27.10.23 — Travel

Asturias With My Parents

After enjoying many a visit and then spending some time with friends from Madrid, it was time for the arrival of some very special guests: my parents! They landed in from the UK and managed to plonk themselves on the right train at the airport in order to arrive in my neighbourhood. I collected them from there and we headed back to mine for a late and thus relaxing evening. We had big plans for the coming days!

The next day we were up and out of the door by noon as we’d arranged to go and pick up a hire car just up the road. This was because the three of us were going to head up to Asturias together, something I’d been talking to my dad about doing for a good while. In the end, my mum decided to join too, and so off we went!

Asturias, patria querida. Asturias de mis amores.

This northern region of Spain is very special to me: I first visited Kevin there in 2017 and ever since I’ve gone up time and time again to spend time with friends and discover more of the amazing landscapes, people, cider, and food that it has to offer. I was thus very excited to finally show my parents everything it had to offer as we sped up the motorway and closer to the mountain range that marks the Asturian border.

We’d be using Gijón, a city I know very well, as a base. We arrived there, I grabbed the keys to our apartment, and then the chaos began as we tried to navigate the parking that we’d been assigned. It was only after skilfully weaving the hire car down into the underground garage that my dad discovered that the Nissan in question had an absolutely terrible turning circle. A few stressful minutes ensued as we tried to search for a way to get the car out of the labyrinth of concrete pillars, but a bit of direction from my mum and me had us out in a jiffy.

It was time for my parents’ first look at Gijón.

With the car now parked on the street, we unpacked in the apartment and then headed out for my parents’ first taste of Gijón. The sun was already pretty much set by the time we made it into the centre, but we had enough time to snoop around a cute artisan market, wander around the harbour, and eventually find somewhere for something to eat.

We had our evening meal down by the waterfront, where my mum had her first taste of Asturian cider (it was a ‘no’ from her) and I introduced my parents to pastel de cabracho (a delicious fish paste) and cachopo (an Asturian classic of breaded and fried meat stuffed with cured ham and cheese). This all went down very well and had us plenty tired to get us off for the night before our first full day of explorations.

The next day I wanted to show my parents a little bit more of Gijón before we’d begin exploring the rest of Asturias. We headed down to the centre for a wander around in the rather overcast weather, stopping off for a rather delicious lunch just as it began to rain. This was a nice stroke of good luck given that the weather in Asturias is notoriously unpredictable.

We then wound up heading up to the cape of Cimadevilla, a great spot for looking out over the ocean and looking back over Gijón’s seafront. The clouds were once again rolling in as we climbed, and sure enough it began to throw it down just as we reached the summit.

This wasn’t about to ruin our afternoon though. We had a giggle with the rest of the people who were taking refuge under a big concrete sculpture and then enjoyed the views of a 180° rainbow that formed over the sea.

Despite the downpour, they weren’t really that grumpy.

To finish the day in Gijón off, we headed back down to the old town in Cimadevilla and plonked ourselves under an awning for a drink before we were set to head back to the apartment. This strategic location worked a treat, as soon enough it was raining again and we just about managed to avoid getting wet.

That night I headed out alone in order to meet up with Cami, Bogar, and Javier, my friends who all live in Gijón and who I hadn’t seen for a while. We headed out for pizza and a few drinks and had an absolute whale of a time as we giggled over stories aplenty. It was great to make a moment to see them whilst I was up there.

Day two saw the three of us having breakfast in what would soon become our go-to bar just below the apartment. From there, we grabbed the car and drove westwards and to the gorgeous coastal town of Cudillero. Kevin had taken me to this place a few years ago and I’d been blown away by how striking it was. I was therefore keen for my parents to experience it too.

Avoiding the parking struggle and long walk that me and Kevin had endured when we went unprepared (as ever), this time I did a little research and we thus headed for the free parking down at the port area. From there we began to wander into the town, upon which it – shocker – started to rain.

The whole morning we spent in Cudillero was a bit like this – on and off rain with some moments of blue sky. The quaint yet striking surroundings made up for the naff weather though, and we were able to saunter around, explore shops, and have a coffee at our own pace.

This guy didn’t seem at all fazed by the unstable weather.

Once we’d had our fill of Cudillero, we hopped back in the car and headed down the coast for a few minutes to another town I wanted to revisit: Luanco. This was yet another coastal spot that Kevin had taken me to and which I had remembered was very pretty. This memory was affirmed as we parked up and admired the views as the sun just about broke through the clouds over the seafront.

We walked along the beach and into the old centre of the town, where we found ourselves back out by the water for some lunch. This time we’d nabbed a table in a bustling little restaurant just by the small port. There we tucked into some seafood and other local dishes whilst enjoying a spell of good weather as the sun heated us up a little.

I love the wonky lines of the rather old local church.

As the afternoon wore on we headed back to the car and to one last quick stop: Candás. As you have probably guessed by now, this was yet another spot I originally visited with Kevin back in 2018, and one I thought that we might as well stop off at seeing as it’s located on the road back to Gijón.

When me and Kevin had visited we had run into a medieval market, but the odd time of year coupled with the dodgy weather meant that Candás was quite quiet as I arrived with my mum and dad. I’d been recommended an ice cream parlour and so we grabbed one each, although my mum wasn’t a fan and so my dad happily pottered off down to the beach with an ice cream in each hand!

On the way back to Gijón, my mum announced that she wanted a burger, and so we wound up stopping in the Burger King just around the corner from our apartment. We had a good laugh about trying the local food, but I’m always down for a greasy burger and so the evening’s arrangements just hit the spot!

The next day I made a last-minute change in our plans and decided that I wanted to take my parents to Oviedo, the city that first introduced me to Asturias and where Kevin was based for many years. We’d had a busy day in smaller towns, so I thought that a day wandering around the pretty, calm, and clean streets of the Asturian capital would make for a welcome break.

We first stopped for lunch at an area called La Ruta de los Vinos, meaning “The Wine Trail”. Rather than indulging in a tipple, we were served huge portions of local dishes including a delicious piece of lamb that I devoured with some chips. It was a proper Asturian lunch, and I think my mum and dad were both rather impressed by how much you can get for your money in this glorious northern region!

We spent the afternoon perusing the city in the glorious sun, which had finally shown up after a few grey days. Activities included a spot of shopping, a little tourist tour around the main sights, and even a relaxing afternoon drink in the park.

I think my parents really enjoyed Oviedo, but we’d still to go and experience the main reason why I’d brought them here: Tierra Astur. This restaurant is specialised in traditional Asturian cuisine and is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike. This is a great sign but is also something which makes it a nightmare to get a reservation for. I’d managed to bag one though, and so off we went to try yet more local dishes.

We enjoyed yet another lovely meal inside the cozy atmosphere of Tierra Astur, with the star plate being the pork in a creamy cheese sauce: divine! This combined with the huge lunch had left us rather full and quite sleepy, so afterwards all that was left for us to do was to potter back down to where we’d left the car.

