Earthquake

The last few days have been very sad and very surreal. We’ve been travelling around Nepal for nearly a month, meeting many of the amazing local people and climbing some of the highest peaks. Nothing prepares you for an earthquake.

We were very fortunately in the best place – out in the open. After our climb to Annapurna Base Camp (which we will write about another time) we headed back to Nepal’s second-largest City, Pokhara for some R&R. We were very lucky that we had booked to go on a white water rafting trip which left Pokhara on Saturday morning.

We were just about to get into our raft on the Kali Gandaki river when the 7.8 quake struck. We were about 100-150km from the epicentre, about 3 hours north of Pokhara at the time. It felt completely surreal. The ground – which a minute before had been rock solid – felt like it had turned to jelly. Vehicles nearby were shaking from side to side and we saw lots of rocks falling from the cliffs down to the waters edge. I can honestly say it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

We felt an aftershock at our lunch spot, but it was only when we got to our camp for the night that we turned on our mobile phones and received worried messages from our families – that’s when we realised how bad it was.

The next day we went past several funerals being held on the riverbank (in Nepal they traditionally cremate the bodies of their dead next to the river) and that was a very sobering site.

We are definitely not in the worst-affected area so we haven’t witnessed that much damage. But almost everyone we’ve met knows someone who’s been affected. One of our guides on our rafting trip said his whole village – not far from Pokhara – had been completely destroyed. A young woman who works at the hotel where we’re staying in Pokhara is originally from the historic city of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley. Her family are ok but her home has been completely flattened.

Our thoughts are now with those who have died and the huge challenge the rescue teams face. Obviously Kathmandu has been badly affected, but some of the worst hit areas are actually remote mountainous villages, which rescue teams haven’t even reached yet. In many cases even helicopters can’t land. There are reports from a senior official in the Gorkha district, which was at the earthquake’s epicentre, that 70% of houses there have been destroyed.

Here in Pokhara, which hasn’t been badly affected, many people are choosing to camp outside instead of sleep in their homes or hotels. We did stay in our hotel last night, but I have to confess I didn’t get much sleep and I felt another tremor early this morning. Apparently it was 4.5 on the Richter Scale and it was worst felt near Kathmandu. I expect many people will be sleeping outside again tonight.

Since we got back to Pokhara, we’ve been reading every article we can get our hands on to find out the latest information. The United Nations estimates 8 million people have been affected. The latest figures show at least 4,400 people have died and more than 8,000 have been injured. But, officials are warning those numbers may rise dramatically as rescue teams reach some of the more remote mountainous regions, where it’s feared whole villages may have been buried in rockfalls.

As you can imagine it’s pretty devastating and there is a very sombre atmosphere in Pokhara. Rob & I are trying to work out the best way to help but as yet the rescue efforts seem very uncoordinated.

Thank you so much for all your kind messages. We will keep you posted.

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The ABC

After our week of ‘training’ with Jude & Simon, Rob & I were keen to do a longer trek. Along with Mum & Harry we took a travel-sick inducing minibus to Pokhara and stayed at The 3 Sisters Guesthouse. It’s owned and run by Lucky, Dicky and Nicky Chhetri, who are also pioneers in providing female trekking guides in the Himalayas. It’s a simple but very homely place and we ended up staying there on and off for about two weeks. Mum & Harry had a couple of days of their trip left so we explored the local highlights; hiking up to see the Peace Pagoda overlooking the lake and heading up to the little village of Sarangkot for sunrise, to see the incredible view of the Annapurna mountains. We waved Mum & Harry goodbye as they drove away to the airport in a typically tiny Nepali taxi. Rob and I were going to have to rely on each other’s company again…..;)

But we didn’t have time to dwell on their departure; the next day, we began our long hike to Annapurna Base Camp….!

Day 1: Phedi to Landruk (6 hours)
– there’s no easy start; the trail climbs steeply from Phedi to Dhampus, then up through forest to Pothana.
– we missed the views promised on the map as we climbed up to Pittam Deurali then down through Bhedi Kharka and Tolka, because the mist came down and it rained!
– stayed in Maya Guesthouse in the Gurung village of Landruk (1565m) where we were the only customers!
– spent the evening being tormented by the owner’s young daughter who kept showing off while we were eating; dancing on tables, etc – not very relaxing!

