Sayonara, Kyoto!

I still can’t believe that the time passed so quickly and that tomorrow is our last day in Kyoto.

I’ve been very nostalgic these past days, taking long walks and late-afternoon rides with my bike, trying to keep every detail in mind. It still feels strange to think that so soon we’ll no longer eat ramen and sushi, hear the chicken waking us up at 7 am, take the bike for every visit in the city or any hike, being greeted with the ubiquitous “Irashaimasse!” (Welcome!) whenever entering a store, a restaurant, a bar.

So, dear Kyoto I write this to you to say that I’ll miss every part of you and every single day spent here, but mostly I’ll miss:

– your calmness and your 2,000 temples full of history and tradition

– your lush green hills and mountains, so close to the city and with some of the most lovely hikes 

– go running in the evening by the river banks and take a glimpse of the beautiful geishas, sitting graciously in the fancy restaurants that line the river

– being surprised at the sight of the deers that would sometimes appear in the evening in the middle of the river

– riding my bike home from an evening in the city and having to stop suddenly to let a snake cross the narrow path along the river

– the hundreds of public workers that just stand near the crossroads or construction sites to show you the way, with a deep bow

– the ceaseless afflux of traditional greetings that you hear when entering every store or restaurant

– your always on-time buses and their drivers wearing white gloves

– your quiet streets and quiet people; I’ve never heard any car honks or people quarelling or shouting to each other. Never.

– the beautiful Japanese girls, stunning and elegant sometimes, cute and childish at times,  loud and colorful some other times, always wearing  their high heels proudly

– the arts and crafts stores where you can spend your entire day

– the beautiful and elegant kimono’s and yukata’s that color every corner of the street

– exploring your narrow, quiet stone streets with Minty ( my bike:))

– savouring your delicious sweets, bizarre at first but so good after you get used to the red beans taste, matcha or mochi texture

– admiring your stunning crafts and beautiful patterns  in any form (from pottery, to paper objects and delicate artifacts such as fans, textures, or adorable chopsticks rest).

Until we meet again, I take a deep bow and I whisper ‘Sayonara, Kyoto’.

A Second Trip to Tokyo

Last week we went to Tokyo for a second time.

The first time we were a bit in a rush to get the most out of the city, in three days.  The second time, however we had time to discover a  city where I’d love to live for a couple of years, full of happenings and events that I overlooked the first time I visited.   A city whose vibrant atmosphere, funky people, eclectic neighboorhoods and huge neon-lights make you want to come back again and again and again.

There are a couple of things that I loved this time in Tokyo:

1. Relaxing at Cafe Ki

I found out about Ki Cafe from an article in Bored Panda where the place was featured among the 20 of the world’s best restaurant and bar interior designs. Ki means ‘tree’ in Japanese and the design of the place is built around the idea of a forest. But a very abstract, minimalist one.

The table legs go up to look like tree trunks and branches. The whole space is painted in white, which makes a beautiful contrast against the blackness of the branches. Their coffee is really good, I had a hazelnut latte. So are the cakes….but I’ll let the pictures talk.

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2. Shimokitazawa neighbourhood

It is nicknamed ‘the younger cousin of Harajuku’ because of its equally funky atmosphere and small eclectic streets that you’d usually find in Harajuku. But if Harajuku has the popularity, Shimokita has the cool kids and the indie vibe. You can spend an entire afternoon here, wandering through the music shops that line the street, the popular eateries and vintage clothing stores.

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3. Walking on Rainbow Bridge

Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge which spans Tokyo Bay offers a  great view of the city, especially at night, with the dozens of lighted sky-scrapers. The walk is not long, around 1km and there are two routes: the South and the North route. We took the North route, with views on Tokyo harbour and Tokyo Tower. The South side offers views of Tokyo Bay and, if you’re lucky and it’s daytime, Mount Fuji.

To get on the bridge the easiest and nicest way is to take the Yurikamome line, a driverless elevated train that has some great views on Tokyo bay.

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(Oh, and it seems that the rainbow colour lights are only during the Christmas period, and the bridge looks like that):

Rainbow bridge Tokyo

Photo credits: Wikipedia

 4. A stop at the Toilet Exhibition in Miraikan Museum

It’s been everywhere in the news lately, and words like looney and weird would often describe it. So, I had to go and see for myself.

The exhibition is clearly targeted to kids , trying to teach them about the human waste and its impact on the environment. I found it creative and funny, mostly the part where you get flushed down a huge porcelain toilet, wearing …a poop hat :).

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In case you forgot the different shapes the human feces can have, here’s a reminder:):

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The exhibition features also different toilets around the globe and from the Japanese Edo period, as well as some innovative systems, like the pants that collect the urine:

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If you had enough of the scatological atmosphere, go on the 5th floor of the museum and have a chat with the lifelike robot Otonaroid or listen to the news read by Kodomoroid. It’s a bit spooky, but amazing in the same time!

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5. The Art Aquarium Exhibition by the artist Hidetomo Kimura

The Art Aquarium exhibition is a stunning form of art, combining about 5,000 goldfish in aquariums with colourful lightning, music, futuristic designs and traditional Japanese motifs (lanterns, folding screens, kimonos).

It’s really one of the most fantastic things I’ve seen so far, so anyone who’s in Tokyo shouldn’t miss it. The exhibition is open to public until 23 September 2014.

