug charging station and setup camp with my Mogics power bar and from there, we made friends sharing outlets. Lukas (from Mississauga) & Glenn (from Bradford) became our instant friends. And it turned out they were seated right behind us for our flight to Istanbul. Our flight to Istanbul got delayed about 30 minutes. Super foggy in Kyiv.
We arrived at 1130PM and our plan was to purchase a sim card at the airport because we wouldn’t have enough time to purchase one before we had to get back to the airport the following morning. The only place open at that time was Vodafone and we ended up purchasing 1 sim card that had 100 minutes, 100 SMS and 7GB data for 280TL ($70.50CAD) which was more expensive than we thought it would be. This was the cheapest option and all the other phone places were closed. We purchased one and would hotspot it. The only thing is we purchased it so late and we wanted to go to our hostel but activation took over an hour and half. We walked around and walked to the metro to see if we could purchase and Istanbulkart but also learned the metro closes at midnight. We finally caved and got into a cab where they guy wanted to charge us 40TL ($10CAD) but we talked him down to 30TL to later realize the ride should have cost around 19-25TL.
We stayed at Han Hostel North for the night. A very simple yet secure hostel about a 10 minute drive from the airport. We had a flight the following day around 115PM so we didn’t bother going further than we needed to for the one night.
We went to bed around 130AM and I thought I would sleep through the night but I was wide awake by 4AM and tried to sleep a bit longer. Woke up, showered, had breakfast at the hotel – continental breakfast – lots of cheeses, meats and dried fruit. We walked around a bit and stopped by Reisoğlu Börek and picked up something that resembled cheese and lasagna like sheets of pasta for 7TL. The person serving us didn’t speak English so they kept saying yedi which means 8. We should really know the numbers for pricing.
We walked back to the hostel to eat it and then walked around the hostel during the day to see what it offers. There is laundry, a fitness area and balconies on all floors. We took some photos on the 4th floor then packed up and called for a cab using the Bitaksi App. We made it to the airport where we had to line up to even get through the entrance where we had to go through security and then walk through again to domestic where we went through security 1-2 more times before making it to our gate. The line to even get into the airport entrance was out the door.
We flew with Turkish Airlines and the flight just felt so much better than it was with Ukraine Airlines. The flight lasted about 1.5 hours and we also got a meal on it. We arrived at Kayseri Airport where we had already arranged for a picked up by our airport transfer van that took us another hour to get to Göreme. We stayed at Heybe Hotel. It is not a cave hotel but it is still a wonderful hotel on the main street and because it was down season, we were able to reserve a suite room for only $70CAD/night. We really enjoyed having that extra space which technically could accommodate a third person. We spent majority of our time in the living room area as our hangout spot.
When we arrived, we met with Omer at the front desk and booked our Green Tour for 35 euro and Red Tour for 30 euro as well as booked our return airport transfer. . Our airport shuttles were booked paying in euros. 6 euros each way per person.
We put down our things and walked around. We didn’t get far when a gentleman named Ikrim stopped us on the street and asked us to come see his new store – Kervan Carpet which we agreed to see. He had just moved a few stores down and wanted to show us his work. You will notice that people will be inviting you into see their stores and they will offer free tea and whatnot. You are not obligated to purchase anything.
We continued walking around and ended up at Galerie Ikman – a Carpet shop that is a very famous spot for people to take their instagram photos with all the rugs. PLEASE PLEASE BE RESPECTFUL. This is a working establishment and you must pay to take photos inside (or purchase something). If you are alone and ask one of the staff to take your photos, please make sure you tip them – it is not their jobs to take your photos.
*Quick photo tip – If you come when the sun goes down, the no-roof carpet room will be all green coloured due to their lights and not optimal.
We ended up meeting Sergio who is 5th generation and his father Süleyman who introduced us to the rich history of carpets and the many techniques. Each carpet has a story behind it. The people who are looming or weaving the carpets put their emotions/feelings and all that energy into each carpet, which can take a short period of time to 5-6 months to make one carpet. In the end, Amanda ended up purchasing a lovely carpet. Since we went in down season, they lower their prices so they are still able to sell carpets to make ends meet and cover the electricity bill and employee wages.
Sergio had told us that the cafe beside called Pasha’s Cafe has a live band Friday-Sunday and we should check it out so we had dinner there. We got the Pasha’s Kebap – fries with beef, peppers and sour cream with some salad on the side (60TL) and some local wine (25TL). And I have to say; the staff there and the live band were all beautiful to look at. Turkish people just have amazing facial structures and very symmetrical. The food was good. The music was good with performers using electric drums, keyboard, violin and another instrument that looks like a zither.
It was this night that we realized that everywhere we went in Cappadocia and especially in this restaurant, all our clothing smelled like smoke and fumes.
I discovered a great flight deal that had multiple countries in which you could pick to travel to for only $390CAD roundtrip.
I originally wanted to go to Kazakhstan but no one wanted to go with me. The only person who was interested and had time to go was my friend Amanda but she said “Why don’t we go to Turkey instead” and that was it. We booked for 10 days.
We booked this flight deal back in Oct/Nov 2018 and by mid-November, the itinerary was set and pretty much everything was booked and confirmed. To make the most of the short timing we had, we booked a few tours so we could cover 4 cities.
I made a very ambitious itinerary but I have to say that we did almost everything and then some. The only thing we missed was visiting Suleymaniye Mosque and we went quickly past the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Also, we were expecting the weather to rain the whole way through but it was perfect and only rained the day we left and then snowed the day after.
