We had one last full day in Kyoto and decided to not pack it too tightly. We did make it to a castle, a garden, and had some really good tempura for dinner.
A couple subway trains got us to Nijo Castle, the creation of which was ordered by Tokugawa Ieyasu and completed by Tokugawa Iemitsu (whose shrines we saw in Nikko). The Tokugawa shoguns resided here while in Kyoto, even though they used Edo as the capital city. The castle has both an outer and inner wall and moat.
After getting our tickets from the kiosk and going past the ticket-takers, we passed through was Higashi-ote-on, the Great Eastern Gate, which was under renovation. In addition, the guard house just past it was also covered up and being worked on.
We were able to tour Niomaru Palace between the two fortifications (Honmaru Palace, within the inner keep, was closed to visitors). Nimoaru Palace is built as a series of reception chambers linked together. The higher ranking you were, the further into the palace you would be received. The very wide floorboards were pretty squeaky as we walked on them, and that was by design to help prevent against sneak attacks; those were the uguisubari or nightingale floors. At the very back was shiroshoin, the shogun's quarters.
The tour guards were extremely gentle when trying to correct people. Upon entering Niomaru Palace, you're supposed to take your shoes off before stepping onto the platform before storing your shoes in the cubbies. When someone stepped onto it first, the guard reminded him in a calm tone that shoes weren't allowed there. She repeated it a couple seconds later, and his companions realized what was happening and got his attention. Inside, a tourist was taking pictures, and that guard said she was sorry, but the taking of pictures wasn't allowed.
The path took us next through the Niomaru Garden, with its pond which had impressive stonework all around. Then onto a bridge over a moat which took us into the inner keep, where we were able to walk up to the donjon. That's the main tower of the castle which gave us a good view of Honmaru Palace, as well as the inner moat. We then exited the inner keep, meandering around the north side of the castle back to the exit.
We still had some time, so we decided to try to head to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. On the way, we spotted an ice cream store. Of course, we went in, even though it was 11am (call it travel privilege, or if that doesn't convince you, it was 7pm at home).
Kyoto Gyoen Gardens
Refreshed, we took the short walk to Kyoto Gyoen, the park which contains the Kyoto Imperial Palace. We weren't sure whether we were going to actually go inside the palace, but we decided to at least take a look. When we got there, we glanced at the garden map and made a plan for exploring it.
The first thing that struck us was the very wide main gravel paths. There were no fallen leaves on them, no weeds in them. A lot of work must go into maintaining them. However, there are some places where the gravel is missing in smooth arcs; those are where bikes continuously go and have made their own paths.
Our first destination was Sento Palace and the garden there. We noticed on the map that there was a wall around it, but we found the gate, which appeared to be closed. There was a sign saying that it opened a couple hours later and that people needed to get admission tickets; only 36 were available. With that limitation and the timing, we decided to move on. As we started walking, they opened the gates, but we couldn't see very much inside. Next up was the Imperial Palace.
It appeared that the main entrance was located on the south side, but that was completely closed off. We walked around the west side and did find the gate. In the past, you had to also get tickets for the palace, but now you don't need to. Reading ahead, we knew that we needed to purchase tickets to see the garden, which would have been the main thing to look at, but we decided to move along and stroll through the north garden.
There was a kid's playground in the north garden, and it was fun to see parents and kids playing there. We went around that to a pond, which was a very serene location. Turning around, there was a heron which seemed wary rather than scared of the person trying to give it something to eat. It slowly approached, and the person eventually tossed the food and the heron happily picked it up and started eating.
Speaking of eating, we were ready for lunch. The subway station was right there, so we took it straight south to Kyoto Station and went into the Porta mall. We found a place selling boxes and picked up one that looked like poke on rice and another that looked like a simple chirashi. We ended up spending about $11 for the two of us, less than we were used to spending for a lunch.
We kept meaning to try the bakery near the hostel, and since we had plenty of time in the afternoon, we decided to go straight there. We picked up some rolls for breakfast and a couple pieces for dessert. It was a really nice place that had a pretty good variety for the small space.
After dropping the pastries off at our room, we went a couple blocks west to walk by Nishi-Honganji Temple. We had heard of this one because Melody has a friend whose family worships there. We found it, but it was closed; we did get to admire the front gate, though. We walked down an alley which was a more direct route back to the hostel, and at a couple points there were doors open so we would be able to see inside the wall, but each time someone was there to close the door.
The rest of the afternoon was spend relaxing and planning how we would be managing our time in Miyajima. There are several options, and we laid out a general plan, thinking that once we get there and visit the shrine, we would have a better idea of the layout. We'll also be able to get advice from the people at the hostel there.
For our last dinner in Kyoto, we went back to Porta, but this time to a tempura restaurant which looked like it had pretty reasonable prices. I got a selection of pieces over rice, while Melody got a different selection that was served on a platter in the middle of the table. Her meal also came with chawanmushi, which she had never had before.
Upon returning to the hostel, we went into the kitchen to have our dessert, and the woman from Lynnwood we had met the previous night was there, as well as another woman from Argentina. We sat and chatted quite a bit; she's from Malaysia, but after living 35 years in the U.S. and being married to a caucasian man, her Chinese has atrophied. She was in Malaysia with her sister before she arrived in Japan and said it was hard to communicate since her sister doesn't speak English. She said she could understand some things, at least.
With that, we did some initial packing and turned in for the night.