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My Favorite Coffeshop in Kyoto

It’s called Sentido and it’s a wonderful small café , with a minimalist decor and a friendly, quiet atmosphere. The cappuccino is great, just like you find in Europe, full bodied and very creamy. It’s a perfect place where I like to linger during a late afternoon, surrounded by the insanely great smell of fresh home-made muffins, lost in my thoughts or a book ( I’m currently reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ which won 2014’s Pulitzer Prize, a beautifully written book , with strong and captivating characters).

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So, anyone who’s visiting Kyoto and is looking for a great coffee in the city, this is the perfect place.

 

Best Hikes in and around Kyoto

What I love about Kyoto is that the nature is very close. The city is surrounded by mountains, and the best hikes are only a short bike or train trip away. Sometimes you don’t even have to leave the city and still have a brilliant hike.

One of the hikes I love, is the Fushimi Inari circuit. Fushimi Inari, one of my favorite temple complex in Kyoto offers a beautiful 4km hike dotted with small shrines, beautiful brigh orange torii gates, tea-houses and shady trees. The hike is quite easy if you’re moderately fit, we did it in 1.5 hours although the official time would be 2-3 hours.

Best hikes Kyoto

Mount Atago-san 

With its 924 meters high, Mount Atago is the highest mountain in Kyoto and has a great climb route. The mountain is steeper than I imagined, and quite challenging. The hike lasts for 3-4 hours and it’s about 6km.

Best hikes Kyoto

At the top of the mountain, after some rough climbing you can rest and enjoy some peaceful moments at Atago Shrine,  founded more than 1300 years ago.

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Mount Hiei

Mt. Hiei is the second highest mountain in Kyoto, and is one of the best trekking routes near Kyoto. Great wildlife (deer, monkeys, etc), beautiful old trees and wonderful views of the city.

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The top of the mountain features a World Heritage temple, Enryakuji Temple, which is famous for the “marathon monks”. The practice of walking is called Kaihōgyō (circling the mountain) and is performed by monks in training at the temple (belonging to the Tendai Buddhism school), in their quest for enlightenment. The Kaihōgyō is completed in 7 years and it consist of walking 40km a day for 100 consecutive days for the first 3 years, 40 km a day for 200 days the 4th and 5th year, 60km per day for 100 days in the 6th year and in the last year, 84 km per day for 100 days, followed by 40 km per day for another 100 days. A total of 1,000 days. It takes an amazing spiritual strength and devotion to complete this grueling training.

Best hikes Kyoto

When descending, it’s better to take the route on the other side of the mountain, that leads to Sakamoto. There is also a cable car that connects the top of the mountain with its base, but walking is really the best option: the view over the lake Biwa is simply amazing.

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Kurama-Kibune

Finally, this hike is a great Sunday trip, just half an hour ride from Kyoto ( from Demachiyagi Station). The hike starts from Kurama station, it goes up to the temple, then it continues down to Kibune Shrine. During the entire hike you can feel a mystic vibe, given by the strangely twisted root trees and the highest trees I’ve ever seen (on the way to Kurama Temple).

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Once in Kibune the atmosphere gets traditional and cozy, with restaurants suspended above the river (they are called Kawadoko) and traditional Japanese Inns all along the way.

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Image source – Japan Guide

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A Magic World

(This post is for Andra with whom I share the same obsession :))

I am in love with stationery. Going to a stationery and getting lost into thousands of cute and colorful small items has been an eternal fascination for me. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that when I was a kid, back home in Romania, I didn’t have any of these wonderful items that exists nowadays. The best thing that I had in terms of stationery was a so-called Chinese pencil case, which was en-vogue in the ’90’s, and which I got for Christmas. It looked something like this:

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(My sister told me that I was actually so obsessed with this pencil case that I wanted to have hers as well. Because she wouldn’t give it to me, of course, I ended up throwing it on the floor and stepping on it, so that she couldn’t have it either. Ooops, I’m not too proud of that).

Now being in Japan, my fascination grew even bigger, as I found here the Mecca of all stationery. The stores are often like a two or three storey maze, brimming with beautiful and ingenious stuff, things that you wouldn’t even dream of.

From plain colored paper, to letter paper and cards, paper bags or rainbow-looking masking tape, choosing something becomes almost a tyranny:

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Not to mention the wonderfully colored notebooks, monthly planners or the wide choice of pens and pencils:

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Having a pencil case like that when I was a kid?! I wouldn’t let go of it even when sleeping I guess :)

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The paper clips, post-its or pencil sharpeners: the magic is here!

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Something peculiar that I’ve never seen elsewhere: some beautifully designed sheets that are used for book covers. They are so artsy and visually striking that I would actually hang them on the walls or frame them, not using them for book wrapping!

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And thanks to Andra, I discovered the world of the tiny toys (often collectibles) which I overlooked somehow up to now. But as I’ve been looking for some Sonny Angels for Andra (she’s a huge fan of the cute angels which apparently are a massive craze in Japan), I met a lot of adorable little creatures. And I’ve only been to some two or three stores so far!

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The famous Sonny Angels

…and lots of other little guys that I found charming:

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Can’t imagine how it’s like being a kid in Japan! :)

(Pictures were taken @ Loft, Tokyu Hands and hands be)