Tour de Kyoto

Tuesday, April 3, 2017

Here’s the thing about going to bed at 2 pm, you wake up at 2 am the next day wide awake.  At least Carly and Neil did.  I made it to 5 am.  It was clear that Carly and Neil were itching to start the day, so I dragged my ass out of our side-by-side double beds and we ripped some early morning sake shots.  Because, vacation.  We may not be on a boat, but apparently the yacht-week mentality lingers.  We were out the door by 6 am for a stroll around the Gion district, which was beautiful in the early morning, sans the hordes of tourists fighting for pictures of cherry blossoms and geishas.  We even ran into a beautiful old wooden temple that we enjoyed all to ourselves.  As we strolled along the river, we continued our morning binge drinking with more sake and beer.  By this point it was almost 7 am so the natural progression of morning drinking dictates that it was time for champagne.

We attempted to find champagne yesterday, but the liquor stores are open from 6 pm to 4 am and apparently that time frame now coincides with our fucked-up sleeping schedule.  We looked in about four 7-11’s before we finally found one at the Kyoto station with some champagne.  FYI – 7-11’s and similar sized mini-marts are the lifeblood of Japan.  They are on every corner and sell pretty much everything you could possibly need, from sushi to champagne.  Carly bravely tried the 7-11 sushi for breakfast and declared it delicious, so you’ll have to take her word on this one. We bought a bottle of champagne and drank it on the roof of the Kyoto station.  Then we bought another bottle and drank it while people watching.

I think now would be a good time to mention that we are pre-partying for a five-hour bike tour around Kyoto.  Four hours of drinking prior to riding a bike around a crowded city for five hours can’t possibly end badly, right?  We arrived at the Cycle Kyoto office where we met our tour guide – a congenial middle-aged Frenchman named Thierry, and our fellow bike tour mates.  Mo and Brad, a couple from Seattle, seemed to be very much on the same page with us as far as biking under the influence.  It was clear we were going to get along.  The other two on the tour were Nancy and Vicki, a mother daughter duo from NYC.  For the record, Nancy’s name is actually Raquel.  We just call her Nancy because Neil referred to her “Nazi” all day long and because of his adorable accent I thought he was saying “Nancy”, and I therefore spent the entire day thinking her name was legitimately Nancy.  When we asked Nancy what she did for a living, she replied that she is “an academic”.  Oh, it gets better.  Nancy/Raquel chooses to only speak in Spanish with her adopted Chinese daughter despite the fact that they and everyone else on the tour speaks perfect English.  I could literally feel my eyes rolling every time she opened her mouth.  And away we go….

The bike tour started out innocently enough.  We made our way through the back streets of Kyoto, stopping first at the Honganji Temple where we unwittingly crashed a funeral and took more sake to the face.  Then it was on to the Kitano Tenmangu temple where we posed for selfies among the cherry blossoms in the Japanese zen garden.  Our third stop was a temple I can’t remember the name of, but I do remember Neil getting yelled at for laying shirtless on the sacred grounds in an attempt to get a tan.  Talk about living your best life.  We also continued to drink sake and beer out of water bottles in the blistering sun at each stop.  By this point the weather was starting to really heat up and the tourists were out in full force.  We biked on to the Golden Pavilion, which is an aggressively popular temple in North Kyoto that is completely covered in gold leaf.  It’s also completely covered in tourists. Fucking hordes of them.  We parked our bikes and walked in to snap the obligatory Golden Pavilion selfie, after which we waited in a massive line of visitors to exit the gates.  At this point I was already tired and getting a little hangry, but I told myself that lunch was coming and there was only a few more hours left.  How wrong I was on both accounts.

We sweated in the sun until it was time to meet back up with the group and bike to our next stop – lunch!  Or so we thought. We first biked to a little store to pick up lunch, and then biked to the Imperial Palace.  The grounds surrounding the Palace were stunningly picturesque, covered in cherry blossoms providing shady areas with adorable little Japanese school children running around in matching uniforms.  It was the perfect spot to eat lunch, only we were not eating lunch there.  We were just stopping for a few pics before biking down to the Kamo River to eat.  I was hungry two stops ago, so needless to say this information did not thrill me. Nevertheless, I played nice and bit my tongue, as the expected end to our bike tour was drawing near.  We hauled our bikes down to the river and stopped to eat our bento boxes, which was basically fishy rice with a bunch of unidentifiable, but equally fishy accoutrements.  I had the vegetarian version, which means I had rice.  Just rice.  There isn’t enough rice in Japan to satisfy me after 9 hours of drinking and 4 hours on a bike.


I inhaled my rice and patiently waited for the rest of the group to finish their meals so we could head back to the bike office.  You all know my golden rule of activities while traveling – anything over 2 hours is just plain unnecessary.  And yet I continue to break this rule time and time again.  At this point Thierry informed us that we actually had a few more stops left, despite nearing the end time of the pre-defined schedule.  At this point I am tired, cranky and dragging ass.  I’m fucking over it.  Those of you who know me know that there is no hiding from the wrath a post-drunk bitchy and cranky Rory.  I spent the next hour almost killing multiple tourists and almost being killed by multiple cars as we biked through the shit show of tourism that is the Gion district.  All the while Nancy is up in front at every stop prolonging this madness by asking the most exhaustive questions you could possibly think of.  Time is up Nancy, google that shit.  I’m guessing she is going to make that poor little Chinese girl of hers write her a research paper on what she learned during her trip to Japan.  Because, you know, they are academics. Poor girl.

I think you get where I’m going with this.  The never-ending bike tour dragged ass all damn afternoon.  I basically through an adult hissy fit every time we stopped.  Carly tried to pretend like she didn’t know me.  Neil laughed at me.  At one point Nancy made a very unnecessary and awkward declaration about how easy it is to bike it Kyoto because it’s so flat.  Not after a four our pre-party Nance, so maybe get on my fucking level before you start judging my lack of athletic ability.

The tour finally came to an end.  We dropped off the bikes and flagged down a taxi within about 30 seconds.  For the second day in a row, I almost cried of exhausted happiness as I collapsed onto my bed.  It was nap time.  But don’t worry, we actually woke up this time.

We headed to an adorable Mediterranean restaurant that Carly found online called Gojo Paradiso.  After dinner the owner, a middle aged Israeli man, came to our table to chat with us and we ended up going a few rounds of sake with him.  We took this opportunity to get all of our geisha questions answered.  Our bike tour guide told us that men pay thousands of dollars for Geishas to entertain them with dancing or tea ceremonies.  I assumed this was all code for sexual favors, but apparently that is not the case.  As our Israeli friend explained to us, the whole Geisha thing is very cultural and based on the premise of being so painfully patient that sexual favors are not even necessary.  Whatever works, people.

This being our last night in Kyoto, we were determined to at least attempt a night out.  We headed out to the Pontocho district which is known for fun bars and clubs.  We somehow ended up at the world’s most pathetic karaoke bar, Bar Code. The people watching was epic, however the thick cloud of smoke made it impossible to enjoy.  Ok that’s a lie, I still thoroughly enjoyed a German girl’s drunken rendition of Spice Girls’ “Tell me what you want”.  I’ll leave you all with a picture of the top six karaoke songs at Bar Code.  As you can see from both the song choice and the smoking policy, this bar was basically a time machine to 2005.  We threw in the towel and headed home.

In the last two days we have biked 21 miles and walked 20 miles.  Carly and Neil are convinced that I have tricked them into a Japanese fat camp under the guise of a spring break trip.  I have promised them some relaxation tomorrow as we head to the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

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