Day 2: Landruk to Chomrong (4 hours)
– set off before 7am and walked down to the river past grazing cows and jumping goats.
– crossed over the fast-flowing water on a very long, extremely rickety wooden bridge, before going through the hamlet of New Bridge.
– climbed steeply up to Jhinu, then up even higher to Chomrong (2140m) where we got a room at the International Guest House.
– met an Aussie lady called Judy who managed to scare us into thinking we weren’t prepared for the higher altitude!

Day 3: Chomrong to Dovan (5 hours)
– neither of us felt very well so it was a difficult and slow climb down to another river and then back up to Sinuwa.
– walked through a Bamboo forest to get to a village called Bamboo!
– we were made to feel stupid here by several guides who said it was really busy further up the trail (with one group of 44 people) and we should’ve booked a guide (!) to ensure we had a place to stay…!
– despite that we managed to get a room at the Tip Top Guesthouse in Dovan (2505m) which was good because it rained all afternoon.
– the staff insisted on showing WWF Wrestling on an ancient TV all evening!

Day 4: Dovan to Machapuchre Base Camp (5 hours)
– both woke up feeling horrendous but decided to get a bit further up the trail, especially as it was good weather.
– whizzed through the village of Himalaya, spotting monkeys en route and then surprisingly arrived at Deurali about an hour ahead of schedule (it was 10am).
– we bumped into a group of Malaysian doctors who we’d met the day before (Ana, Ana, May, Sheila & Puven) and decided to carry on to Machapuchre Base Camp, or MBC (3700m).
– after navigating some avalanche-prone gullies, we made it to MBC before the afternoon rain set in and stayed in the Ganga Purna Hotel.
– met a lovely Canadian girl called Hye-Yeon (originally from Korea) who gave us some antibiotics for our upset stomachs – the perfect traveller gift!

Day 5: Machapuchre Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp – then back to Dovan! (6.5 hours)
– the big day had arrived; we set the alarm for 4.45am and set off for Annapurna Base Camp, known as ABC (joined by Hye-Yeon and two Swiss girls called Jasmine and Manwella).
– it was dark when we left but you could just see the shadow of the huge mountains surrounding us. The climb wasn’t that steep but difficult under foot; we mostly trekked on snow and ice.
– about halfway up we met a large group of male and female porters coming down – one was wearing flip-flops so we couldn’t really complain!
– reached ABC (4,130m) at 6.45am and just in time to see a stunning view as the sun rose over Machapuchre (also known as the Fish Tail Mountain).
– we were surrounded by these incredible peaks with a natural amphitheatre (carved out of the rock by a glacier) below. Annapurna South and Annapurna 1 made a very brief appearance through the high clouds before the mist crept quickly up the valley. Within five minutes we found ourselves in a whiteout! But we’d seen what we came for, and we slipped and slid our way back down to MBC for a welcome bowl of porridge feeling on top of the world ๐Ÿ™‚
– the adrenalin helped us to trek on down the trail and we arrived at Dovan again by early afternoon, not quite escaping the rain…!

Day 6: Dovan to Ghurjung (6 hours)
– around the communal breakfast table, one Nepali guy insisted on telling us about every person who’d died doing the ABC trek. I’m extremely glad we didn’t meet him on the way up!
– unscathed, we set off with Hye-Yeon to Bamboo, then down through Sinuwa, before climbing up the very steep and long flight of stone steps to Chomrong.
– we’d been dreaming about a so called ‘German Bakery’ there which sold real coffee, so that’s what we had as our hill-climb reward (along with a rather stodgy chocolate danish).
– said our goodbyes to our Canadian friend (what is it with us and Canadians?!) and turned right to Ghurjung, getting to the Green View Lodge in time for a late lunch.