Before I get to my itinerary (at the bottom if you scroll) here are some helpful information and brief facts of Turkey.
As a Canadian, we required a Visa to enter Turkey. You can purchase your Turkey Visa online – $61.50USD – Official website for Visa
Communication / Data
If you don’t have to purchase a sim card right away, purchase outside of the airport as the price is steep. Remember to have your passport with you. We got in really late so Vodafone was the only place open and the cheapest price was 280TL ($70.50CAD) for 100 minutes calling, 100 SMS & 7GB Data. We purchased 1 sim card and hot spotted. We did get a free battery charger but it wasn’t compatible with my Google Pixel 3. BRING A BATTERY CHARGER IF YOU ARE USING YOUR PHONE FOR NAVIGATION.
The outlet is the regular European 2 circle prong.
$1CAD = 4TL (as of Feb 2019)
-The currency for Turkey is Turkish Lira – TL – ₺. Many places also accept Euro – € or credit card.
-For 10 days, I exchanged $300CAD worth of Lira ₺ in Toronto. I went to Roscoe Trading, as the rates are similar to the XE.com rates. I also pre-booked all my flights and hotels prior to the trip.
Book in Advanced
-Pre-book your Hot Air Balloon if you are planning on doing it in Cappadocia.
-Tours – The easiest way for us to add Ephesus and Pamukkale was to book a tour that would pick up and drop us off at our hotel in Istanbul (45 min flights to Izmir and back from Denizli)
It is not safe to drink the tap water in Turkey. Safe for cleaning purposes.
Unlike North America, you will need to purchase water or drinks as they will not be provided at meals. One tip is to visit a store or places such as the Grand Bazaar and store owners will offer you some tea or apple tea.
-If you are entering any metro system, malls, museums, and Bazaars etc – there are security checkpoints. You must go through a metal detector and also have your bags scanned. There are also armed police officers at many of these places.
-At Airports, you must pass through security and screening before you can even get into the airport then must do another check before you can get to the gates.
Cabs – ALWAYS ASK PRICE BEFORE YOU HOP IN.
Apps – Uber is technically ILLEGAL in Turkey however, you can still use it (there are few drivers) BUT Turkey/Istanbul does have their own version called BiTaksi where you can request a yellow or blue taxi and the prices are consistent.
Public Transit – The Istanbulkart is also a very reliable transportation with a card costing 6TL ($1.50CAD) – Bus, Metro, Tram and ferry. You can reload at multiple places besides the metro stations. When you take multiple trips at once, the fare is discounted. Unlike what Toronto has with the metro card, you can tap multiple times right after each other to use the card for multiple people if need be.
NOTE: The Metro (train system) hours are 6AM-Midnight.
If you are sure that you will visit more than 5 museums included in the pass, it makes sense to buy the Museum Pass Istanbul. For us, we booked other tours which included many of the attraction entry fees.
Try to learn a few words here and there. Knowing numbers helps in less touristy areas. For the most part, majority of people can speak English but there are cases where they don’t so try your best to learn.
Hello – Merhaba! (Mare-ha-ba)
Goodbye – Hoşçakal (Hosh-cha-kal)
Goodbye – Güle güle! (guu-leh guu-leh)
How much does it cost? – Ne Kadar? (Nay Kad-ar)
Thank you – Teşekkür ederim (Te-Sh-qu-err ed-err-im)
Yes – Evet (Ev-et)
No – Hayir (Hi-ear)
Ç – sounds like ch as in “chipper”
0 – sıfır
1 – bir
2 – iki
3 – üç
4 – dört
5 – beş
6 – altı
7 – yedi
8 – sekiz
9 – dokuz
10 – on (11 – on bir)
20 – yirmi (21 – yirmi bir)
30 – otuz (31 – otuz bir)
40 – kırk (41 – kırk bir)
50 – elli (51- elli bir)
60 – altmış (61 – altmış bir)
70 – yetmiş (71 – yetmiş bir)
80 – seksen (81 – seksen bir)
90 – doksan (91 – doksan bir)
100 – yüz (200 – iki yüz)
I travelled through February, which is considered down season. The weather varies but the temperature ranged from 15°C to a low of -2°C depending on where you are in Turkey. We found that in Cappadocia, the weather ranged from -4°C to 6°C. In Istanbul, we had a low of 2°C to a high of 11°C. In Ephesus and Pamukkale, we had a low of 3°C to a high of 16°C. Each place, it started off cold in the morning but all warmed up during the day. This time of year calls for more rain and a little but of snow so be prepared!
If you like the service provided, 10TL is suffice. Remember if you are doing a tour, to tip the driver and guide. For the most part, you don’t need to tip.
-Almost everyone smokes. Unlike Canada, you will see some people smoking indoors at certain restaurants and cafe/bars.
-Cappadocia in particular smells like fumes (from all the tour vans, buses) and also smoke from wood fires and people smoking.
-The road rules are for the most part just a opinion and aren’t always followed so be careful! People J-walk all the time.
-There are loads of Mainland China tourists everywhere. I guess China is so close and cheap to fly so they are plenty. Or there are many European travellers. We only heard a handful of Americans around. Turkey went through some economical turmoil in recent years so they are rebuilding.
