We get up pretty early to finish packing, and check out of the hotel mid-morning. Get the metro to the main Tokyo station and swap our exchange orders for rail passes, which come in a snazzy shiny case with the Great Wave on. Have an early lunch of tasty bagels then board the shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. It definitely rattles through the countryside pretty fast, and the scenery of towers, rolling into houses, into forest-covered mountains, is nice to watch.
We’re disorientated coming out of Kyoto station (into a very warm evening that feels like late summer), so hop into a taxi to get to the ryokan; the ride only takes about five minutes. The ryokan is on a quiet street and really pretty; the lady on reception shows us around and we have a welcome cup of tea in the communal lobby, looking onto their small garden area. The room is just the right mix of Japanese and Western comfort and decor.
We head out again just as the sun is setting to have a quick look around the Nishi Hongan-ji temple across the road before it closes for the night. It’s a world heritage site, and very beautiful and calm.
After that we walk up the Kawasura-dori to find a restaurant called Natural Kitchen which seemed to be veggie-friendly. We find it without much trouble but there’s no English menu and the waitress looks confused at our attempts to explain ‘vegetarian’ so give up and head a little further north to the Nishiki food market, a covered-over street filled with market stalls during the day (closing up as we arrived) and a few small restaurants along its length.
We hop into the first place we see with an English menu (it didn’t even have an English name, though) but it turned out to be a good bet – huge, tasty bowls of udon noodles in soup, and a totally delicious side dish of fried sweet potatoes with sweetened butter dipping sauce. The decor is slightly kitschy with 60s beer advertising posters on the walls and huge sake bottles, and the crowd seem to be all locals.
It’s still early when we finish so we pop round the corner to a ramen bar that the guidebook said has a hidden bar behind it. We get buzzed into the bar and greeted by a guy who looked pretty creepy – until I realise it’s Hallowe’en night and he’s dressed like Michael Jackson! Entirely appropriate that he looked creepy, then, and MJ was on the stereo too. We drink umeshu plum wine and are vaguely amused at another customer ordering Strongbow, served in a champagne glass, and chatting to the barman about this strange exotic ‘apple cider’ from England. It’s a cute little place so we might go back, and also eat at the ramen restaurant which looked tasty.