The old church in the moonlight made for a spooky scene.

On the way we ran into an old church which is the oldest building in the entire city – a fact I’d learned from Kevin the first time I went up to visit him there. In the evening light and with the moon obscured by clouds, it made for an interesting scene and a nice little farewell image as we left Oviedo.

The next day was our last day in Asturias and so I’d made sure to save the best until last. Well rested and well fed after a day in Oviedo, it was time to head up into the mountains and to one of the most stunning locations I’ve ever visited: Cangas de Onís.

This sanctuary up in the mountains is of great regional, religious, and even national importance, being the place where Alfonso III began his “reconquista” or “reconquest” of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim kingdoms back in the eight century. Once again, Kevin introduced me to this place way back in 2017, and since then I have been looking forward to going back to check out its breathtaking scenery.

To get there, we parked up in a field where a bus would take us up the final leg of the road and to the mountainous town itself. Upon arrival in Cangas de Onís we began wandering around, with my parents as impressed as I was the first time by the awesome views of the cathedral amongst the mountains, the sheer cliffs, and the little church perched high up in a cave over a natural spring water pool.

This church tucked into the rock face is a sight to behold.

Whilst me and my dad headed down to check out the natural spring, my mum said she would head up to the church. Once we were back at the steps up to the cave, we couldn’t find her anywhere. We then discovered that she’d gone and joined the congregation for a sit down in this tiny little church itself!

From the church, we followed the cave tunnel system back out and up to the level of the cathedral, which would be impressive in any location, never mind out here in the middle of a valley between two mountains. We were soon asked to leave that one as a mass was about to begin, and so took that as a cue to head back down to the bus stop and be on our way to the next location.

Spot my mum in between the crosses of this sculpture.

Before we headed back to Gijón for our last evening, I also wanted to show my parents Ribadesella. Who might it have been that showed me this pretty town back in the day? Say it with me now: Kevin!

We parked up under still blue skies and had a good wander along the port area, which is situated along the banks of the river’s estuary just before it meets the sea. I love this place for its combination of sea, beach, mountains, and old town centre, but the first thing we needed to do was to get some more lunch: we’d had a bite to eat up in the mountains of Cangas de Onís, but I was still peckish for some croquetas.

We found a nice restaurant that was kind enough to fry us up some croquetas despite the late hour, and there we sat on their terrace as we watched the clouds roll in and start to look a little menacing.

The grey skies thankfully never turned to rain though, and so we did have chance to watch the boats come to and fro, potter around the old town, and even try a carbayón, a traditional local sweet made of pastry, almonds, and plenty of sugar.

Once tired, we headed back to Gijón to ready ourselves for our last night. We spent this down in the old town of Cimadevilla, where we snagged a table at El Llavaderu, a restaurant famed for its huge cachopo. We had a lovely meal and a great laugh with the waiter, who poured us plenty of ciders and kept us entertained with his tips and stories.

The next day we were up and packed and ready to go, but not before some breakfast at our favourite local bar. From there, we headed back to the car and made the long journey back down to Madrid, where our only task was to get something to eat before bed.

We thus spent the evening around Lavapiés, enjoying some lovely pizza at NAP before sauntering back down to my neighbourhood for some drinks at two of my local favourite terraces: one just outside the local cinema and one that I’ve been going to for years now. It was a great way to end my parents’ visit.

I had an absolutely lovely time spending a week with my parents, and it was so nice to finally get to take them around a part of Spain that I love so very much. Although we couldn’t squeeze in everything that I wanted to do, we saw a decent amount for the few days that we were actually up in Asturias. I hope that they come back soon to experience a bit more of the north – perhaps even with some better weather, too!

20.10.23 — Journal

Rediscovering Madrid

It’s been a good few years since I first visited Madrid and then moved back here permanently at the beginning of 2019, but I’m always still surprised by the amount of stuff going on in the city. I’m always even more shocked by the amount of stuff I haven’t done yet, so this summer I set out to right this wrong and check a few more things off my list.

After a series of visits and parties, I was back to making plans with my friends from here or simply by myself. The city’s series of free summer activities called Veranos de la Villa was in full swing, so I first visited a series of free art exhibitions. These ranged from the work of photographer Marivi Ibarrola, who documented the crazy 80s in Madrid, to an exhibition exploring chicano art, where “chicano” referring to residents of the USA with Mexican ancestry.

Inspired by a visit to the Reina Sofía Museum with Luisa and Sol, I decided to take advantage of the free evening entry to the huge Prado Museum and took myself down for a wander around. After queuing up for a good while in the evening heat, I had just enough time to visit my favourite artworks before heading back outside for an evening stroll around the city.

I also discovered something I should have investigated years ago: the city’s municipal pools. These outdoor spaces are just the ticket for a hot summer afternoon in Madrid, so I spent plenty an evening and weekend filling in my sudoku book in between quick dips in the pool to cool off. Bliss!

With Sara, Julia, and other friends sticking around in the city for the summer (which usually gets pretty empty as everyone flees the heat), I also had the chance to visit some great places with them. These ranged from evening picnics watching the vibrant colours of the sunset to afternoons spent relaxing by the lake (and the nearby pool, of course).

Of course I also spent plenty of time in my pretty little neighbourhood.

One of the highlights of this time period has to have been a huge celebration down by the river in order to welcome back the Spain Women’s National Football Team after their victory over England in the World Cup. I’d watched the match at home with Álvaro and had celebrated my host country’s victory over the motherland, mainly because I knew there’d be a fabulous buzz around the place – and there sure was!

After watching the team arrive back in Madrid from Sydney and parade through the streets on an open-top bus, I cycled down to what I thought would be a small event down by the river. Boy, was I wrong!

As I arrived it looked like half of Spain had shown up, and there was no way I was finding anywhere to return my city rental bike. I soon got caught up in it all, and so left the thing resting against a tree and in doing so incurred a 6€ fine for having it on me for too long. It was all worth it though, with the hype reaching a fever pitch as the bus rolled up and the players took to the stage.

I did eventually have to return the bike, a task which took me all the way back up into the city proper in the difficult search for a station with a free spot to return the thing. My initial idea was to return back to the river and the festivities, but having come so far I decided to grab another bike and head back home. It was a nice trip though, with the streets empty and looking very pretty.

The streets of La Latina are some of the oldest in the city.

The next day I then had even more reason to celebrate, as my new passport finally arrived after the whole fiasco that happened when my previous one broke in Tokyo. This meant that I was all set for another two weeks of travel, but more on that when I get round to it.

For now, I was packing my backpack not to travel abroad, but to travel up to the north – this time with some very special guests joining me. More on that in my next post!

15.10.23 — Journal

Visits & Street Parties

Now back in Madrid after a two-week galavant around Japan, I was suffering pretty badly with jet lag after a 14 hour flight from China to Spain. This had me awake at 6am the day after, so I decided to make the most of my early-morning energy and went to see the sun rise over the river near my flat.