-The Turkish people in general, have such strong facial features. They are also a mix of ethnicities originating from the invasion of Ghengis Khan so many Turks are of Mongolian descent so they also have a unique look. Many have very symmetrical faces and strong facial features such as cheekbones and jawlines.
-Streets in Istanbul are mainly cobblestone especially not main Street. The streets in Sultanahmet are all narrow and not built for normal 2 lane driving. The streets are also slanted similar to San Francisco. It may seem like they are 1 way streets but they aren’t. There is no true order to the chaos but no one yells and they help each other out to get through. On the main streets, the trams run super close to the sidewalks but had little barrier/cones. I love when streets split into 3 and have the homes that also are shaped to it.
-Turkey is a country that is located in the crossroads of Europe and Asia – The Silk Road and because of that, it was sought after land.
-Turkey is known to produce potatoes and pumpkin seeds.
-Turkish food is deliciously scrumptious. They are most famous for their kebabs and seafood. But you can’t forget about their coffee or tea or desserts such as baklava.
-Did you know Turkish people are descendants of Ghengis Khan and are part Mongolian. Ghengis Khan’s sons invaded many places and one of the places was Turkey when it was known as Anatolia.
-Turkey has been invaded 3 times in less than 1000 years and had to rebuild over and over. They conquered East to West originally but then were conquered themselves. The Persian invaded and brought camels with them then left and one of the persons in higher power left the empire to the Romans after his death. And of course the Mongrels followed them and conquered them.
-The Persians claim that the land Turkey resides was their ancestral land such as Troy, Ephesus etc.
-In 1923 President Mustafa declared this land to be the Republic of Turkey.
-There was a population exchange that was proposed by the Greek that sent Turkish Muslims to Turkey and Orthodox Christians to Greece and Armenia – forced relocation.
-The turkish people are very patriotic respectful and are against disrespecting anything with the Turkey flag on it – thus you will never see a coin with the flag on the ground ever. President Mustafa once had a meeting/presentation with a general from Greece who before stepping on stage, wiped his feet on the Turkey flag. In retaliation, the soldiers of President Mustafa laid Greece, Italy, France flags on the floor for him to wipe his feet on before going on stage but Mustafa yelled at them to pick those flags off the ground to show respect.
-Carpets are very important in Turkish culture. Seen as religious symbols, they are used in mosques. Each person has a carpet and when they passed away, that carpet is donated to the mosque.
Now, onto the itinerary. This was my original itinerary with some places doubled in case we needed another day as an option.
Check out my Amazon page for gear that I personally use and products similar to those I pack on my travels (many of which are listed below).
As a photographer, my priorities for travelling always have been photography first. This time around, unlike my Peru – Machu Picchu trek, my walzflex 120mm film camera made an appearance once again.
For 14 days of travel through Japan, I decided against a rolling hard case luggage. I have since replaced my Kata Camera bag with a new bag from PRVKE as my personal camera bag and my trusty Yellow North Face Basecamp Duffel as my main luggage, My philosophy when travelling is purchase only as much as you can carry back.
Japan Packing List
Wearing onto Plane
1 pair of tights (Underarmour are my choice of preference)
Woke up early to goto Arashio-beya Sumo Stable 荒汐部屋(Japan, 〒103-0007 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Nihonbashihamachō, 2 Chome−４７−２) to watch sumo wrestling practice as the big sumo wrestling tournament takes place next month. This particular beya has windows that you can watch from and you aren’t allowed to enter the building. There are other beya’s where you can enter and sit down to watch them practice however for those ones you cannot leave until the practice is over or it is considered disrespectful. You also cannot sit with the bottom of your feet facing the ring as that is also disrespectful. You also should bring a gift of some sort (snacks or something) to offer to the sumo wrestlers as a sign of appreciation for their hard work. We walked back to the hotel and just relaxed a bit and repacked.
We were running out of yen but luckily good timing as it was our last day. We were trying to figure out what was our best option to not spend the remainder of our money until needed but also get through the next few hours with out luggage. We decided to just head to Tokyo station and figure it out then. We arrived at Tokyo Station using our JR pass from JR Akihabara. The line to reserve tickets for the trains was long and I needed to charge up my pasmo card however didn’t have enough time to and I didn’t have access to one inside the station. We walked around, found food and sat in the food emporium and ate before our NEX express train to Narita Airport. The express train takes an hour. I then picked up the final requests I had from my cousin to pick up certain items and last meal of Japan trip – 15 McNuggets. Our flight offered 2 free checked in bags and I gave in and checked in my bag (hoping the kit kats survive). Good thing I did check it in as I needed my hands to grab the last purchases in Japan. 11-11.5hr to ORD. Smooth ride and fixed my jet leg I think. Unfortunately, our flight home from ORD got delayed 3.5 hours due to bad weather in Toronto.
All in all, a wonderful trip and I was very ambitious with my itinerary and wasn’t able to accomplish some of the items on there but its a lesson learned and all about going with the flow. I was able to reunite with 2 friends in Tokyo & Osaka and also meet up with my volleyball friend as she was travelling visiting family and spent 2 days with my crew and I. Only 1 bag of kit kats got squashed – still tastes just as good.
Overall, all the places I’ve visited, Osaka is still my favourite. The vibe is just perfect – not too busy like Tokyo but also has its little boroughes with stylish people and of course the copious amounts of delicious food anywhere you look. The weather is perfect as well with city and nature somewhat meeting. Japan is somewhere I could visit again and again and never feel like I have fully explored what the country has to offer. I do love the culture and especially the architecture however I can go without the slow walkers, the slow escalators, the not covering their mouth while coughing or sneezing and the not moving out of the way when walking and bashing into the next person.
