After arriving at Kyoto station we went through a moment of confusion and disorientation that has become standard procedure every time we move to a new place. We needn't have worried, however, as the hotel was about three minutes directly left of the station, which was handy. It was a nice place by the standards we've become accustomed to and is probably the nicest hotel we've stayed at so far, which really isn't saying much. It's average by anyone else's standards but I became a convert as soon as I saw the tea making facilities. The city itself was, at first glance, incredibly disappointing. Every modern building that greets you as you walk out of the station is ugly, square and grey, but it turned out that all we had to do was pick a direction to walk in or get on a bus and it wasn't be long before we found a massive temple, park or little secluded shrine that had no business being planted in the middle of a city that size.
On our first night all we had time to do was go for a bit of a wander. As expected the metro was a model of Japanese efficiency, and we took it to the main street to begin our search for a supposedly picturesque alley nearby where we'd read that Geisha's could sometimes be found. Obviously we got lost first, but that allowed us to explore parts of the area we'd have missed otherwise, such as a couple of small shrines and a cemetery in the middle of two large shopping arcades. We eventually found this street of dreams and it was like stepping back in time a few hundred years. The street was narrow, the houses all lit by lanterns and it really didn't feel like we were in the middle of a bustling, modern city.
The next day we went on a major temple tour, starting at Nijojo Castle. The place has an eerily squeaky floor that was apparently deliberately worked into the design so the Shogun could hear intruders. All the temples we visited, some of them massive tourist attractions and some not, were incredibly beautiful and varied enough to stay interesting for the whole day. To break the monotony of getting the bus everywhere we decided to walk from one temple to another of the more famous ones. The map pointed to a specific trail, enigmatically called the "Path of the Philosopher", which sounded very exciting. Once we arrived, however, it turned out the the Path of the Philosopher was in actual fact a small dirt trail behind some houses. The temple at the end had a wonderfully kept garden, but the main building was under repair.
We continued temple hopping the following day, taking the bus around the outskirts of the city to the more impressive places. The Golden Pavilion is quite spectacular and was packed with tourists (everyone here is American and I can't work out why). In the afternoon we went to another two shrines which had no entrance fee and fewer tourists which made the experience more satisfying. Jacqui finally fulfilled her wish to be photographed with a real life Geisha during our visit to Tenryuji temple, but almost blew it. The poor girl had obviously come to view the gardens (which, again, were spectacular) and relax before an appointment, but flipped back into showbiz mode as soon as she was asked to pose for a photo. Jacqui was annoyed that she didn't get a photo of her with the Geisha, but in the end it didn't matter as we met another on our way out. Granted, it was in the car park and the resulting photo with cars and gravel in the background didn't quite capture the Kyoto charm, but it was better than nothing.
Our final temple excursion was to Kiyomizu, which was located further than I thought up a hill that was steeper than I had bargained for. It's one of the more visually impressive places in Kyoto, not least because of the view you get of the city from being that high up. We stayed long enough to get some good photos before being forced back down the hill by an onslaught of hundreds of loud American tour groups all arriving at once, which had a small negative effect on the ambiance of the place. That evening we returned to the lantern-lit traditional street and ate in a small restaurant there, complete with sliding wooden door and no shoes rules, and was probably the best meal we've had in Japan so far.
We rounded off our stay in Kyoto with a quick visit to Tojo temple in the morning before catching our train. It's apparently the tallest pagoda in Japan, but the real fun was throwing the remains of our lunch into the lake at its base, where they were fought for in a pitched battle between masses of huge carp and a number of turtles, who lost quite miserably.