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An Alien in Spain visits - Japan (Kyoto)

After a healthy breakfast of baked apple and pancakes in Tokyo Train Station. We were excited and looking forward to the train journey, from Tokyo, the new capital to Kyoto, the old which is a distance of 513,6 Km – (318,6 miles). We had tickets for the Shinkansen Nozomi (the fastest "Bullet Train" with very few stops) which covers the distance in 138 minutes. The average speed is 250 kmh (155 mph) and the total one way price, was 14,170 Yen (119,30 Euro).

The train was thoroughly cleaned by two cleaners to a carriage who also made sure all seats were adjusted to face forward before standing on the platform with a flag raised to denote completion and only after all carriages had been declared ready were passengers allowed to board.

WiFi is provided free during the journey and food can be purchased from the 2 buffet cars or from the vendor who passes through the carriages from the buffet car with sandwiches and drinks.

Members of the crew also patrol back and forth during the journey to make sure everything is satisfactory and it is strange to see them turn to the carriage occupants and bow before exiting the carriage each time. The seats were comfortable and the train fast but once you get used to the speed it was a fantastic experience.

We had booked The Hotel Vista Premio which cost 12,444 yen (106 euro) for a double room for 2 nights and was perfect, close to shops and restaurants as well as a short walk to the famous Pontocho Alley and The Gion District. My companion on this trip couldn't get over the toilet in the hotel room that not only had a heated seat but washed every conceivable part of your body that was exposed at the press of a button,

The number 5 bus which would have taken us all the way would have cost 230 yen (2 euro) which is the same for all bus trips within Kyoto however the weather had not improved despite the distance and the rain was pouring down and a taxi from Kyoto station only cost 1,000 yen (8.50 euro) so we splashed out.

After booking into the hotel and taking in the local shops including an inordinate number of shops that had kittens and puppies in their windows for sale we looked for and found another "Ramen Restaurant" and had another enjoyable meal.

The next day we decided to purchase tickets for the "Sky Hop Bus" excellent Hop on Hop off buses that run every 30 minutes daily from 9am to 7pm and would enable us to cover most if not all of the must see sights of Kyoto. We bought a 24 hour ticket which cost us 3,600 yen ( 30.31 euro) each and we managed to see most things although if we had had the time we would probably have taken the 48 hour pass at 6,100 yen ( 51.36 euro) and spent more time at every attraction rather than cherry picking.

The bus tour starts at Kyoto Station and winds its way around the city where there are many interesting sights to see from the bus and you can hop on and hop back on again later on any of their buses that run every 30 minutes at any of the numerous stops around the city.

I find it best to sit on the bus for a complete circuit at first listening to the description on the headphones and then decide which attractions you will see.

As we missed the one in Tokyo, he first attraction we had to visit had to be the Kyoto Imperial Palace. As the former home of the Emperor of Japan until 1868 the buildings and the gardens are very impressive. Entry is free and there is a building at the entrance where they assist you to get free WiFi and then you can tune in on your mobile App and listen to a recording as you walk around however there are still some parts not open to the general public.

If you make a reservation in advance there is a free guided tour that takes about 90 minutes however it is well marked with English translations at the main attractions so you will not miss out if you just turn up. The gardens even out of season were spectacular and I was particularly surprised to see that the popular football skill of "Keepy Uppy" that has long been believed to have developed in South America, known as Kemari it was also practised at the Imperial Palace in Japan in the 1600's.

Our next stop was to see Nijo-jo Castle which houses Ninomaru Palace and was built between 1601 and 1626 and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entry is 600 yen ( 5 euro) and a further 400 yen (3.50 euro) to get into the Palace. Well worth the entry fee although restricted to taking photos only in the grounds.

Our final stop on the tour was another UNESCO World Heritage Site at Kinkakuji Temple which is covered in near pure-gold leaf on the second and third floors which is where it gets its name literally "Golden Pavilion". I read in the brochure "The sight of the temples golden walls reflected on the surface of the mirror pond makes an impressive photo. I will let you decide.

By the time we alighted from the bus for the last time at 6.45 pm, as planned, we were in Gion District which, along with Kiyomizudera District is reputedly one of the best places to Geisha watch at this time of day. The area is very picturesque and we made our way over the bridge to Pontocho Alley which is a small alley with many evening bars selling food which I found to be very mediocre overpriced food frequented predominantly by tourists - No Geisha Girls.

Exhausted after a very long day we headed back to our hotel disappointed we hadn't booked longer in Kyoto as there is so much more to see and do in this town but hey ho tomorrow is another day and we will on our way to Kobe and the world famous Wagyu - Kobe Beef.

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