Who knows, maybe the next time round will be Taiwan & Okinawa.
We woke up early and packed. We had about an hour and half before we needed to check out so we walked around America-mura and grabbed morning takoyaki at Kogaryu – 大阪アメリカ村 甲賀流 本店 (Japan, 〒542-0086 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Nishishinsaibashi, 2 Chome−2−18−4) which is on the Michelin Star list and for good reason – the octopus was just so much more flavourful than many I have eaten in the past. Mike dropped one – that was a sad moment. Before we checked out of the Airbnb, we wanted to be hip and sit on the wooden patio outside of AKTR/Sporty Coffee shop スボティコーヒー. I purchased Sporty blend coffee beans – sourced from Wakayama for my pops (1380y). We grabbed all our stuff and took the train to Shin-Osaka where we dropped off our luggage – the main JR station was already packed with bags but I cut and saved a large locker for Mike & Manwai. 300y for a small locker. We took the train to Umeda station and went to find Kayo at her work. For some reason, I didn’t check where she worked and I assumed it was Umeda station because she mentioned it earlier however her workplace is located at the Whity Umeda so it would’ve been Higashi Umeda station we should’ve gotten off at.
We surprised Kayo at work but she actually surprised us because she had gotten the photos she took on her camera the previous day printed and gave them to us with personalize notes inside. She went on lunch break and we went to Okonomi Yukari which was also in this underground mall. Back to the mall for a second, this mall has over 200 shops and averages 600,000 visitors a day – so confusing to walk through – think Toronto’s underground Path but 5x bigger. Now back to food. Okonomi Yukari serves for majority of its menu – okonomiyaki – a savoury japanese pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage with meat and topped with a variety of condiments like bonito flakes, mayonnaise, sweet brown sauce etc.
I found the sailor moon makeup my friends were looking for at Its Demo. We made our way back to Shin-Osaka station and off we went. 3 hours to get back to Tokyo – We forgot to ask for mountain side view seats as we pass Mt Fuji heading to Tokyo. Luckily, I woke up hearing a phone taking burst photos and I got up and got a shot of Mt Fuji for the 1-2 minutes it appeared as the shinkansen speeds past at 300KM/HR.
Our original plan was to leave Osaka early in the morning to Nagoya and purchase tickets to watch a baseball game at 6PM (Dragons vs Tigers) and leave Nagoya by 8PM latest to make it back to Tokyo but it was a little too ambitious I suppose. Cassie also followed us back to Tokyo but went to Shinagawa first. We continued onwards to check in to our Capsule hotel – Grids Akihabara(Japan, 〒101-0031 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku, Higashikanda, 2 Chome−８−１６) – we booked a private quad capsule room with shared showered but sink and toilet in our room. Tokyo was really windy that day.
Once we settled in, we made our way to Shinjuku to Comme Ca to pick up Mike’s jacket. We met up with Cassie at Tokyu Hands (Kit Kat Chocolatory was on the lower level but closed about 15-20 minutes before we got there). We had passed this cool looking pop-up shop looking food truck and restaurant so we decided to check it out instead of joining Chi & Karen in Harajuku for gyozas because it was cold and this was also closer. The restaurant is called Sanagi Shinjuku サナギ 新宿 (Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, 新宿区Shinjuku, 3 Chome−３５−６). It is a asian tapas restaurant that serves thai, chinese, japanese and other asian cuisine. The place is very eclectic. There are multiple rooms all designed differently. One area looked very cafe like, another had benches with paper lanterns adorning the ceiling, we sat in the area where you sit on the floor and had neon lights. The washrooms also featured different aesthetic – the unisex washroom had pennants covering the ceiling, the women had stuffed dolls and the mens something else.
We ordered a whole bunch of things and drinks. I got their local Dove and Peach sake and then a shochu wine drink – all in all, a very fun way to end out time in Japan for sure. I have been very dehydrated this trip (little known fact – I am a very dehydrate person in general) so drinking this much (I went for the hard stuff I know) made me even more dehydrated and I guess low blood sugar. As we were getting off the train, my vision went a little white and fuzzy but all was good with a little sports drink in me and I was fine.
We took a cab to Kyoto station to meet Cassie at Kyoto Station. Such a large station with multiple JR offices to book tickets but we eventually found Cassie. We got there in time to reserve seats for the shinkansen bullet train to Osaka. It literally took 14 minutes for us to get to Osaka from Kyoto. Local JR would take about 30-60 minutes – so insane. It was so fast that the ekiben that I purchased I had to inhale and almost didn’t finish in time to get off the train. We arrived in Osaka rather early to meet our Airbnb host at 1130AM so we put our bags in the lockers and went shopping at Tokyu Hands. Turns out our 20 minute limit turned into an hour. I purchased about 114,000y but what sucks is that at the tax free counter, i only got 633y back because my purchased items didn’t qualify for a tax exemption. By this point of seeing Osaka, everyone had talked ourselves out from leaving for Nagoya the following day to leave a little bit more time in Osaka.
