Last month I took a trip to Kyoto to visit my friend Laura who`s studying at the university there. I had worked the Saturday before so I had the Friday off as a substitute holiday and I got the train down to Kyoto on Thursday evening. I`m very lucky that Kansai is so accessible from Kanazawa, it takes 2 hours 20 minutes to get to Kyoto and costs about 6,000 each way which is very reasonable. Kanazawa is currently not linked to the shinkansen network but it`s in the process of being connected and I think it`s due to open in 2014. I just hope they don`t get rid of the Thunderbird Limited Express.
I didn`t have any definitive plans for what I wanted to do, I had thought of taking a day trip to Nara to see some of the temples, but instead I ended up going to a music festival in the mountains on Saturday and Sunday. Laura had a university trip to an elementary school on Friday that I unfortunately couldn`t go along to, so she lent me her bicycle and I cycled along the river to Arashiyama, which is famous for its bamboo groves and monkeys. I didn`t get around to seeing the bamboo, but I did see the monkeys and the beautiful river scenery. It took about half an hour to cycle along the river, and I would definitely recommend it as a way to travel around, although you do have to be careful when the cycle paths reconnect with the roads and you`re in great danger of being knocked down. The bridges are the worst areas because sometimes there`s just no clear way to cross the road. But it was refreshing to get out to the residential areas where it was quiet. I stopped off at a convenience store on the way to get some lunch and I had a little picnic in a park beside the river.
I went to see the monkeys in Iwatayama which is a park within which Japanese macaques roam freely. It was my first time to see these monkeys, although many people I know went to Nagano during the winter to see the monkeys that escape the cold of the snow by hanging out in hot springs. When I first entered the park at the foot of the mountain, I still had my plastic bag from lunch (because bins in Japan are few and far between) and the lady explained that if the monkeys see plastic bags they assume it`s full of food and they snatch it off visitors, so she gave me a handbag to put it in. The 10 min hike up the mountain was pleasant, and when you get to the summit you have a great view out over Kyoto and get to see tens of monkeys wandering about, minding their own business unless someone wants to give them food.
Togetsukyo (Moon Crossing) Bridge is the most visible landmark in Arashiyama. It was originally built during the Heian Period (794-1185) but this version dates from the 1930s. On the southern bank of the river there is a gravel park with seats to sit and look at/paint the view. On the northern bank are tourist shops and restaurants. The weather was beautiful and it wasn`t too busy that day, probably because it was a weekday. When I left the monkey park, I met up with Laura at the bridge and we wandered around the riverside. The light was really beautiful, and I cycled back along the river as the sun was setting.