Day 7: Ghurjung to Ghorepani (7 hours)
– we thought we’d done the hard bit but this was the most difficult day by far as we climbed up for about 6 hours!
– after about 2.5 hours we reached Tadapani and were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the mountains we’d been so close to a couple of days before.
– I had a bit of a sense of humour failure when the map proved to be inaccurate…!
– after going down and up through yet another valley we reached a seemingly never ending hill; up and up following a river and then along a ridge. Rob threw his poles out of the pram (!) but we eventually made it to the top and spotted Ghorepani ahead.
– collapsed thankfully with a welcome Dhal Bat at the Snowland Lodge.

Day 8: Ghorepani up to Poon Hill then down to Nayapul (6.5 hours)

– our ‘good nights sleep’ didn’t happen – mainly due to paper thin walls and a very noisy family!
– got up at 4am and walked up to Poon Hill (a local lookout point) to see the sunrise over the Annapurna region. Luckily the view was worth it, and we were down again in time for breakfast.
– we’d squeezed what could’ve been about four days into two and by this stage we were running on adrenalin and mars bars.
– it was 95% downhill today, which was a good contrast after the previous day, but our knees were not best pleased! We sped down the mountain trail and by the time we reached Nayapul we were fairly euphoric.
– really fancied a good meal to celebrate but after waiting an hour for food at one place, we gave up and settled for some dusty crisps and a bottle of fanta to share!
– it was heaven to arrive back at The 3 Sisters Guesthouse in Pokhara; have a shower, eat a pizza and drink a beer!

I’m not going to lie – the trek was tougher than we both thought. But the challenge was worth it. There’s something very satisfying about completing an extended hike to the base camp of a proper mountain – following in the footsteps of so many adventurers and pioneers. I think this may be just the start of our ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ phase (to quote the legendary Tina Turner…!) ๐Ÿ™‚

J&R xxx

The Hills

The time had come to move on from crocodile farms and charging rhinos, and head to see Jess’ Aunt and Uncle, who are currently living and working in Nepal.

We had another fairly spine altering journey to a place called Besisahar where Simon and Judith Hill are based. They are nine months into a two year VSO project – Jude working with young girls to try and get them to stay in school and Simon working with farmers trying to improve their practices and productivity.

Besisahar is a little off the tourist trail – it’s really only trekkers you see if at all (in fact I think we saw two other westerners all week). Jude and Simon live in a nice flat with a temple on the roof (all the rage in Nepal) and welcomed us with open arms into their home.

What we didn’t know when we arrived was that they had drawn up a gruelling schedule for our visit – mostly consisting of long walks, local cuisine and competitive evening games. Before we knew it we were being whisked off to a tea party with Jude’s colleagues and getting an early night to ready ourselves for Trek 1.

I’m pretty sure Trek 1 was described at one point as being an ‘easy one to get you started’. Not a word of it. Jude marched us up over the hills to one of the schools she works with, before making sure we ate our body weight in dal bhat (Nepali staple that includes rice, dal, greens and potato curry) and marching us down again. A puny 7 hour trek to get us started ๐Ÿ™‚ The trek was of course amazing: incredible mountain vistas, traditional Nepali villages and a running commentary on everything we saw.

Out for the count by about 7pm, we woke the following morning thinking today would have to be a little easier. However, Simon returned from Kathmandu the previous evening and had a glint in his eye that could only mean one thing – more walking.

Trek 2 took us over the nearby river and up through various gorgeous Nepali villages. We stopped at one home in particular that Simon and Jude knew from buying some blankets from there before. The ladies in this small village are weavers and damn fine ones at that. They are also incredibly welcoming and funny. We sat with them for a couple of hours drinking tea and watching them work. They even managed to recruit Jess to do some weaving with them. I don’t speak Nepalese (and thankfully neither does Jess) but I’m pretty sure they were telling Jess to ditch her odd looking husband and come and work for them…. We had another magnificent dal bhat at the top of the next village then walked down via yet more fantastic scenery – some monkeys even dropped in to say hi and we met one of Jude’s ‘Little Sisters’ – girls helping to spread the word that girls dropping out of school is not ok.

That night we sat down to play some ‘games’. Scrabble wasn’t doing it for us so we decided to spice things up by playing the name game. This wasn’t a game Simon and Jude were familiar with but suffice to say that by the end of the week they were hooked – tears, laughter, screams and all.