We left Tokyu Hands and walked through Shinsaibashi street to America-mura where we would meet our Airbnb host Yuta and be staying. Cute apartment in a nice building with a coffee shop at the bottom. Yuta let us check in early and leave our stuff but the apartment still needed cleaning. He recommended a place to eat in Shinsaibashi called Daruma(1-6-4 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka). Daruma is a kakushikatsu which basically means everything is fried. There was also a train the food would come on after ordering on the ipad/computer and a person would come around and place it on the heated plate for us. There is a sauce we can use to dip our skewers in but only dip once.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
I had to meet my friend Kayo at a Namba station but my maps brought me to the JR Namba line instead of the local trains so Kayo met me on a corner while my friends were in Loft. Loft is a design store and a dangerous store in terms of wanting to purchase everything there. After Loft, we went to the Daiso store which is also filled with things we don’t need but fun to look at.
When we came out of the Daiso store, Kayo pulled out these little brown bags from her bag – she got us gifts! We opened it up to reveal that she gave us personalized (she personalized it herself) key chains with our names on it from her workplace – Business Leather Factory. So sweet of her! We told her we wanted to see her store so she took us to the Namba station branch of the store as she works at Umeda Station location. Cassie bought a wallet and Mike & Manwai purchased passport cases and Kayo was so sweet to give us 5% friends & family discount + tax free savings. I would’ve bought a new wallet but I am very particular about the things I want from a wallet. On our way to the store, we were eyeing Mister Donut and she stepped out and bought a box for us – she is way too sweet!
We walked from there through Shinsaibashi street to the Glico man sign and we went a little further down the river to find so benches to enjoy the donuts. Along the way, we also stopped and grabbed ourselves Croissant Taiyaki – croiyaki? 1000y for 5. There was azuki red bean, custard and sweet potato filling – the sweet potato was delicious! We hung out on under the bridge and on ate then walked back to our area of America-mura – it is very hip and so many colourful characters especially in clothing style. Very much American influence on clothing style but more so the 90’s wears and hip hop influence. Since they were cleaning the apartment when we dropped off our bags, we went back to the apartment to hang for a bit and saw the sunset from the balcony. There was a giant bowling pin just outside our building and we decided to go bowling at Shinsaibashi Sun Bowl 心斎橋サンボウル. It was 950y/pp for shoe rental and 1 game. Kayo put our names in kanji and off we went. My first bowl was a strike! Kayo was pretty precise in her bowling. In the end, Manwai, Kayo and myself were part of the strike club while Cassie and Mike were in the spare club. We even bowled with the bowling pin costumes at one point. I won!
After bowling, we returned to Shinsaibashi to see the Glico Man sign at night then went to Aburiya Dotonborimidosuji あぶりや 道頓堀御堂筋店 for Yakiniku – all you can eat 4380y with option for all you can drink for 980y. We ate so well in the 2 hour time limit plus we all get 1 dessert included. We of course treated Kayo. It was such a good night. We did stop and get takoyaki beside the large Don Quijote near the Glico man sign while we waited for our reservation for Aburiya.
Woke up early to meet the gang at a train station to head to Arashiyama for the day. Cassie had been recommended this coffee place called %Arabica Kyoto % アラビカ京都 嵐山(Japan, 〒616-8385 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Ukyō-ku, Sagatenryūji Susukinobabachō, 右京区嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町3ｰ47) (Opens at 8AM). It was started by Kenneth Shoji and he bought a coffee farm in Hawaii and started a green bean trading company and became the sole-exporter of a Japanese roasting machine and became the distributor of one of the best espresso machines in the world. He then partnered up with a latte art champion, Junichi Yamaguchi and talented architect Masaki Kato to open % Arabica. I don’t drink coffee but aesthetically, I approved. My friends did line up and get coffee and they said it was really good. The actual Arashiyama location is really tiny and doesn’t really have seating inside (there is a booth you can rent per 30 minutes) but there are benches outside and you can sit by the river.
Once everyone had their morning coffee, we walked over to the Bamboo Forest. Along the way we kept seeing these vintage cars taking over the streets and whizzing by us as we darted to the bamboo forest. Apparently it was the annual Rally Nippon where classic cars are showcased on a 700-mile route or something similar to it as they took over the streets of Arashiyama and there was media coverage. They drove through the bamboo forest while we were there and to be honest, it ruined it for me. I have never been to this bamboo forest and yes it is more dense the further you go in but its also only 100m long. With such a small area but these vintage cars coming though, the exhaust from these cars smother you and at one point I started to cough and almost gag. The photos I’ve seen of the bamboo forest make it appear much larger than it is and we found it very difficult even though we went somewhat early to have a clear shot.
At this point, Karen & Chi decided they wanted to go into the villa garden while the rest of us (Cassie, Mike, Manwai & myself) opted to skip the garden and the temple to head to the Iwatayama Monkey Park. On our way to the park, we passed the small train station that had the kimono forest and took some photos. It is literally poles with real kimono fabrics in them that create a tunnel like the bamboo one but I think it would’ve been nicer to see at night as they do get illuminated. Back on our ways to Iwatayama Park – the park is 550y and it is a uphill climb to even get there. Be prepared. It is about 20 minutes uphill and yes there are benches along the way to rest. Once you arrive to the top, there are just monkeys everywhere. Take your photos but don’t get too close and I guess don’t look them in the eye as the signs keep telling us. There is a room you can enter and pay 100y for a bag of fruits you can then feed the monkeys . Yes you are in the cage while they are hanging from the wired windows of the human cage feeding them. There are park rangers around that the monkeys seem to respond to so everything is safe. We even saw a mother monkey who just gave birth 2 days earlier with her baby holding so tight to its mother. We spent a good while here and another perk – the view of the city was beautiful.
