Thursday, January 7, 2010

Japan - Day 3

Last night I put together the two foldable bikes I borrowed from Norma and Evan. Piece of cake until I got to threading the chain. It had coiled itself into a Gordian knot, and it took me nearly an hour to sort out the kinks and figure how to thread it correctly. My hands looked like a monkey's, covered in black grease! The second one was a lot easier, but certainly not a breeze.

Sometime around 9 we started in the bikes toward Tokyo train station, and after a few moments of panic from the train guards about how the bikes would get their precious shinkansen dirty (they wrapped the wheels in plastic to avoid such horror), we were comfortably sitting in the bullet train heading for Kyoto. The train ride started at 10 am and by 1 pm we were in Kyoto, and the train is a comfy and fast as one can imagine (but, alas, now it looks a little out of fashion compared with the new trains). We had fabulous views of Mount Fuji, which had surprisingly little snow. Must be global warming, we said to ourselves.

We spoke too soon, as the train started crossing a small chain of mountains covered with snow. There were a good 3 feet of snow on the ground, and more snow kept coming down. My God, I thought, if Kyoto is under snow we will just keep going. I simply could not see us skidding in the bikes through the snow, not to say anything about what exposure to a blizzard would do for my tender health (yes, I am still coughing and sneezing after the deep chill I got in Denver).

But no, the Shinto gods were merciful and Kyoto was chilly but free of snow. Getting off the train and unto the bikes was a bit awkward. Chris has a big coat and was overheating, so every chance he got he stopped and half undressed. I left him to his own devices in the post office while I went to the tourist information office. A very friendly lady helped me book two beds in the nearest hostel (K's Backpacker Hostel) so I felt everything was under control. Hotels are not cheap here, so we felt pretty happy for the rate of 2,500 yen (a bit over $25) per person per night.

So we biked to our hotel and got there about 2 pm, dropped the backpacks in the luggage storage room, and took to the streets to see the sights. Kyoto used to be the seat of the imperial house, and is a city steeped in history. It has many temples and museums, prettygardens, and overall a more relaxed atmosphere than one feels in Tokyo. Touring around with a bike is great (particularly since my foot is hurting), but you have the tendency to take on the big picture rather than commit yourself to visit one or two places by bus. In other words, we were happy just looking around, and did not visit any museums. Around 5 pm the light started to falter, so I felt it was time to get back. Unfortunately Japanese maps are not very useful because (1) very few streets have street signs in our script, and (2) they seem to leave out things that the map maker figured were not important (like one of the big parks!). So after staring at the map for a few minutes I decided to rely on my legendary sense of orientation. It was good that I did, because el amigo Chris is not the most oriented of people, and after half hour we were back in our friendly hostel.
I have put to good use the lesson learned from Klaus Mehl in Taiwan: When in need, in Asia you can live out of the 7-Eleven (or any other convenience store). I went to the local one, and ended having a delicious dinner of rice with shrimp tempura, a giant bowl noodles, and a bottle of wine. Life is good!

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