London is not particularly known for good weather, but on Friday the sun was bright and warm and it was the perfect opportunity to walk the banks of River Thames.
The walk has a bit of Parisian flair, as the paths along the banks are mostly pedestrian and allow the wandering visitors to enjoy the city in a different light. Within a couple of hours you can make it from one end of the city to the other. I passed many of the different bridges, the old ones made of stone, the new ones with hyper-modern architecture, and even the one from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that collapses in the movie. (You've probably seen the movie, and I couldn't resist the reference, being in England and all.)
We rose early on Monday, and our Airbnb host, Kachan, made us toast with jam and instant coffee. Not quite a Japanese breakfast, but the bread was thick like Texas Toast, and the coffee was strong. Kachan drove us to the Yamashiro-gata train station, and our trek to Koya-san began.
In Nara we stopped for lunch: egg drop soup with kudzu udon noodles and panko-crusted chicken bites. Later, on an Osaka-bound train, we made friends with an old Japanese man dressed in all white with a tan fedora, who wanted to practice his English. He was excited when he learned that we were from San Francisco, repeating emphatically: "Fisherman's Wharf!" Before he got off at his stop he told us that, in Japan, you don't exchange names the first time you meet someone.
Kyoto is ringed by mountains, and in the mountains are many of the most stunning shrines, temples and spiritual grounds in the region. For our day trip outside of the city, we chose Fushimi Inari-taisha, which is famous for it's walking path up to the summit of Inari-san. The path is lined by thousands of deep orange torii, or Shinto shrine gates, set against the lush green of the forest.
From central Kyoto, it's an easy trip to Inari: the subway connects to Kyoto Station where you can transfer to a local southbound commuter train that drops you at the foot of mountain. You enter through a massive 30-foot-tall gate, and then navigate a vast temple complex. If you are not in a rush, take a moment to stroll the manicured grounds. Pay a tribute, ring a Buddhist bell, and say your prayers.
Hundreds of people, all of them on bikes, crowded around me. We took over the streets of San Francisco, huffing our way up the hills, and cruising down together. It was the last Friday evening in April, and I was riding with Critical Mass, the notorious mass bike ride. I thought that the only thing I would get out of riding my bike was exercise. Who knew I would meet new and friendly people and help SF cyclists advocate for safer bike lanes?
There are several ways to say Thank You in Japanese. One way is Sumimasen, which has a double meaning: Sorry. Sumimasen is used an an expression of gratitude and apology toward someone who has gone out of her way to help you. You express this apology even if you didn't ask for the help.
I'd read in Time Out Tokyo about a neighborhood beer bar in Koenji, not far from where we were staying in the western part of the city. It was everything it was promised to be. Cozy, quirky, and filled with locals of all ages. Our server spoke no English, but we spoke the common language of beer. I ordered a stout while Emily opted for a white ale.
Neil continues on his epic journeys and has blasted over to Japan for the rest of July. This is his first time so he has set a rather epic list of cities to visit. But he still needs your help finding the really cool things to do there. Know of any local festivals, must see sights, or just want a report back from the place you've always dreamed of going to let us know. Here's where he'll be for the rest of July:
From Neil and Emily's travel log:
Yesterday the city of San Francisco came together to make a wish come true for Miles (aka Batkid), a five-year-old cancer survivor with a super hero streak. More than 12,000 volunteers played along as residents of "Gotham," cheering Batkid on as he saved the city from villains and making one little boy's wildest dream come true. In a time when so much of the country is bitterly divided, it reminded me how cool the world can be when we come together and believe in the power of collective intention and the magic of wishes.