This is the second part of our adventures in Kyoto, have you already checked the first one (Japan: The temples of Kyoto)?
Aside from the temples, Kyoto is amazing for the traditional neighborhood in the city center: Gion. The buildings and streets date from the middle age, and have remained exactly as in its origin thanks to (somehow) have managed to avoid the bombs from the 2nd world war. That is the reason that Kyoto is possibly the Japanese city with most original historic buildings and art. The most famous street in Gion is Hanami-koji dori because it is the middle street of the Geisha’s tea houses area, and is where you can spot them quite frequently.
This part of Gion appears in a 1953 movie called “The sisters of Gion” that we had the chance to watch in the Filmoteca de Catalunya movie theater in Barcelona a few months back. Every corner in Gion looks exactly in the movie as when we were there and the same atmosphere is created, so it was great to be there for a second time through the moving images.
There are three parts we consider as Gion (that may not be very precise but is how we felt it): one is the Hanami-koji dori surroundings, another one is Pontocho (a single street next to the river, one of the top visits in Kyoto) and the last one is Gionmachi or the east of the river, where our hotel Mume was located!
Although all the guides recommended to stay next to the train station (because is where all the bus lines start and/or stop) we had the hunch that it would be better for us to stay in the city center to have all the restaurants and places of interest within a walking distance. That’s how we started to look at more centric locations in tripadvisor, and that’s when we found the loveliest hotel called Mume.
The Mume is a 7-rooms hotel, at the east of the river, next to what the enchanting staff called “the lovely area” (and indeed it is!). The hotel has been carefully decorated in a Chinese style, each room has a name of a flower and its decoration is inspired by its characteristics or smell. We were in the Karasuuri room which is a white delicate flower in China and is sometimes used also for medical purposes. The Mume has the most thoughtful staff and its proprietary is a charming hostess, she looked up the scientific name of the flower for us which is trichosanthes cucumeroides in case you are curious about it :)
Our room was cozy (we booked the small one), the bed was comfortable and the bathroom had the most amazing Japanese toilet (and you sure know how incredible they are :P) we saw during our trip (even the Conrad hotel toilet was of a slightly less category).
Breakfasts were one of the best things about the Mume, they homemade jams and bread in addition to the fruit salad, boiled egg and veggie soup. They asked you everyday your breakfast time for the next day to be able to have the food prepared just in time, it was such a treat! The food was amazing, you can tell by the pictures! And it was perfect because it allowed us to have a light lunch and then have a good dinner in the evening
Another luxury treat of the Mume was that they offered free drinks (and snacks) for their guests every afternoon. In Kyoto everything is closed at 6pm, and until dinner time at 8pm we had a gap to refresh, change clothes and have a little snack at the hotel. During that time we also seize the opportunity to both look for a nice place to have dinner and to prepare the route for the next day. We had the help of the staff for searching for good restaurants, which was a key for our stay in Kyoto. I found quite difficult to discern between restaurants (and even know if it was in fact a Geishas tea house), and that’s why their recommendations were important. We just had to told them which type of food we were in the mood for and they always came with a recommendation, the address and picture of the door (I told you it may quite difficult, so they made sure we did not get lost).
Thanks to them we had the most amazing meals of the whole trip! We ate in two excellent Izakayas (similar to a tapas restaurant) called Manzara and Yorozu Enraku, a yakitori place in Pontocho called Wabiya Koreki Do, an okonomiyaki called Tanto and the most incredible Yakiniku restaurant: Hiro. We always include eating as part of the experiences of travelling, and because we are very much in love with Japanese food, our Kyoto stay was probably the best gastronomic experience we’ve ever had out of Barcelona.
For its historic city, the lovely stay at the Mume, seeing Maikos and Geishas every night, walking in the most wonderful paving, and the excellent restaurants, Kyoto quickly won our hearts :)
Taxis in Gion have a heart sign to show if it is available or not. Such a cute detail!
The red door of the Mume hotel. The first day we couldn’t see the ring bell (which is quite hidden If I may say) and we knocked directly in the door, oops :)
Breakfast was one of the highlights of our stay in the Mume hotel. It consisted of 3 types of homemade breads and jams, croissants, a fruit salad, a boiled egg, a veggie soup, a fresh fruit juice and coffee or tea latte (yummy!)
Afternoon snacks, planning the next day!
We were seated (shoeless) in the counter and had the most exquisite traditional lady eating next to us, that I had only seen in old japanese movies. Restaurants in Kyoto are more traditional than in Tokyo and they always request to take off the shoes.
Name of the food and prices in kanas in the menu of a traditional Izakaya. Luckily you can leave it to them to recommend the most popular dishes from the menu.
Tastiest soup I’ve ever eaten, it was made with a local cereal (sorry we can’t remember the name!).
Maguro (fresh tuna) avocado tartar.
Chefs or waiters “waved” you goodbye until you were out of their sight (turn the corner) until then, they constantly bowed to you (I blushed a little every time!)
Our planning agenda next to that day’s handmade jams. The agenda was a birthday present from our friends Albert+Anna (thanks guys!)
Kyoto has an impressive feudal castle. It is specially incredible the Ninomaru Palace with its “nightingale floors”; the sound of the floors, which remind to the bird chant, alerted the emperor of the presence of a ninja intruder.
Changing film rolls in the LC-A+ from b&w to slide. It is like an open gate to the unknown ;)
A very solemn taxi driver waiting for a Geisha in front of a tea-house.
*edit: We have learned, thanks to a flickr comment, that she is called Ayano-san and that she was a Maiko back then. Thanks for the info!
Only half of the commands of the japanese toilet, on top there were a few more options. It made you feel powerful :) (just kidding… kinda)