It’s been a while since I posted a selfie so here’s one in the morning sun.

The municipal hall looked even prettier than usual in the warm light.

After this little daybreak stroll which took me through my favourite local park, I headed home just to then immediately fall ill. All the adrenaline that had kept me going through the jet lag, heat, and long days in Japan had finally gotten to me, so I spent a few days resting and recovering back at home.

Before I’d fully recovered I’d to get back up and out of bed, however, as I received an unexpected phone call from Abi. She was up in Bilbao as part of a tour around Spain with her friend Niamh and the two of them were suffering the notoriously unpredictable northern weather. Wanting a bit of sun, they asked if they could come down for a couple of days, a proposition I was more than happy to accept.

Their visit coincided with the Fiestas de San Cayetano, a series of street parties which see the narrow streets of Lavapiés and Embajadores fill with bars, food stalls, and music to celebrate the summer here in the capital. I was keen to show Abi and Niamh the best of Madrid, so we headed out and grabbed some drinks to boogie our way through the crowds.

We then spent the weekend checking out the best of Madrid, from the tranquility of Retiro Park to the lively evenings in La Latina. We finished our last night in one of the best possible ways: watching the sun set over the west of the city from the Templo de Debod.

The streets of La Latina were also getting ready for their festivals.

With Abi and Niamh leaving in their car back up to the north of Spain, I then only had one day to rest until my next visit. This time, it was Luisa and Sol who were flying in to Madrid after I’d badgered them to come when I visited them in Norwich to see in the new year. No rest for the wicked!

Luisa’s visit coincided with not just some other street parties – this time those of San Lorenzo – but also her birthday. Before we got to work celebrating any of that, though, I did a whistle-stop tour of the city as best as I could in the relentless summer heat.

When things got too hot we scuttled back home and I finished frying up some croquetas that I’d made for their visit. Another day we headed to the Reina Sofía Museum, a famous art gallery containing most notably Picasso’s Guernica. The place is only 20 minutes walk from my house and yet I’d never paid it a visit. Upon arriving I discovered it was free as I have a young person’s card – even more reason to have visited sooner!

These two were the best artwork.

When we got out on to the streets, the parties had moved from the upper end of Lavapiés down to the lower side, which was great as the metro dropped us right into the epicentre of the celebrations. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, we grabbed a chorizo sandwich and some tinto de verano, Madrid’s signature summer drink.

Luisa representing Leeds with her Fred Aldous bag.

Celebrating Lu’s birthday was a little bit more chaotic, as we’d sourced some funky candles with coloured flames but then completely forgot to buy a cake to put them in. Improvising with a mango we’d bought earlier, we threw a little party in my flat before spending the rest of the day chilling around the city.

To end the day I once again took Luisa and Sol to see the the sunset from the Parque del Oeste. I know I keep coming back to that spot, but it’s one of the most underrated areas of Madrid in my humble opinion. It’s the perfect spot for some reading, a picnic, a romantic evening stroll… it never fails!

The rays of sun emanate from behind the mountains.

With Lu and Sol’s departure my run of visits was over – but the party certainly wasn’t! The conclusion of the Fiestas de San Lorenzo saw the beginning of the Fiestas de la Paloma, street parties which move up from Lavapiés and to the La Latina neighbourhood. For those, I met up with Luis, Carmen, and a bunch of other friends to have a beer and a lot of laughs as we explored the area’s cooky bars and streets.

I had a fabulous time with Abi and Niamh, Luis and Sol, and then Luis and friends. The period between my visit to Japan and my next little summer holiday was – as you can see – a very intense one! Despite being full of a cold during most of it, I had a lot of fun and really came to appreciate the city in which I live.

Keep an eye out on my blog as I’ll be trying to pump out a few more posts over the coming days – I’m very far behind and I’ve got loads to document and many cool photos to share! I’m currently recovering from another bout of jet lag, but more on that when I (eventually) get to it…

10.10.23 — Journal


As you’ll have seen over the last few weeks, I’ve been publishing plenty of blog posts documenting my time spent across Japan. Although my time spent there was limited to just two weeks, I’ve wound up with seven posts outlining the highlights from the trip, so here I’ve included them all for quick and easy reference!


I arrive in Japan to some drama with my passport and explore the nations capital. Including a climb up the world’s tallest tower, an awesome interactive art exhibition, and many amazing districts of the world’s biggest city.

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The bullet train takes me to Japan’s old capital, where I explore many temples and sample some of the best food I’ve ever tasted.

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A series of trains takes me to the mountains of Kobe, where I meet up with Inés and get my first taste of the famous onsen spas.

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Inés and I head to the city she’s been living in. We explore the centre and then spend a day taking in the sights of a huge parade through the streets then on the river.

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I head out for a day trip to this infamous city, exploring the historical landmarks and relaxing in a tranquil park. The day ends with karaoke back in Osaka.

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Inés, Joob, and I make an excursion to a city famed for being overrun by deer. We interact with them, have lunch, and explore the ancient parts of Nara.

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7Back to Osaka

My trip ends with my last few days in Osaka. We enjoy some amazing food and end the trip with a visit to Yuki’s house.

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As ever, you can also start at the very beginning of the trip and then just hit “Next blog post” at the bottom of each post as you go along. I’ve also updated my travel page with all the new locations I visited along the way. Happy reading!

05.10.23 — Travel

Back to Osaka

After leaving Osaka for two days on the trot, it was time for me to enjoy my last couple of days in Japan within this cool city. The two excursions to Hiroshima and then Nara had left me quite tired, so there was no rush out of bed once I was awake.

I did eventually potter down to street level and meet up with Inés for some lunch, which took the form of a cool sushi restaurant in which everything was freshly prepared and then sent flying to us on some very fast conveyor belts. From here, we headed out for a spot of shopping, where I bought clothes aplenty in Uniqlo and then would have bought half the shop in Muji if given half the chance…

The streets of Osaka are the definition of visual noise.

Before we knew where we were it was 6pm, and so I found myself rushing around the city looking for a post office that was still open. We eventually found one, but were soon left very confused by all the signs and the way everything worked. The guy who attended us was a darling, though, so I soon had my postcards sent and we were off to sort out the next thing on my list: procuring an antigen test.

Inés searched for a pharmacy and we arrived at the location only to find that the building had been razed to the ground and turned into a car park: just our luck! Then we headed off to another one nearby only to discover that – and I kid you not – this building had also been razed to the ground and turned into a car park. What are the chances!

After some more running around we eventually got hold of a test, after which it was time for some food to end the day. As I hadn’t had chance to try a specific local delicacy during my first few days in Osaka, Inés took me back to her preferred place and we jumped in a very slow-moving line heading down into a basement.

