Good eats of real taste
We tried to take it easy for the day. We planned to go to Kiyomizudera, one of the top 5 sites in everybody's lists. It was very beautiful, but it was also under construction, so it wasn't as cool as it could have been. It was also a much farther and steeper walk than we were expecting.
We saw an 11 story stone pagoda (which was way smaller than we were expecting), a beautiful forest, and a large shrine.
On the way back we bought honey and sesame ice cream (tasty), a kimono for Alison (which was purple), and we stopped at Fushimi Inari and got a gift for Andrea.
We couldn't find one for Sara.
ThursdayWe packed up and left our apartment for the final time and left our luggage in a coin locker for the last day that we spent in Kyoto. We went to Kinkakuji and saw the golden pavilion (which is actually plated in gold (apparently some people have nothing better to do with their money than use it as siding)). While there we ate a 'Coolish', which is a milk shake in a pouch that was sold from an ice cream vending machine.
We also went to Ryoanji and saw a rock garden (which (apparently to some people) looks like a mother tiger carrying her baby across a river, but which looked to me like a pirate treasure map). We got ramen from a roadside stand up ramen counter near Nishiki market. It was excellent and inexpensive. We also got some soybean molasses doughnuts and weird jelly candies.
In the evening we went back to pick up our luggage and we waited for our bus to Niigata. As we waited we saw that there was a fast food joint called 551 Horai which always had a line out the door for quite a while. We figured that it must be good, so we went in and got some pork filled steamed buns there. They were excellent. Japanese mustard is weird.
If you ever see a 551 Horai anywhere I would encourage you to 'Have good eats of real taste'.
FridayWe arrived in Niigata (we took a night bus, so we arrived first thing in the morning) and checked our luggage into the hotel. We went to a nearby park and waited for an open air market to open up (apparently things don't start around here until about noon).
All of the cherry trees were blooming (Niigata is more northerly than Kyoto) and they are beautiful. We watched them, and the birds, and the turtles in the pond (all Japanese gardens have ponds, and all ponds have koi and turtles). Finally the market opened and we got two different unknown food items which we think were both versions of okunomiyaki, but we're not sure. They tasted good, anyway. While we were waiting, we got a "banana choooo," which is a banana on a stick dipped in strawberry shell with sprinkles. That was fun.
Finally it was time to check into the hotel so we went back. Apparently the bus was not restful enough, because we both fell asleep.
SaturdayWe had intended to go to Sado island, but it was going to cost OVER 9000 yen (about 100 dollars) and we had to catch the boat at 6 am, so we decided it wasn't worth it. Instead we tried to figure out the bus schedule so that we could go to church tomorrow. In Kyoto, everything was labeled in English. Here, we were lost. Luckily, we found a woman in the tourist information center who spoke English and talked to the bus company for us. So now we think we can go to church tomorrow. Fingers crossed! (About church last week: we got there just fine, 5 minutes early, and no one ever showed up. We think they were watching General Conference in their homes.)
Then we had sushi and tempura. It was very good and surprisingly inexpensive. We're hoping to have counter-top ramen and sushi (maybe conveyor-belt sushi) again before we leave. But tomorrow we're just eating bread and dried ramen noodles and things, because it's Sunday. They have grocery stores in train stations here, so you can do your shopping on the way home. Very convenient.
In the afternoon, we went to an onsen. For those of you who do not know, an onsen is a Japanese hot spring public bath house. There are often two or more pools of water at an onsen - usually they divide it by gender so that the men bathe in one pool and the women in another (they build partitions around the pools, but they are in the open air). These pools are for bathing, and ordinarily when you go in to one you have to be naked (some unusual onsen allow bathing suits, but most Japanese people think that bathing suits will dirty the water).
The onsen that we went to was a naked onsen. It was also mixed-gender. We really wanted to go to an onsen, but the nudity part was a bit too much, so we rented a private bath for just the two of us. It was out away from the rest of the onsen, so we didn't even see the group bathing area. The water was very clean and had minerals dissolved in it that are supposed to be good for your skin and for sickly children. It was very relaxing. Reminded me of back in washington when we had a hot tub in our back yard. We soaked and talked and got out in the brisk air (it is nice and chilly up in Niigata - nothing like back at home). We decided that we need a hot tub at home. It was wonderful.
After we were done we went shopping at the aforementioned grocery store in the train station. we got stuff for dinner tonight as well (a private room at an onsen is not over 9000 yen, but it is fairly expensive anyway, so we decided that sushi + onsen = having to eat a really cheap dinner). Cup-O-Ramen it is.
After dinner we made a furuche, a japanese dessert that we saw at the grocery store. It said "Let's make dessert with milk" on the sign in the store. Following the instructions as best as we could translate them: we added a cup of cold milk to the syrup, stirred it in the shape of a yen until it became creamy, and then ate it. It coagulated really fast, and ended up as some sort of pudding, but it was very tasty. After typing that last sentence Alison and I went online until we found a recipe for making the pudding at home (if your home happens to be an industrial strength food manufacturing plant). Apparently it is a lightly gelled amidated pectin fruit dessert.
Perhaps we need to buy some stuff so that we can reproduce this thing at home.