We hiked back down (another route back down but it does reconnect to the trail we started at the beginning) and walked back into town to meet Karen & Chi for lunch. Karen had chose a place called Otsuka STEAK おおつか(Japan, 〒616-8376 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Ukyō-ku, Sagatenryūji Setogawachō, ２０−１０). We arrived into this dead end of a suburban street to find a covered car park just filled with people and stools and a stand with a waiting list. We immediately put our name down and took a seat. A minute later, it started to pour. We commenced our sitting and waiting for a good hour and half playing would you rather and looking at the menu deciding what we wanted. This place is very popular and closes at 2PM or whenever they sell out.
When we finally got in, There are 3 large tables that are lowered where your feet hang in a lower area and of course seating at the bar. Each table can hold about 6 people. I ordered the 4A Waygu Beef (4200y) and it was delicious but didn’t compare to the hida steak we had a few days before. Still butter though.
Since it was raining, we went to see the owls (680y) and we got to pet them. Unlike the other location in Tokyo, we were unable to carry them. They were cute but I felt bad because they sleep during the day and one owl in particular in my photos looked incredibly sad. You pet them using only the bad of your hand and only on their head and backs. There was one that got nippy but hey, i would too if I have random people touching me.
We took the JR to Kyoto station and that is where our night ended. Kyoto station is so large in size and the main area reminded us of Eatons Centre in Toronto but on a different scale. We were looking at the dessert floor in CUBE for so long with its free samples and we all got enticed to purchase snacks and gifts. So good but so deadly. We ended up in Aeon mall and shopped some more. It got late and by 9PM we were looking for somewhere to have dinner. We ended up eating at the station – Sushi no Musasahi(Japan, 〒600-8214 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Higashishiokoji Takakuracho, 8−3 京都駅八条口構内アスティロード) – (JR Kyoto 8-jo south entrance) conveyor belt sushi – 146y a plate – I ate 11 plates – 1550y – the conveyor belt sushi in Shimokitazawa was still better and you could also order off a iPad. No Musashi would just make certain things and when we asked about unary they said eventually it will make it onto the belt (but they never made more of the unagi). We tried the melon shake at McDonalds – worst thing I consumed this whole trip – don’t do it. We got turned around in the station and ended up walking in the rain the same route we took when we arrived in Kyoto hoping to catch the bus home but we couldn’t figure out where the bus stop was so we hopped in a cab to take us the rest of the way.
We started off our morning rather early getting ourselves to Fushimi Inari for 745AM. Fushimi Inari is free admission and is open 24/7 technically (restaurants on top of the mountain have set times). Just a reminder that Fushimi Inari is built on a mountain so wear proper shoes to climb those stairs especially if you are planning on going the entire route. The sun was out and strong already at this point but Fusihimi Inari was still rather empty. We met with Chi, Cassie & Karen here before ascending. Yes Fushimi Inari is where Memoirs of a Geisha were filmed but the main tori gates in which that magical scene was filmed is actually only a small portion of this massive temple and it only lasts about 100m and there are 2 of them (for entrance and one for exit). I guess since I’ve been there before, these tunnels didn’t phase me but everyone and I mean everyone took their time here waiting for the tunnel of tori gates to be empty and just orange in hopes there would be a gleam of light cutting through. I waited patiently as my crew took their photos before continuing our ascend.
At one point, there is a fork in the road where if you turn left, you are exiting and it is a path that leads you back to the main area or if you go right, you will be rewarded with your first view overlooking the city below us. If you continue going up, you will move onto your second view (this is slightly nicer as there is 1 tori gate and also there are benches to rest while looking at the view. Depending on time of day, there will be open restaurants and refreshments available). At this point, by the time I reached this lookout point, I was waiting diligently for Mike & ManWai who I thought were right behind me but about 30 minutes later, Karen, Chi & Cassie made it up the stairs. Luckily I waited so long because I would’ve continued my hike of the entire trail (another 40 minutes or so) and when they finally made it to that lookout point, they said they were going to see the last lookout point before heading turning back and heading back down.
They needed a moment so I decided to head up to the last lookout point #7 (the stairs to the left). It is a cluster of shrines covered in mini wooden tori gates and fox statues but once you make it to the back of this cluster, there is an open trail that takes you to where I guess a giant sign use to be and you have a the clearest of views of Kyoto’s skyline. The walk back down was quite refreshing as you still see shrines along the way but you are on the outer fringe of the temple and see a bit of the neighbourhood surrounding the temple. We met back up at the giant Tori gate then made our way through the food stalls – the pork skewers (500y) were the best. As we continued to walk back to the train station, the group stopped off and got tofu ice cream with unique flavours like ramune or yuzu (lemon).
We took the train to Gion-Shijo Station where I grabbed a Cremia ice cream cone (500y). Glenn had talked about this ice cream and how good it was. It was very creamy and delicious and the cone was great as well. We then made our way back to the surface and walked over to Nishiki Market which unlike the other fish markets, was a narrow covered street that continued a few blocks but more of a mix of places with ready to eat food as oppose to a fresh fish market with all the product sitting out and then cut up right in front of you to eat fresh. We all ended up in a store called Sugi that served no added sugar – liquid honey and fruit drink. They had samples and thats what pulled us in the first place but all of them tasted so delicious we all left with something. I grabbed myself a small packet of yuzu drink (540y). 5 cups water to 1 tube. We walked around the market for a bit before splitting off and walking the Gion district before our late lunch in the area with Mike’s Uncle and Aunt.
