This is Kyoto

Speaking of not being able to lie in the grass, 10 minutes after starting to cycle this morning I found grass. And plenty of it, all along the riverside. It's still not the 'real' grass, cause it's not nearly thick enough, but still. It's close.

Look, it's grass! Kyoto is so green.

I started off my day by zigzagging my way to the other side of Kyoto. I ended up near Kinkakuji, the golden pavillion. It was still quite early in the morning, so I figured I might as well take a look. It's not golden week yet, and it was early, so I was hoping to find the place quite empty. I could not have been more wrong. There were at least six tour busses full of annoying school children, screaming and running all over the place. The very young children were just playing and running around, but the middle school children just stood there looking annoyed, following their teacher around, taking photos whenever the teacher tells them they should. Must be pretty boring for them. As a big scary foreigner I am mostly ignored by all the boys (except for the occasional scary look or rapid step-out-of -the-way when I approach). The girls start screaming and yelling 'HARRO!!! HARRO!!!'. Yay, I'm back to being a stereotype again.

Every tourist takes this picture. Meh.

Getting the hell out of kinkakuji I asked a random person where I could find my real goal: Arashiyama. There's supposedly a mountain just outside of Kyoto which offers a great view of the city, and also has a monkey park. In other words: monkey mountain! It turns out I had to cycle 30 minutes to get there, but the route was amazing. Beautiful nature, great landscapes and wonderful buildings along the way. I'd say that the road between the golden pavillion and Arashiyama is a must-see if you're tired of temple-tripping in the inner city. Really great.

Peace and quiet on the way to the stormy mountain.

I did take a wrong turn in the end and climbed the wrong mountain, which went remarkably easy without luggage (which I had left at the hostel). When I asked for directions a guy told me I could either go back down the mountain and around it, or climb a little further and go over it. I went on climbing, but it turns out the guy failed to mention that the only way to go down at the other end of the mountain was by taking the stairs... Well, stubborn as I am I carried my bicycle about 50 steps down. Ha!


This area was again amazing. A river surrounded by forest and mountains appeared in view. I took a lot of photos in this area which I must share some day. I cycled along the riverside for a while until I could go no further, and then went back to find the monkey park. Well, the monkey mountain was just awesome. I'll show some photos instead of ranting on.

Monkey get close

This guy was busy taking a picture of a monkey far away when this other monkey just walked up to him and sat down next to him.

LOTS of monkeys! - getting fed.
They beg for food like this
..and they eat a lot on days like today.
The family together
Monkey play
Monkey scratches balls

After the monkey park I zigzagged my way back to the river near the youth hostel, and stayed there for a while until the sun set. A very relaxing day, I must say.

I will process this later, I promise.

Some thoughts about Kyoto:

  • There are a LOT of foreigners. Big scary foreigners that make loud noises all the time.
  • There are a LOT of (Japanese) tourists. Tiny loud school children that talk in annoying accents all the time.
  • Kyoto's city center is surprisingly ugly. You really have to go out of your way to find an interesting neighborhood to random around in, otherwise it looks just like any other Japanese city.
  • Despite that, I really really like Kyoto. I said before that I liked Wakayama, but I admire Kyoto. It's different somehow.
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Today was one of those days that starts out simple, and then gradually changes into something unexpected. My plan for today was to fix my bicycle's gears, which have been behaving wonky for about a week. I can't use my highest gear at the front. I decided to fix it myself, so armed with a bunch of tools and a positive attitude I walked towards my bicycle. Thirty minutes later I gave up. I went to the bicycle shop at the other end of Atsugi, and a boy no older than 14 fixed the problem in less than 10 minutes. And charged me 1500 yen for it. Well, serves me right for not trying harder, I guess.

Since I was at the other end of town anyway I decided to take the scenic route back with my now-fixed bicycle. A long time ago, when I still cycling regularly for exercising purposes, I used to have two favorite routes. One of them was the flat straight road towards the seaside, and the other route would take me towards the mountains, going over a fairly large hill (twice)  and then back to Atsugi alongside a small river. The second route is way shorter but much harder because of the differences in height. It's also much more scenic. And, as I found out today, also a lot of fun to drive in winter.

This image shows my favorite hill in Atsugi. It's a nice long downhill, starting from an industrial and residential area suddenly opening up into a small countryside valley that suddenly comes into view right after the downhill starts. After you reach the bottom you still have enough speed left to turn left and follow the road, which zigzags and goes down a bit more right after that. It's quite refreshing, but don't take my word for it, watch the video instead.

Since I was feeling exploratory today I decided not to take the normal route back after crossing the first mountain. Instead I explored the area for a way towards OoYama, the really big mountain, which I knew was possible by looking at Google Earth. Eventually, after cycling uphill for a ghastly long time, I reached the highest point, and proceeded downhill through a very tiny tunnel, finally passing the second mountain that I wanted to cross.

The tunnel exit was quite steep, and my speed was high, so when I suddenly noticed a monkey crossing the road a mere 50 meters in front of me I hastily tried to brake as hard as I could. I didn't hit the monkey of course, but I did manage to follow it up a hill and shot a couple of pictures before it disappeared. As I was standing on the hill I noticed another monkey running across a field at the opposite end of the road. I never knew monkeys were this close to Atsugi, only 20 minutes away by bicycle. Brilliant!

Monkey bugger walking away from me!
monkey monkey monkey
Field monkey watch out!

I walked around the area a bit, and shot some more photos. Somehow I don't feel like it's winter at all. Seems more like autumn to me. The trees might agree with me, cause a lot of them still have their leaves, or are only starting to lose them.

Middle of nowhere.
The monkey scene
Hidden mist village

I have to admit I was annoyed at my S90 today for not being fast enough. Taking it out of my pocket and waiting for it to start up takes too long. Waiting for focus takes too long. Adjusting the ISO takes way way way too long! It's so frustrating when you see the monkey disappear around a corner and your camera is still trying to focus.. Guess I should've brought my 50D. I also got a chance to try out the iContrast mode on the S90. It seems to work well in exactly the kind of situation as shown below. I can't speak for other situations though, and I still suspect it might make the image worse if there's not a lot of dynamic range in the picture.

Just imagine, all of this wouldn't have happened if I was able to fix my bicycle myself! :D

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