What followed was a meal of okonomiyaki, a local dish made with pancakes, eggs, cabbage, and all sorts of other mysterious and wonderful ingredients. These came served directly onto a hotplate on the table, and we shared the two different varieties that we had ordered between the two of us. They were divine!

Once I’d waved Inés off I then spent the rest of the evening in an onsen, which had a cool outdoor area where you could lie down in a few inches of water and stare up at the sky. Although not as fancy as those up in Arima, I still maintain that these nudist spas are the best thing about Japan and something we need to introduce in Spain and the UK…

The next day I was back out for more local food, this time in the form of yet more ramen. Excited to eat some more after the delicious meal I had in Kyoto, I met up with Inés and Joob to visit a place which Inés insisted was the best.

Another wait ensued, this time in the hot sun. This wasn’t a problem, though, as I’d picked up some menthol cooling wipes during my shopping trip the day before. These miracle inventions kept me feeling fresh despite the heat and the humidity, so you just know I stocked up on them before returning to Spain!

Our lunch was absolutely amazing, with a rich and delicious bowl of pork ramen accompanied by a side dish of pork pieces with rice and egg. I was once again on cloud nine – the food in Japan was just otherworldly.

From the restaurant, the three of us headed to the home of Inés’ partner’s mum, Yuki. We stopped off along the way at a little local florist to pick up some flowers as a little gift and then headed up to the fourteenth floor of a lovely blue apartment building.

It turns out that Yuki lived in Madrid for a good time in the past, so I was surprised to find the conversation flowing in Spanish! Translating as best as I could for Joob, we had an absolute hoot, telling stories and laughing about our little anecdotes. It was lovely to meet Yuki and spend time inside a Japanese home.

Here’s Yuki, Inés, me, and Joop down at the bottom there.

Yuki had also bought a series of cakes, which went down a treat as we nattered the afternoon away. I had brought some of her favourite cheese over from Spain as a gift, but Inés hadn’t mentioned that we were going to Yuki’s straight from the ramen restaurant, and so had to ferry it over to her later.

I then had to return to my hotel to pack ready to fly the next day. With most of my stuff back in the suitcase, I took my remaining yen and headed to a couple of supermarkets to load up on Japanese snacks to take back to Spain with me as gifts. Well, that and some delicious chocolate beans all for me…

With my money spent and bag locked up, I headed down to the metro for one last time to meet back up with Joob and Inés for the evening. We’d arranged to meet the share house that Inés lived in for a while in order to meet back up with her friends that we’d met during our night of karaoke.

It was pretty late and so the metro was almost empty.

In the end were all arrived quite late to the neighbourhood and Inés still had to finish up wrapping some lovely ceramic gifts that she’d made, so we sat down on a low wall under an overpass and helped her out as we chatted. It was quite a strangely beautiful way to end my time in Japan: in a quiet little neighbourhood in the outskirts of Osaka, kicking a ball around an empty street under a motorway.

As Saturday came around I was up at the crack of dawn to grab my train to the airport. It was a good job that Inés had asked me which airport I was flying from the day before, as I would have sped off in the wrong direction and to the wrong one if not!

It turned out the correct one was Kansai International, an airport built on an artificial island in the middle of the Osaka Bay. It was quite a sight to see, even if the views from the train were ruined a little by the excessive fencing around the tracks.

I’d then to wait a good while in arrivals before I could check in as I’d arrived way too early. This was a conscious decision as I was flying with the emergency travel document (for more on that whole saga check out what went down upon my arrival in Tokyo) and wasn’t sure if there’d be any extra checks. The whole thing was a breeze in the end, and I was soon on my plane, making a quick change in Shanghai, and then languishing during the longest flight I’ve ever been on: 14 hours from Shanghai to Madrid!

19.09.23 — Travel


After a busy day visiting Hiroshima, I was once up again and out of the door of my Osaka hotel in order to make good and proper use of the last day I had on my rail card. I wouldn’t be alone on my travels, though, as Inés and her friend Joob were also coming along for the excursion!

I immediately proceeded to get lost in Namba train station, but once I’d got some phone signal I eventually found the two of them waiting on the right platform. We then hopped on to the train bound for Nara, a city famous amongst other things for being overrun by wild and yet (mostly) friendly deer.

I’d thought that my day trip to Hiroshima had been a warm one, but boy was it hot when we stepped off the train in Nara. We thus hopped on a nice cool bus up to Nara Park, a big open space which was chock-full of deer. We didn’t have much time to stop and gawk, though, as we were quite hungry, and so headed off to a restaurant that Inés had marked on her map.

That place turned out to be closed for a wedding, and so after wandering over a bridge and then yet another disappointment as another restaurant was also closed, we eventually stumbled upon a little café which offered some curry dishes for lunch. Now as sweaty as we were hungry, we took off our shoes and headed inside.

The place was as beautiful as the food was.

The interior consisted of beautiful wooden rooms with low tables and cushions for us to sit on the floor, something which was doing my back in quite a bit until Inés showed me the proper posture for this kind of seating arrangement. The food was presented as beautifully as the decor, and we soon discovered that it tasted as good as it looked. What a great little find!

From the restaurant, we wandered back over the bridge, stopping to take in the beautiful scenery now that we weren’t just thinking about food. This led us back into the park, where we grabbed some ice cream to cool off and watched the deer pottering around.

This lady was stood in the middle of the road without a care in the world.

From there we headed on to Tōdai-ji, a temple which Inés said was a must-do whilst we were in Nara. Inside the impressive gates we were joined by plenty of tourists and plenty more deer, all milling around as they made there was up to the impressive main temple building.

These guys were just everywhere you looked.

Inside the temple we were confronted by a huge bronze statue of Buddha, around which we proceeded to make our journey, learning about the history of the various iterations of the temple and the traditions associated with it as we went. They sure were plucky to keep reconstructing this place after fires and earthquakes, with the scale models showing each iteration of the design was an interesting peek back through Japanese architectural history.

Once we’d taken a few photos of ourselves (we look a bit worse for wear thanks to the heat so I’ll save face here), we left the temple in search of a place to sit down and have a drink. Taking refuge in the cool air of a coffee shop, we watched the tourists feeding the deer in the plaza below and decided that that’s what we were going to do just as soon as the air conditioning had cooled us all off a bit.

We picked up some rice crackers as we left the coffee shop and then headed out on to the lawn where a large concentration of the deer had gathered. After observing what people had done, I knew the gestures I should make in a routine that went as follows:

  1. Bow to the deer as a sign of respect
  2. The deer would then bow back to you
  3. Feed the deer one of the rice crackers
  4. Show the deer your empty palms to indicate there was no food left

This last step didn’t work all too well for me, however. I must have had some crumbs left in my bag or on my person, as I soon found myself being chased around by a couple of very insistent characters! It was all good fun, though, and they eventually joined the rest of the pack in sitting down on the grass for a rest after a long day of being fed by the tourists. It was there city, really, and they were just allowing us to visit.

