Once we arrived, we were straight into a full day of sight-seeing!
Kinjakuji Temple (also known as the Golden Pavillion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto. The top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. It was burned down in the past by a monk (the reason is unsubstantiated) and cost $7.1million to rebuild! Nijo Castle is a flatland (one level) palace including the Ninomaru Palace, ruins of the Honmaru Palace and several BEAUTIFUL gardens! Throughout these gardens, it is said that there are over 1000 rocks that are strategically and specifically placed! The interior of the palace is vast, beautifully decorated in Japanese art and royal family emblems! Shoes are not allowed to be worn (your toes get very cold without socks!) and the floorboards are built in a strategic fashion so that they creak (it sounds identical to wild birds chirping!! No joke!) and this technique was intentionally used to warn the residence of people coming and going throughout the building… i.e intruders or unexpected guests! There are many many rooms in this palace.. All without furniture, yet all with a specific use! There were many rooms where only the main samurai warrior was allowed (with the exclusion of his female maids and wife).
We then explored the Gion District before a free night to explore.
The Gion District is definitely a must-see! If you have read "Memoirs of a Geisha", the picture and ambience painted by the book are definitely representative of the real Gion District. Geikko and Meikko roam around the streets here in the plenty! A lot of visitors dress up as Geishas here to get photos, however the REAL Geikko and Meikko begin to come out at night time, and the difference between the real-deal and a costume is very very obvious as the traditional Geikko/Meikko have every every single aspect of their outfit, bow, hair placed with perfection and care. As our Contiki manager said "you will KNOW the difference"…
Our last night in Japan was spent in Osaka!
A city that is so busy, alive and energetic (day and night!) that it reminds me a lot of Vegas!
There are a lot of shops and crazily busy malls to lose yourself in (literally lose yourself!), which isn't really my scene at all but there are also hidden Green Smoothie shops hidden amongst the crowds, as well as picturesque walks outside along quiet canals to retreat to for a hit of vitamin D!
And what better way to celebrate our Contiki Japan adventure with a last traditional dinner - long, flat, inbuilt-stoves in the table carried our feast of veggies, a selection of noodles, stir fries, meats, tofus and sashimi! There was also a crazy savoury concoction referred to as a type of "pancake" made with cabbage, noodles, pork and flour in a teriyaki sauce. Dessert was a zesty, fresh gelato. After dinner celebrations continued on in Karaoke bars and nightclubs in this crazily energetic 24hr city!