We met up with Mike’s uncle Cyrius and aunt Chizuka for lunch at a restaurant that was hidden in a small alley which led us to Gion Hanasaki 祇園 京料理 花咲(Japan, 〒605-0074 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, 祇園町南側５７０−１７) which is located in an old traditional Kyoto home. It was absolutely an amazing meal to have experienced. Our hostesses brought us up to a private room where they served us a few courses that were elegantly displayed and before each meal, they would stop and tell us what the meal was made of. They used the freshest of ingredients and each piece was perfectly in place and just some many wonderful flavours non which overpowered the other so you can enjoy every bit of it. We even ate sushi that looked like it was actual fish but it was all actually vegetables that were placed perfectly to look like fish. We tried but auntie Chizuka paid the bill for lunch.
After lunch, we walked a bit of the Gion district before making our way down to the riverside where we strolled along the river. We even saw a capybara in the water and saw a man throwing bread in the air where falcons were swooping in to eat. After waling by the river for a bit, we saw a restaurant/cafe where the giant windows just opened wo the river and we decided to investigate what establishment this was. It is called Efish エフィッシュ(Japan, 〒600-8029 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Nishihashizumechō, 京都府京都市下京区木屋町通五条下ル西橋詰町798-1) and we decides to have a seat by the open window overlooking the river for coffee and snacks. I got the blood orange smoothie. They also have a small section where you can purchase housewife and also their they had seating areas with large comfy couches.
After the snacks, we called it a night with Mike’s uncle and aunt and went back to our Airbnb to relax a bit before venturing out for some fast food dinner. We walked around looking at what options were still open and nearby and settled on this one fast food place called Nakau なか卯 河原町五条店(Japan, 〒600-8020 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Mikagedōmaechō, 河原町通五条上ル御影堂前町843清水ビル1F) where you use a machine to order. I ordered the Beef bowl combo (690y) and you get a ticket that you present to the person who gets your order ready. There was also a bunch of vending machines outside that were 100y and a few surprise for 80y. I picked a orange juice for 100y and let Manwai pick a 80y and it turned out to the be the same drink but in can form.
Off to Kyoto via JR Rail today but first breakfast (included in our fee). We went to our breakfast – Japanese style breakfast which was served buffet style. Very tasty and of course local ingredients for the most part. It was also day 2 of the festival however we were heading out to Kyoto that morning – luckily for us, it looked like it was a little cloudy and might rain the second day. Karen & Chi had left earlier than us (since we couldn’t get seats in the earlier train) so Glenn, John, Manwai, Mike and myself took a train leaving an hour and half later. It stopped in Nagoya before transferring to Kyoto where John and Glenn went towards Yokohama and eventually back up to Tokyo while we went to Kyoto.
We stayed at an Airbnb near Kiyomizu Station and since it was an absolutely gorgeous day of 20C+, we decided to walk 30 minutes from Kyoto station to our place. The Airbnb host had given me photo step by step instructions on how to get into the building however in his original photo, the circles 1 mailbox but we didn’t find the key in there but luckily I noticed that the mailbox beside it was also his and the keys were in there. This airbnb looked bigger in the Airbnb photos but realistically, it was a studio apartment and was a tight fit but we managed.
We put down our things and walked over to through the Higashiyama Ward to realized we hadn’t eaten yet (it was 2PM) so we stopped off for some cold soba noodles at Kisanjina 胡麻豆腐と和カフェ きさんじな before making our way to Hokan-ji Pagoda. I had read that Hokan-ji Pagoda was a rarity in that we could actually climb it but that it closed at a certain time so we rushed through the Higashiyama Ward area really quickly to get there but alas, my information was wrong and there was no indication we could actually access it as everything was blocked off from entering.
We continued walking alongside Kōdai-ji temple and stopped for some matcha ice cream from Gion Tsujiri. I got the matcha green tea drink with matcha ice cream (520y) to top off. We continued north and ventured through one smaller temple before making it to Maruyama Park which then connects to Yasaka Shrine. The view of the city looking out from the mains gates of the Yasaka Shrine is one of my favourites from my last trip and unfortunately it was too crowded and cloudy to serve it justice to my 2012 shots that captured that old Kyoto feel.
According to the KitKat Chocolatory website, the Kyoto Daimaru location exists so we made it there in good time and almost got lost in this food heaven of the Daimaru to find out it doesn’t exist (we asked a lady and she crossed her arms signalling an X). We then walked back to the main area by Yasaka Shrine to have dinner with Karen & Chi as Cassie was getting in later that evening. Along the way back, from the Gion – old Kyoto district street, a pile of people with lanterns paraded through the streets as they were I guess doing a procession to Yasaka Shrine.
