Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nara and Osaka

Turns out the choice of coming back to Yougendou was a good one. It was a fabulous place to just hang out, do some laundry and recover a bit from the relatively intense travelling we'd done thus far. Sunday, was just such a day. With Doris trying to beat a cold, I gave Andre directions onhow to get to Nara and sent him on his way. I went out for a walk for lunch on yet another lovely day and poked around the quiet Oji area. I can't say enough about Yougendou, check out their web site and you can get a feel for it. Here's the front entrance, with a sign drawing clients to their fantastic little dining bar.

And a shot of the interior, this is the breakfast area of the guesthouse.

It was interesting to talk with the boss of the place, Chris, and hear about how they got started here and all the work they've done. They have really done a fantastic job keeping the house traditional while ensuring all the proper amenities are provided to guests. Highly recommended to anyone staying in the Osaka/Kyoto/Nara area, each of which are like a 30 minute train ride away at the most. Yougendou is one stop away from World Heritage Horyuji as well, which makes an easy bike ride as we discovered on Monday morning.

After checking out, we rented a couple of bikes (500Yen per day) from the guest house, grabbed a map and were on our way.

The weather was once again cooperating and the 20 minute bike ride to Horyuji was fantastic. Of course while travelling in Japan and visiting "famous" places, you have to contend with three types of crowds. First, on weekdays there are the duo of school trips and retirees' organised bus trips, and then on weekends there's just the crush of people in general. Being a Monday, we only had to contend with the first two, as regiments of school kids descended upon Horyuji.

This temple houses the world's oldest surviving wooden buildings, dating back to the 700s, pretty impressive.

After the intensely decorated Toshogu, this temple looks decidedly conservative, but does still include some nice carvings and details, such as the dragons on the corner's of the main hall.

Once again, I got into the habit of taking these dramatic roof line/skyline shots, like how this one turned out.

After grabbing a nice lunch just outside the temple, we made our way back to Yougendou to return the bikes, collect our bags and say farewell to the great staff. If I were ever to live in Japan again, I think this is the kind of place I'd like to run or work at. Shortly thereafter, we were off and running again, leaving the ancient capital of Nara behind and heading to the massive modern metropolis of Osaka. Our hotel was located smack dab in the middle of Dotombori, the entertainment and shopping district with literally hundreds upon hundreds of restaurants and shops.

Osaka's big draw for me was the food, with Takoyaki and Oconomiyaki originating here. As dusk fell, we headed out on a quest for dinner and to look at the dazzling array of signage trying to entice passers by to eat at THIS restaurant and try THIS dish... must be difficult to ply one's trade surrounded by so many competitors, but they've certainly got the volume to make a go of it.

We settled on a restaurant serving up Osaka's signature dishes with a twist and thoroughly enjoyed our meal of fried noodles, oconomiyaki and negiyaki. Afterwards, we wandered the streets a bit more before heading back to the hotel and turning in. This was to be my last night on duty as tour guide, Doris and Andre are on their own for the next two weeks as they travel to Hiroshima, Kyoto, Hakone and Tokyo. Good luck!

So here I am on the Shinkansen, at the end of yet another bit of travelling in Japan. Went back to some places I'd been to before (Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Yougendou, Osaka) and saw some new things as well (Tsumago and Magome). This trip also helped focus my interests for our next trip to Japan, assuming my habit of buying a train pass and doing a 7 day trip every time continues. I will probably end up back at Yougendou again the next time, using it as a base to check out the Kinki region a bit more. I've visited 2 of the 3 "famous" views of Japan, may well do the 3rd the next time around. I may also head further west, and check out Shikoku or Kyushu. I haven't see anything along the north-eastern coast of the country either, so there are still lots of options open to me.

Now, time to head back home, hug my dear wife and son and chill out for a bit. Going to have to start making plans to see some people before we leave, though the parties do seem to plan themselves. We're just about at the halfway mark of our trip, 2 more weeks to go.


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