As the afternoon wore on we left the park back for the built-up area of Nara in order to grab some tea in the form of some barbecued eel which was very delicious. Along the way, we were kept entertained by watching the deer do seemingly human activities such as waiting at zebra crossings, following each other in a line, and their cute bows to passers by in the hope of some of those sweet, sweet rice crackers.

Whilst our train zipped through the countryside and back to the centre of Osaka, I was left reflecting on what an amazing place I’d just visited. Despite the heat – a theme punctuating my time in Japan – Nara was like stepping into an alternate reality where humans and nature were of equal standing. It was amazing, with the only downside being the amount of poo that we’d to scrape off our shoes as we left. Nobody ever seems to mention that!

To end my post, here’s me and Inés scooping poop off our shoes.

17.09.23 — Travel


After just a day and a half in Osaka, I was up and out of my hotel early in order to make the most of the remaining two days I had on my Japan Rail Pass, the ticket I was using to travel around the country on its famed bullet trains. Although I was in the train station by 10:30am however, I somehow managed to miss my first train and thus arrived in Hiroshima at around 2pm: the hottest time of day.

I’m sure many images of an old and bomb-torn city come to mind when I mention Hiroshima, but upon leaving the train I noted that it looked very similar to the other Japanese cities that I’d visited so far on my trip. I guess that it’s precisely because of the devastation caused by the bombing of the city that it’s now a modern and sprawling metropolis: everything had to be rebuilt from scratch.

Hiroshima had, until this point, just been the name of a tragedy for me. It was time to put a face to the city.

Although intrigued by the other parts of the city, the high temperatures and the limited time I had during my day trip meant that I was focussed on going to see what makes it unique: the Memorial Park. To get there, I quickly discarded the idea of walking through the humid heat and hopped on a bus to take me over the river and to this historical location.

Stepping off the bus, I began walking through the park, located near the epicentre of the blast and where much of the old city centre used to lie. Finding a little structure along the way, I headed inside only to find that it contained an archaeological dig site which had unearthed the scolded floor of a destroyed home. This impacted me much more than the various monuments and informative plaques that dotted the park, amplified even more as I was stood there completely alone. It was my first time being directly confronted with the realities of what happened in Hiroshima in 1945, and made me pause to reflect on the horrors of war.

The next impactful sight was of the infamous Peace Memorial. This consists of the bombed out yet miraculously still standing ruins of an old exhibition hall, a structure which was the only one left standing after the nuclear bomb detonated above the city. It was an eerie sight to behold, but definitely the best way of visualising the destructive power that these kind of weapons carry. Just imagining the landscape with only this shell of a building standing felt rather odd, especially as the modern city now completely encloses the Memorial Park with its towering skyscrapers and busy streets.

The Peace Memorial was haunting and suitably impactful.

I then visited the last few monuments in the Memorial Garden, which included ringing the Peace Bell. I then started wandering over to the next place I wanted to visit, stopping off at a Family Mart in order to recover in their air conditioning and get myself a drink and an ice cream to cool off a little.

This route eventually took me over more water and into the Ninomaru of Hiroshima Castle. This fortification looks as old as time, but is actually a faithful recreation as the original was destroyed during the bombing. Wandering through the gate of this structure and onto an artificial island, I then explored the beautiful gardens. Heading northwards, I eventually wound up arriving at the castle itself, another reconstruction of the original.

As I headed out, I noticed what looked like the remains of a bunker just outside of the Hiroshima Gokoku Shrine. I approached the old concrete walls for a closer look, whereupon I was approached by an old man who began speaking to me in Japanese. Noticing the look of confusion on my face, he repeated the word “bunker” and then gestured for me to follow him. I was then surprised as he squeezed through a little opening and casually wandered into the bunker itself, beckoning for me to follow suit, something I felt obliged to do and so off I went.

Inside, the space had been pretty thoroughly taken back by nature, but there were still openings that the man began to gesture to and explain to me in Japanese. Although I didn’t understand a thing, I was very appreciative of his interest in showing me the bunker: I definitely wouldn’t have ventured inside if he hadn’t come along. After a short while, we headed back out into the light of day, and I recited my best and most polite Japanese phrases in order to thank him with a bow.

From there, I left the Hiroshima Castle complex and made a quick stop at the Great Torii, famous for surviving the blast of the atomic bomb. I then headed eastward and to the pretty Shukkeien Garden, a very tranquil place which was the perfect way to end a busy day on my feet.

The gardens were peppered with a variety of lovely spots, including a pretty stone bridge, pools full of koi fish, all kinds of plants and trees, and even a little wooden structure jetting out over the water. Taking off my shoes as indicated, I sat down in the shade of this little building, resting my body and mind for a while as the afternoon turned into the evening.

There was no better spot to relax in after a busy day out in Hiroshima.

Now weary after a long day out, I hauled myself off the floor, out of the gardens, and onto a bus back to Hiroshima train station. There, I grabbed a bite to eat and awaited the next bullet train back to Osaka, where Inés had one little treat left in store before the day came to an end: it was karaoke time!

After a quick shower in my hotel to freshen up, I headed to the south of Osaka and to a karaoke place where she and her friends had booked a room for the evening. I was tired, but I just love karaoke, and there was no way I was going to leave karaoke’s birthplace, Japan, without a good sing-song!

I paid my dues, grabbed myself a strange milky water drink, and headed into room number 19, where Inés introduced me to all of her friends and old housemates. We then sang along to some absolute European classics and listened along as everyone else sang a variety of songs from around the world in a variety of languages. There were songs in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, English, and even Spanish. It would have been rude if me and Inés hadn’t treated everyone to a rendition of Aserejé and then the Macarena!

With my energy now fully spent and the threat of the metro closing on us, Inés and I then said our goodbyes and headed back to our respective accommodation. It had been a wild day of somber moments and then absolute hilarity, so it was definitely time to get some rest before the next day would see us head off on yet another little excursion outside of Osaka. More on that coming soon in my next post!

12.09.23 — Travel


The train from Arima took me and Inés into Osaka, the city that she’d been living in for a good while and where I would spend the last five days of my fortnight in Japan. After switching to the city’s metro system, I waved goodbye to Inés as I hopped off at the stop just outside my hotel.

The room I was allocated was handily on the first floor of rooms just above the reception area, but upon entering it I saw that the window was diffused for what I guess were privacy reasons. This made me feel claustrophobic, so I asked if there was a room on an upper floor with a window I could see out of. There was, and so up to the 13th and top floor I was sent!

Once I’d unpacked, napped, and showered, it was back out to meet Inés once again to look for something to eat and for a little nighttime tour of the city. Inés wanted to take me to a specific restaurant, but for the life of us we couldn’t find it. Our wanderings around looking for it did lead us to discover some gorgeous little side streets and even a tiny shrine in the middle of a square, but our stomachs were rumbling and so finding a place to eat was top priority.