Karen had chosen this on restaurant called Izuju(Japan, 〒605-0073 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, 祇園町北側２９２) which was known for their traditional Kyoto style sushi. This consisted of no soy sauce, no wasabi and all the ingredients were cooked – it felt similar to eating korean rolls. Fun fact – Karen doesn’t eat raw fish so this the only time she could fully enjoy sushi. We ordered as a group for sharing and it all came out on this massive plate. Deluxe hako sushi (omelette, shrimp, sea bream, tori gai & roasted fish), awafu roll, saba sushi & sasamaki. We tried to venture through Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park as Karen & Chi hadn’t checked it out yet but then the rain started to pour and we were not quite ready for the rain. We hid under a shelter watching people who were sitting in the park eating (little stalls had these well lit areas with small tables and seating areas to eat) try to finish their food quickly and find shelter with their beers in hand while the staff quickly covered and took the furniture to covered areas. There was a giant group of men who were drinking who had a giant tarp that they quickly turned into a shelter for themselves and continued their festivities. We on the other hand, took a cab back ho and called it a night with one more episode of terrace House (only 4 episodes were released in our timeframe in Japan but 4 more than what was released back home).
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
Our hotel stay also included a Kaiseki (traditional Japanese breakfast filled with seasonal ingredients). It was wonderfully presented with a great view overlooking the city as you enter the room. They have the main portion of breakfast presented to you at your seat with hida beef on a personal hamachi clay grill that is cooking on a leaf. There is also a buffet style area where you can pick and choose other items such as grilled mackerel/salmon, salad, pork and potato croquette, cereal, croissants, porridge etc. There are also unlimited fountain drinks as well as coffee and tea. You should try the milk if possible – very fresh and different from Canadian milk.
After breakfast we used the relaxation room and worked the chairs – massaging chairs. Went back to the room and packed before taking the free shuttle to Takayama Station as we were heading to our next hotel but also trying to meet up with Karen & Chi who were arriving around 930AM. As we got to the station and alighted off the bus, perfect timing as we spotted them on the other side of the street. We walked over to Hida International Hotel(2-60 Hanaoka-cho, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0009, Japan) together however it was a 3PM check-in so we left our things for storage and wandered about.
Our main reason for visiting Takayama was because of the Takayama festival. It is the largest festival to celebrate the change of season to spring also known as the Sanno Matsuri. Its a 2 day festival hosted by the Hie Jinja Shrine. People from all over Japan and tourists alike congregate to celebrate this special festival. They have giant shelters that are spread across the city where they floats are held when they aren’t being used but once they are out, they are beautifully showcased with the sun glistening on them. There are beautiful carvings, dolls and elaborate textiles that cover each float. These floats also are suppose to showcase the craftsmanship of the carpenters of the Hida area. Inside each float, you will find children manning each float as a few of them also feature little dolls that move or the children play musical instruments. There are actually 25 festival floats scattered around Takayama however they are designated to different seasons. For spring, there are 12 floats, 11 for autumn and 2 for others.
Old town got turned into a pedestrian only zone with people walking everywhere and on maps, the bridges are colour coded so you can figure out where you are easier. The main area where the first performance with the floats was being held got incredibly crowded as we were trying to get through the crowd following others, we got stuck as both directions stopped moving. It got incredibly hot. After the morning ceremony, we decided it was time for food. Karen had a lunch place picked out in her little book however with such a large group (we had 7) it was near impossible to seat all of us. We went to Jakson(5-5 Tenmanmachi Takayama Gifu 岐阜県 高山市 天満町 5-5) for curry but we did a take away order. I ordered the Curry katsu (fried pork) – 1200y. We ended up walking in search of Takayama’s version of takoyaki (octopus balls) but instead of octopus filling, it was said to be hida beef as we waited our 20 minutes for our lunch to cook – we did not find these hidayaki…? and slowly made our return to Jakson for our takeaway order. We ate in a nearby area with stairs and a small cafe table. The curry was quite nice but flavourful. Once again, Karen had many bucket list foods in her book and once we finished our curries, she was on a mission to find the Hida beef steam buns from the specific stall that got grave reviews and she eventually did find it. Apparently it was really worth it but I was way too full to even try it.
We eventually crossed one of the bridges and found ourselves on the street where all the floats were equally spaced out and slowly being prepped where people could take photos of each individual float before all the mayhem ensued at night. Again, we walked through old town and just continued walking about. We got separated and in the end made it back to the hotel for 5PM to officially check in. Our hotel stay included a hida steak dinner however the timeframe for dinner got pushed to a smaller timeframe so we made sure dinner was priority before heading back out as the price of our hotel stay for 1 night (a little more expensive than we liked) also factored in this steak dinner. What we didn’t know is that it became this 4-5 course meal that was elegantly presented. The hida steak was absolutely a delicious addition to this leg of the trip. The steak could be cut so easily with just a fork. We finished out meal satisfied and ventured back out to see the night parade of the floats which at this point had already started their procession (multiple locations on the map where we could watch the floats go by) with the lanterns all lit up and children playing instruments in all of them. The adults controlled the floats from the outside. The most difficult part was turn the floats. Think of Howl’s Moving castle and how tall but narrow it was (before it full transformed) that’s what the floats looked like.
Since we are in the mountainside, when the sun is up, the sun is strong and we all got a little tanned and red that day but once that sun goes down or into the shade, it gets cold. The main old town strip got turned into a night market festival with stalls selling food galore. We watched for a bit standing on a bench but in the end, didn’t stay to the last float.
We went back to our hotel and went to the onsen. This one has 2 tier onsen on the 9th floor. Rooftop jacuzzi with 2 individual tubs to soak (this is the spot of the onsen personally) with a view of the city. The main floor has an outdoor pool with 1 inside and tons of shower stalls. It also featured a misting sauna. There apparently was one downstairs in the basement plus a swimming pool but we never made it down.