Holiday Trip to Mainland Japan: Kyoto

Our final destination, Kyoto, had finally arrived and we were early. Our initial plan was to go to Hiroshima and end in Kyoto. However, we were both pretty tired of traveling so we made some changes and welcomed the new plan with wide open arms. 

We didn't have a ton of stuff planned in Kyoto so we spent a few days walking around and enjoying Gion, where our hostel was. Jam Hostel was the perfect location for us. The train was, literally, right outside the door and we were only a block or two of the main street, Shijo Dori. Gion gave us the perfect combination of touristy-meets-historic.

Since we'd been skiing and trekking all over Japan, we thought massages sounded delightful! Mark found a place close-by and the website looked legit. It was tucked away on a beautiful back road of Kyoto and I was so excited! Actually, we were both pretty giddy with anticipation of the hour of luxury that we were about to experience.

Fast forward an hour... we were dying! It was the most painful massage we'd ever had. Ha! So much for relaxing!! There were certain points, like when I could hear Mark breathing heavily as the Japanese man dug into his sore shoulder, that I had to stop myself from laughing. 
My best moment was when I was laying on my stomach, my knees were bent with my feet touching my butt and the massage therapist was holding onto my toes, balancing her knees on my shins. She wasn't touching the floor!! Afterwards, we both sat up and just starting cracking up about how UN-relaxing it had been. Hysterical!

One of the biggest things that we had planned was our day with the Good Samaritan Club. It's a club that offers free tours around Kyoto given by college students that want to practice their English. The only thing that we were responsible for was transportation cost and lunch. I can't recommend this organization enough! This was my second time booking a day with them and it was just as amazing as the first time!

Sora, our guide, emailed me asking what we were interested in seeing. Mark and I decided that we would list everything that we wanted to do in Kyoto and whatever we didn't do with him we'd do on own. Little did we know, Sora is a super hero. He took us to EVERYTHING on our list. It was awesome! 
The Golden Pavilion
Tenryū-ji Temple

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Togetsukyo Bridge with Sora

After we ate lunch, Sora bought us a train ticket to a shopping district and told us to wait there. (He also helped us buy our train ticket to the airport, which was incredibly helpful!) He was heading home to get his car so he could take us to the top of Mount Hiei. 

Mark and I welcomed the break by grabbing some hot chocolate and coffee. It wasn't long before Sora was back and ready to go on more adventures!

After Mt. Hiei, we went to Fushimi Inari Taisha. I'd been there before, during the girls' trip that I took last year, but it was during the day. Sora was adamant about going at night because he thought it was more mysterious and interesting. He was right! It was eerily quiet and a little spooky to walk through the toriis when it was so dark. Cool!

This was our last stop and we were exhausted! It was a fantastic day, but we were ready to nothing for the rest of the night. We grabbed dinner and decided that tomorrow, New Years Eve, would be a quiet "do-as-you-please" day since we'd be staying up late.

After reading, napping, and relaxing we decided to head back to the shopping district where we'd gone the day before. It was packed! After eating and shopping a little, we camped out at a coffee shop and read for a few hours. It was nice to have no plans. 

That night, around 9, we headed out to Shijo Dori to start the New Years Eve festivities. I was really looking forward to a traditional Japanese New Years event! I knew it was going to be totally different from what we were used to, but I wasn't ready for what we experienced.

There were people everywhere doing a whole-lotta-nothing. Everyone was standing in lines or just in the street. I know everyone was waiting to ring the bell, but I expected SOMETHING to happen at midnight. We couldn't even hear the bell, if it rang, at midnight. 

After being pushed along by the police and waiting for an hour after the clock hit midnight, Mark and I looked at each other with a shrug of the shoulders and headed back to the hostel. Not to say that I don't appreciate that we were in Gion on New Years Eve, but Mark and I both wanted something more. I would have even appreciated movement within the mile long lines! 
We've laughed numerous times about the whole evening and have already thought of plans for next years stateside celebration! Our trip to mainland may have come to an end in a unexpected (and a bit unusual) way but, overall, it was incredible. 

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