We eventually discovered that we couldn’t find it because it was closed for the summer and was thus missing the bold lighting and menu panels that would normally be found plastered across its facade. Ever prepared, Inés took me to a place she’d identified as an option B, but this second place had quite a queue and it was already pretty late.

In the end we settled for some ramen, which was good but not half as tasty as the otherworldly dish I’d had in Kyoto. It did what it needed to do, though, and had the two of us fed and watered and back on the streets to continue our explorations of the streets of Osaka by night.

The bustling main street of Namba reminded me a little of Tokyo.

Most of our evening was then spent down by the river, a gorgeous area full of lanterns, bars, stalls, shops, and the general buzz of people out for the night. Surprised by how many people were around on a Tuesday night, we eventually found a table and sat down to have a drink of grape pop and a little boogie to the music that the stall owner was playing.

The next morning I grabbed some breakfast at the hotel and then was able to step on to the exact train and carriage of the metro that Inés was already travelling on thanks to the crazily detailed signage and organisation of the Japanese railway systems. We were heading to a different part of the city in order to catch a glimpse of the Tenjin Matsuri, a festival that takes place every July and sees the streets filled with processions which eventually turn into a huge parade of boats which wind their way down the river in the evening.

Most of this photo looks like it’s from 30 years ago.

Once we’d found the area that the parade was going to pass through, we looked for a bar to sit in for a while as we were already tired and thirsty from the oppressive heat of the day. We weren’t very convinced as we wandered in to an old little bar which stunk of cigarette smoke, but we weren’t keen on walking around any longer either so we plonked ourselves down on two of the spinning wooden stools and ordered a drink.

The lady at the bar turned out to be an absolute darling, plying us with freshly made juice mixes and offering us some sandwiches, which we didn’t turn down as we were already getting hungry. She asked us where we were from and then said Inés was very pretty, eventually presenting her with a traditional dress as a gift! It was a lovely gesture and there were smiles all round until the sound of beating drums came in from outside.

It turns out that we’d inadvertently wandered into a bar which sat on the parade route itself, so everyone in the place (the owner included) pottered out onto the street to join the people on the pavement watching the festivities unfold. There was an amazing variety of floats going by, with all sorts of symbolism and groups covering all age ranges.

I was beginning to wonder how they’d manage in the heat.

At one point, a group of young boys came past dancing with lion’s heads, a scene which was quite fun until one of them took it off and threw himself down on the curb. He was clearly suffering with the heat, so throngs of people suddenly showed up out of nowhere with fans, water, sprays… the works. Some medics finally moved him into the bar where we were at, where me and Inés took it in turns helping fan him whilst they unwrapped the seemingly endless winds of sash that he had wrapped around him. It was no wonder he was struggling!

He eventually came to, just as the ambulance crew showed up to take him away. We soon followed, heading off to continue following the crowds as they made their way down to the river and to the parade of boats. We’d to navigate through the throngs of people that were on the streets, passing through street food stalls and the gathered masses until reaching the water’s edge.

We watched a few of the boats go past with their accompanying music and even dancers, but the heat eventually got to us and we headed off to find somewhere a little less crazy to stand. This took us over a very busy bridge, where we were scolded for stopping to take photos. This led us to a metro station and as such to the toilets that we were so desperately seeking, after which we headed back to the riverside as night fell to catch the fireworks which mark the end of the festival.

What followed was a visual spectacle, with a higher density of boats passing by accompanied by music and dancing. This was all framed by an amazing firework display which lit up the sky and created an electric atmosphere which it seemed like the whole city had come out to experience.

Our feet then grew tired from the day’s rambling and so we headed back to the city centre on the metro. There, we plonked ourselves in a bar and had a couple of drinks and a good chat to end a crazy first day in Osaka. It wouldn’t be my last day here by any stretch of the imagination, but as I headed to bed that night I had an excursion in mind for the next day to explore even more of Japan’s amazing cities.

Where was I to go? That’ll have to wait until the next post…

01.09.23 — Travel


I pick up the tales from my Japan trip on my second bullet train, this time out of Kyoto. After a relatively short journey, I hopped off in Kobe, the city famed for its supposedly delicious beef. I’ve not been eating red meat for a while, so I didn’t go searching for a burger, though. Besides, I had other plans, involving taking a couple of local trains up the mountains and to Arima.

The Kobe metro left me with one last train to catch, or so I thought. As this pretty old train trundled up the mountains, Google Maps informed me that I should switch trains to what looked like the train I was already on. I was surprised, as Google Maps had up until this point been unbelievably accurate in Japan: telling me which entrances to use, how much everything would cost, and even the carriage number to get on in order to get off at a convenient spot on the destination platform.

It turns out I should have paid it heed, as the train I was on forked off in a completely different direction just after leaving the station. It reminded me of the exact same thing I did in New York last year on my way back to the airport.

I’d wondered why everyone had suddenly got off the train.

Even after I had ignored it, Google Maps swooped in to save me, and I rerouted myself back to the line I should have been on and on to Arima Onsen. The clue for my plans for the next 24 hours was in the name, as onsen is the name for thermal baths in Japan. It was time for an evening and morning of relaxation up in the mountains of Japan!

From now on, though, I wouldn’t be alone on my explorations. Inés, my formed colleague who is currently living in Japan, would be coming along for the experience. Inés is the reason I really made the whole trip in the first place: I’d been wanting to visit Japan for a while, so when she announced that she would be moving there for the year, I jumped on the chance to visit her there!

We’d arranged to meet at the hotel, so I opened Google Maps once again and it informed me that my destination was a mere seven minutes away on foot. What it didn’t mention is that this entire journey was up a deceptively steep gradient, a task made even more unbearable by the stifling heat and my heavy suitcase.

Google Maps was getting its own back for my earlier lack of faith.

I arrived at the entrance to the hotel just to discover that the driveway up to the doors was yet another series of uphill sections. I genuinely tried seeing if someone would stop to give me a lift up, but no cars came by for a while and so I had to decide whether to roast in the sun, find some shade and cry for a while, or power through and drag my case up the hill.

Naturally I went with the latter, but I didn’t have to undertake the entire climb in the end. One of the doormen saw me struggling and came hurdling towards me with a baggage cart, insisting that he’d push the thing for the rest of the journey. Thanking him profusely, I dragged myself inside and into the glorious air conditioning of the lobby.

In one of the bathrooms, I did my best to freshen up with some wet wipes, before sitting down in the rather grand and ostentatious room as I waited for Inés. When she arrived, we had a great laugh about how sweaty we both were after the horrendous climb, as well as how bizarre it was that the two of us were now first seeing each other again after half a year not only in Japan, but up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.

Whilst we waited for our room to be ready, we sat and enjoyed some sandwiches in the lobby café, looking out to the lawns and the pool area as you can see above. Eventually we were able to check in, whereupon a lady took us up to our snazzy room and used Google Translate to explain the huge list of offerings that the hotel provided. Me and Inés’ priority was cooling off, though, so we grabbed our swimming attire and headed straight for the pool.

