I had a wonderful time in Kyoto, but I actually write this from an internet cafe in Hiroshima where I have somehow ordered a private room with a leather recliner and huge screen, the chair is doing a weird massage thing and is making me uncomfortable.
We travelled by Shinkansen from Hakone to Kyoto and arrived in the evening, after checking into yet another swanky western hotel - I miss the Ryokan - we all went out for a meal together and I had my first sake (cold). I got a decent night's sleep while getting to know my Canadian roommate better and in the morning we visited Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple); one of Kyoto's - nay, Japan's - biggest attractions. It was SCORCHING hot. It was really good, some of the photos captured the peace in the garden but in reality we joined a circle of tourists and followed the crowd. Following that we went to a Buddhist Zen Garden which, without going into much detail, are like dry landscapes that represent stillness and a peaceful state of mind. We headed out for some noodles and I practised my Japanese asking unnecessary questions, and then headed for Gion district which is very popular for Geisha.
We all split up and me and a few others did some Geisha - for want of a better word - hunting. At first we realized how difficult it would be to spot one but after Victoria turned on her radar and we got the hang of the technical stuff (chasing taxis and going down narrow streets) we were onto them. The first one I saw came out of a door right next to us and froze me, Greg had quick reactions and got a picture. Not long after that they just didn't stop coming - it's not so fun when it's easy -, but there was only one we saw who was nice enough to stand and pose; the rest were very swift getting to their appointments and a few seemed quite annoyed at all the tourists. Eventually we were all satisfied and set off to find an electronics store for our various needs, in the process I "accidentally" lost the others and ended up alone in the city, I went to an underground McDonalds and then took a long, many-wrong-turn journey back to the hotel.
In the (ugh, early) morning we set out to visit some more temples, including Fushimi Inara which is famous for appearing in 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and has many, many, many Torii gates lined up in a row, it's really something. My feet were falling off from the day before but I persevered and made it to the end of a - for me - incredibly long hike, up thousands of steps to the shrine at the top, which we later found out wasn't the top (but we say it was). On the way down a few of us took the wrong turn and ended up in a rainforest quite a few miles off the outskirts of Kyoto, but it turned out to be a nice off-the-beaten track experience and we eventually made it back to the city.
I think I'll come back here when I'm by myself after the tour, it's a really nice place.