Kyoto is only about an hour from Osaka by train and since we had a later checkout time thanks to our Airbnb host, we took our time packing and made the quick trip north. We arrived to Kyoto Station and hopped a local train Nijo Station, close to the Nijo Castle which we visited on our last full day. Our Airbnb apartment had virtually the exact same set up as our place in Osaka with a teeny bit more room but still dorm-like. Our host also welcomed us with some bottled water and rad Geisha socks! We were a ten minute walk to the metro and our neighborhood had a ton of restaurants and stores which we loved. After getting settled we decided on ramen for dinner and headed to a place with a legit fire ramen performance. Menbakaichidai fire ramen is shoyu (soy) based with sliced chashu pork topped with a mound of thinly sliced scallions. After we put on large paper bibs they placed the steamy bowls in front of us and reminded everyone a few times not to touch the bowls, to sit back and not move – no matter what! The chef then heated a pot of oil and poured a little over each bowl of ramen which created a blaze that practically hit the ceiling. This was definitely a tourist attraction but the fire theatrics and smoky scallion ramen were a hit for us. Here’s a short video of our eyebrows nearly burning off. After the ramen show we spent some time in a gourmet super market nearby to pick up some essentials for the apartment. Every piece of produce, meat, fish, bread, etc. was super fresh and perfectly displayed. We even bought overpriced apples that were individually wrapped in styrofoam to protect them from bruising.
The following day was pretty rainy so we decided to check out Teramachi Street which is a huge, mostly indoor shopping and dining area. It’s also connected to the famous Nishiki Market at one end so we got the best of both worlds. Many of the shops were pretty unique and Grapefruit Moon in particular had us wanting to play dress up (we didn’t). The vintage store had some crazy pieces including an old UConn sweatshirt among other American universities – so random. We visited a Japanese knife shop which was really cool and assessed its massive inventory of chef’s knives, pocket knives, sharpening tools, etc. It was a highlight of the day for Jenn. We worked up an appetite shopping and made our way to Nishiki, a wet market along a very narrow street with a ton of people zig-zagging around each other. We tried a bunch of stuff since the Japanese love to give out product samples including a few mystery items. One woman was crushing Japanese peppercorns and selling the powder which she had out to sample. It was advertised as lemony and tingly so we gave it a whirl. The flavor was completely unique, more lemony than peppery and left our entire mouths lingering with the tingling feeling you get after eating pop rocks. We were ready for dinner at that point and had to find somewhere fast since it was raining. We ended up ducking into an underground sushi and Izakaya restaurant to enjoy a cheap and great meal of edamame, Kushikatsu and sushi. We ended the evening at Wachi, a gastropub that specializes in craft beer and smoked meat. We grabbed two seats at the bar after reluctantly agreeing to a $5/person table charge but after a few beers, some small bites and sake, we walked out of there without coughing up the extra cash.
We checked out the Gion area one late afternoon after the rain finally stopped which was a pretty cool experience although didn’t see as many Geishas as we anticipated. The Gion district is the most exclusive and heavily populated with working Geisha in Japan. We stopped to have a beer at an Irish pub and going off of the Manager’s recommendation for dinner we had a fantastic and relatively cheap dinner at Yuki, a small, unassuming local spot that was very crowded… a great sign! We enjoyed some sake, a salad (finally!) some Kushikatsu, grilled chicken, a fantastic piece of grilled salmon and Tamagoyaki, a traditional rolled omelet which was light as a feather and delicious.
Since the rain hindered a chunk of time in Kyoto, we didn’t feel that bad spending an entire day inside watching election which we were able to stream in real time. Stunned would be the best word to describe our feelings as we watched. It was already crazy to think we would come home to a new POTUS, let alone the Trumpster. Wow.
The rain finally stopped on our last day so we took advantage and made our way to Nijo Castle which was a very picturesque twenty minute walk from our apartment. The grounds of the castle are beautifully green and meticulously maintained. We walked through the castle sans shoes and took notice of how well preserved much of the structure was. Afterward, we walked through the garden and enjoyed some traditional Matcha green tea and a steamed sweet red bean paste filled mochi before heading back for dinner. We decided on a place in our neighborhood and it was fantastic. The sashimi appetizer was as fresh as could be and the fried chicken, grilled salmon and other small plates did the trick.
Kyoto is beautiful and our four days there were pretty relaxing. Had the weather been better we might have checked out a few more spots but what can you do? Good thing the WiFi was strong!