The two of us spent a good couple of hours around the pool, having a lovely catch up in the water before moving over to the jacuzzi as the sun set and the air began to cool a little. Just before leaving, we asked the lifeguard if the two of us were too big to go on the waterslide, but she indicated that we could. We ended our time down there with a splash!

We then headed back to the room to get changed before our evening meal, which we’d scouted out a location for in the form of one of the hotel’s fancy little restaurants. Glad rags on, we went exploring the hotel a little more, discovering a lovely lounge area, amazing views over the valley, and a multitude of other little details that dotted the traditional wood-clad interior. We felt like emperor and empress!

As you can see, the hotel and location were just stunning.

Inés said the lobby was representative of Japanese luxury tastes.

We arrived at the restaurant to discover that it was only very small and fully booked, so we made a reservation for an hour later and set about finding something to do to kill the time. Inés suggested we look for their games room, which we found to be full of arcade games, music, and flashing neon lights. As if my yen were Monopoly money, I set about trying out all the games and the two of us had a great laugh. I discovered that my destiny does not lie in playing the drums, however…

Back at the restaurant, we were seated and then treated to an absolutely delicious meal. With the component ingredients being served on small plates, I was shown how to mix meat, stock, vegetables, and egg to create a rich pot of noodles. Inés had something similar, and we shared a bit of everything before paying up and heading back to the hotel room.

This wasn’t the end of our night though – far from it! As the thermal baths on the rooftop of the hotel were open until midnight, Inés had smartly suggested that we head up there to make the very most of our one and only evening in this swanky hotel. To do this, we donned a traditional kind of robe and headed up to the onsen.

We’d no idea how to tie the sashes but I think we pulled it off.

On the way, Inés ran me through how I should navigate the baths, which are split by sex due to the fact that you have to use them whilst stark naked. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this, but regardless I headed in, disrobed, and moved into the washing area. There, I’d to sit on a little wooden stool and give myself a thorough clean. There was all kinds of soaps, a shower head, and my favourite contraption of all in the form of a wooden bucket. This filled rapidly via a huge tap and I used it to drain all the suds off me with generous splashes of hot water before advancing further.

Feeling very clean, relaxed, and surprisingly not self-conscious at all, I lowered myself into the first of the steaming hot pools and took in the nighttime views over the mountains. I spent the next couple of hours changing between the different baths, the sauna, and a cold plunge pool. When not immersed in the water, I leaned over the balcony and took in the views of the valley, allowing myself to be buffeted by the cool night air.

Now feeling extremely zen and even more tired, I popped my robe back on and headed back down to the room. Inés arrived shortly after, and we finally headed off to sleep at around 1am. What a fabulous day it had been, with the highlight being the tranquil bodily experience of the onsen.

Our alarms went off early as we wanted to once again squeeze every last once out of the morning before we’d to check out. First up was breakfast, which was a huge buffet affair that we had to wait to go in due to the sheer size of the place. This was nothing like your typical European breakfast buffet though; it had all sorts of novel stuff on offer. From fresh omelette balls to noodles and soups, there was a true smorgasbord of delights to try.

Inés and I did just this, managing two rounds of the buffet before giving up and plodding back to the hotel room to be sure to vacate the room on time. In a moment of cheekiness, we then left our bags with the doormen and headed downstairs to spend a couple of hours in the outdoor onsen even after we’d checked out.

This second onsen was equally as delightful as that of the night before, albeit with a different vibe as it was daytime and the pools lay between between tall trees and jagged rocks. I watched a bird taking its own bath in a little water feature within the neighbouring forest and I was at peace with the world for a while.

I think the onsen were one of my favourite aspects about being in Japan.

As the time we’d agreed upon came around, I hauled myself out of the water, got dressed, and met back up with Inés. The two of us sat in a lovely little lounge for a while longer, discussing our thoughts on all kinds of things before we got up and headed back to reception to see if there was any way of heading back down to the train station without having to head down the horrific hill that had tried to kill us just 24 hours previously.

It turns out that there was a shuttle bus from the hotel to Arima and back every twenty minutes, something we wished we had known the day before as we hopped on board. We eventually made it on to our train and onward to my next destination, somewhere Inés knew rather well and would help me to explore as I entered the second week of my Japanese adventure…

15.08.23 — Travel


After a couple of hours of sudoku on the bullet train from Tokyo, the tannoy announced that we’d be making a brief stop in Kyoto and that anyone alighting should be well prepared. A little stressed by the prospect of missing my stop, I rushed to collect my things and then practically threw myself off the train and into the stifling humidity of Kyoto.

I then proceeded to get somewhat lost in the train station as I searched for a way to get to the metro lines without having to haul my case down some stairs. I eventually gave up and had to do just that, so I was very relieved once the metro came along and whisked me off to my hotel in a cool, air-conditioned cab.

The hotel I’d booked was to be quite the flashback, as we’d worked on the rebranding of the EN Hotel chain a few years back at Erretres. I’d let the EN Hotel team know I was checking into this, the first of their hotels to be renovated with the new brand, and was very touched when I arrived to my room to find a note from them welcoming me to the city.

Tired from my trip, I threw myself down for a nap, after which I headed out into the night to look for some food and explore the centre of Kyoto. On the way, I stumbled across a street party as part of the local festivals, so I stayed a while to take some pictures before heading off to a curry restaurant that had I had been recommended by my contacts at the hotel.

These lanterns were part of a much bigger parade float.

My first experience in a Japanese restaurant didn’t start very well, as I sat down and ordered only to realise that I had no cash on me. I asked if I could pay with card, to which I was told that I could not, and so I asked where the nearest cash machine was. As the guy behind the bar started preparing my curry, I was pacing down the road to a Family Mart to go grab some money. Quite the start!

The drama was worth it though, as my evening meal was absolutely divine, albeit quite spicy. This was nothing that the yoghurt and the delicious pickled vegetables couldn’t sort out, though. As I tucked into the beautifully presented dish, the chef asked me where I was from. After I explained that I was from the north of England and near Manchester, he pottered off and changed the music to The Smiths, a little gesture that had me grinning from ear to ear.

Once I’d finished my meal, I chatted with the owner for a short while, before putting those crisp yen to good use and paying up in order to have a quick snoop around the centre of Kyoto. I came across one of the main thoroughfares, which was resplendently decorated with lanterns and other motifs, but I soon grew tired and so caught a bus a few stops back to my hotel for the night.

The next day I grabbed breakfast at the hotel and then hailed down a bus to take me to a neighbourhood called Gion in the east of the city. This is the area that Kyoto is most famous for as it is chock-full of temples, geishas, and old little streets connecting everything together. Having started the day sweating and perturbed by a foul odour in the air, I was hoping that the first temple I pottered into would raise my spirits and maybe even provide a little bit of shade.

This was the Yasaka Shrine, a gorgeous complex full of structures, lanterns, and pathways through pretty forests peppered with shrines and other symbology. One of my favourite little features was a hand washing station full of flowers, as can be seen in the photo above.

Despite being surrounded by such beauty, I soon found myself floored by the oppressive heat. To combat this I downed an electrolyte drink, left the temple, and sat for a while below a weeping tree in a green space around the back. This was Maruyama Park, a spot which I believe is lovely in spring and is known for its cherry blossoms, but which on this day functioned solely as a respite spot from the unrelenting sun.

Once I’d perked up a bit, I left this admittedly pretty little park and found myself wandering along the ancient streets of Gion. I passed by many gorgeous buildings spanning different eras of Japanese architectural styles, from intricate red wooden shrines to minimal private houses.

The buildings forming the quaint streets of Gion were gorgeous.

A silly little detail I was fascinated by was the way in which water is drained from the roofs. Rather than having a solid pipe leading from the gutter to the ground, most buildings employed what I’ve just discovered are called kusari-doi or “rain chains”. These consist of a chain of ornate and interlinked metal cups which pass rainwater from one to the next, creating a sort of water feature out of the flow. I wish I could have seen one in action, but alas there was no chance of rain with the omnipresent sun…

After a while, I stumbled across a long stairway which led to what looked like the entrance to another shrine. With no plan of action in place, I followed my curiosity and headed upwards, paying a small fee to explore this next temple.

It turns out this temple was called Kōdai-ji, and is one of the more famous of the shrines which make up the Gion district within Kyoto. Through the trees I could catch some cool views over the rest of the city and the mountains beyond, but the real gems were to be found within the complex itself.

I was enchanted by the tranquil outdoor pathways which led me between delicate wooden constructions and the surrounding forest, but the indoor spaces were also a real sight to behold. I took my shoes off and explored the grand hall of the shrine, took respite under the wooden roofs of the walkways, and even walked solo through a pathway flanked by bamboo. It wasn’t the famous bamboo forest of Arashiyama, but being alone as I passed under these immense plants was quite a unique experience, one I think was made possible by the heat that had driven most sensible tourists away.

I loved my solitary wander through a bamboo forest.

I then left the shrine and found myself exploring the streets of Gion once again. Now a little tired of temples, I headed to the famous view of the Hōkan-ji pagoda from the quaint little streets flanked by traditional houses. After my bad luck with my passport in Tokyo, I was now having a streak of good luck, and thus came across the area pretty deserted in order to take a good photo.

An ice cream was very much appreciated.

With my Gion experience more or less over, I stopped off to grab a matcha tea ice cream before leaving back for the centre of Kyoto. Matcha isn’t my favourite flavour, but it sure did hit the spot regardless!

The wander back towards my hotel took me through the gardens of the Kennin-ji temple, so I made a little detour to cool off between its trees and calm down with the relaxing sounds of flowing water.

It was crazy how quickly urban scenes turned to tranquil gardens.

After grabbing a bus back to the centre, I wandered past my hotel and into the little streets behind it. This took me down some wonderful little alleyways between traditional hotels known as ryokans. I then arrived at my destination, a restaurant I’d been recommended for its obanzai offering. Obanzai is a culinary tradition native to Kyoto, whereby the ingredients uses must be in season and at least half of them must be sourced locally.

Another aspect of obanzai that nobody had mentioned to me is that it’s always a set meal. This I discovered as I sat down at the bar and was immediately served a series of dishes, one right after the other. This was accompanied by some green tea which I technically can’t drink due to its caffeine content, but which I felt semi-obliged to as part of the experience. I’m not complaining, though, for everything was delicious and came to a mere 1000¥, which at the time was about 6.50€ or £5.50.

The tiny alleys of Kyoto are a real treat for explorers.

To digest the lovely food I went back to the hotel, where I napped and then showered before heading back out to visit yet another shrine. This was to be Fushimi Inari Taisha, a place famous the world over for its impressive walkway covered with thousands of torii. According to the internet, the mountain that it sits on may be home to over 10,000 of these red gates, something I can very well believe as I saw countless of them and I only visited one tiny section of the temple complex.

Here’s the obligatory selfie to prove I was actually here.

With my legs aching and the heat bearing down on me once again, I hopped on a train back into the centre of the city. Upon arrival, I reckoned I had just enough time to try and see just a bit more of Gion and maybe catch the sunset over the pagoda I had seen earlier. I had a long walk uphill ahead, but paced as best as I could in order to outrun the setting sun.

This descending street was as tranquil as it is gorgeous.

Although I could have perhaps done with being there half an hour earlier, I reached the area I wanted to be in just in time to watch the sun drop below the mountains in the distance. It was a lovely moment, but as I headed down towards the pagoda, I saw that many people had had the same idea as me and had thus convened on the streets to try and get a look at the evening sky. There wasn’t enough room to swing a cat…

In another stroke of sheer luck, I found a little alcove which offered some brilliant views over Gion, and from there managed to snap what I think is the best photo I took in Kyoto. I leave it below in all its untouched glory.

The quintessential evening scene from Kyoto.

With the sunset over, I made my way back to the hotel before heading out for something to eat. Inés recommended I visit a ramen restaurant that she’d enjoyed when she was in Kyoto, so I hopped on another bus and joined the queue to order at Ichiaran. With the line moving slowly, I got chatting to a French family who were a little confused by the ordering system as they’d just arrived in Japan.

After I’d explained as best as I could, I was called in to make my order via a machine and then join the second queue for a spot in one of the booths. These are individual eating compartments where you sit between a wooden screen on either side, with the space in front of you being closed off by a bamboo-rod curtain which the chefs can open to pick up your order card and then serve you your food.

Intrigued by the system, I made only one little deviation from the chef’s suggestion as I made my ramen order, asking for the stock to be a little richer: I do love a good strong taste. This I requested by circling a series of options on a paper ticket, which was then whisked away and pretty quickly replaced by my food. This came in the form of a big, steaming bowl of ramen, an egg still in its shell, and a plate of extra meat and seaweed that I could add to the ramen.

After opening the egg and being completely mystified as to how they’d managed to salt it to perfection without opening it, I configured my bowl and tried my first mouthful of noodles. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I then nearly began to cry: I don’t think I’d ever tasted something this delicious before in my entire life. With that said, I don’t think I need to elaborate more, but you can imagine that my long day exploring Kyoto had ended on a particular high: with the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn (well, 9am felt like the crack of dawn to me) in order to check out and grab the second bullet train of my trip. I once again hauled my suitcase down the wonky streets of Kyoto, hopped on the metro, and then found the next train headed southbound…

Kyoto, just like Tokyo, had been absolutely amazing. Although they are both big cities, the time I sent in the Gion neighbourhood meant that Kyoto felt like a chance to leave the urban crawl behind in favour of a more natural and traditional side to Japan. The shrines, the streets, and the amazing ramen will stay with me forever!