Trek 3 involved a castle, stolen pigeons, an orange grove, more dal bhat, bubbly Nepalese women, Harry and I adopting 2 goats and a spectacular walk back down to Besisahar – it had it all. I won’t even attempt to explain all of the above but a specific mention must go to the Nepalese women who were just brilliant – they, like everyone we met on our walks, were nothing but genuine, fun, warm and desperate to ask us as many questions as possible (thankfully Simon and Jude speak really very good Nepali). For Jess, Fiona, Harry and I to be able to get out and meet these people was special and only made possible through Simon and Jude’s life out there.

Exhausted from the previous evening’s name game battle, Simon and Jude took it easy on us for trek 4. A mere four hours. We bussed it down the valley and walked back to Besisahar on the opposite side of the river. This was made particularly brilliant as we got to see Simon at work. Much of what he has to do to get his message across to Nepalese farmers is to go to their farms and explain as simply as he can that by changing some age old practices they could exponentially increase their milk yield. We watched on as he showed a local farmer (by drawing him a graph) how he could do things differently when it came to his cow/buffalo – the farmer was ready to appoint Simon Prime Minister by the end. Amazing to see. That afternoon involved some retail therapy for Fiona back in Besisahar followed by our final evening meal and the name game decider (let’s just say the best team won).

Our time with Simon and Jude was so special for all sorts of reasons. Jess, Fiona, Harry and I want to thank them for hosting us and we all think that what you’re doing is amazing. We can’t wait to see you back in the UK in July.

Love to all,

R&J xxxx

Crocodiles, elephants & a charging rhino

We left the high-tech, spotless and highly efficient Japan and headed for Nepal. Our long-winded journey involved going from Tokyo to Abu Dhabi airport (where we sat on the runway for about 2 hours) and then back to Kathmandu (which was about twice as far as we needed to go)! But it didn’t matter because we were meeting my Mum and youngest brother Harry ๐Ÿ™‚

Kathmandu is an assault on the senses; it’s noisy, busy and has a lot of interesting smells. The drive from the airport to The Kantipur Hotel was pretty hairy. Cars, buses, motorbikes, cyclists, pedestrians and cows all vie for space on the narrow dusty roads and there is a wilful abandon of road safety. But eventually we arrived at the hotel, run by the infamous Dr Shakia. He’s a friend of Rob’s brother-in-law, John and seems to be a bit of a local celebrity. He’d already given Mum & Harry the grand tour of the city and they in turn showed us around the local area. It was so great to see them! We hadn’t really spent long periods of time with other people in Japan – partly due to the places we stayed – and it was lovely to see some familiar faces.

Mum & Harry had just under two weeks in Nepal, so to try and cram in as much as possible, we boarded a bus to Chitwan National Park the following morning. Six hours later, with matching bruises on our lower backs and sweat pouring off us, we hopped out at Chitwan and into an open-top jeep which took us to the Rainbow Safari Lodge. We had no idea what to expect, but we’d been told you can see all sorts of animals if you’re lucky. They gave us lunch and then we headed straight out on a nature walk. This also took in the government’s elephant patrol centre. The huge animals are mainly used to frighten off poachers. They’re all male elephants with massive tusks and our guide, Roshan proceeded to point out the one that had killed six people and another elephant recently. We kept our distance. Further down the trail (and very near several cafes and lots of people) there was a crocodile casually lying on the bank. In the water, another lay still with just its nostrils visible – lying in wait for an unexpected tourist. “Don’t worry” we were told, “only one or two people a year get eaten”….! A beer watching the sunset soon chilled us out. Later that evening, we piled into the jeep again and were whisked away to a cultural evening of dancing and music. It was great to see the traditional moves and we even got on stage at the end to join in! But the highlight was when a man dressed up and performed a peacock dance; hysterically funny and also very realistic!

At the crack of dawn we had breakfast and then all got into a very dangerous looking canoe. They’re hollowed out from huge trees and they look beautiful. However, they sit very low in the (crocodile infested) river, so you constantly feel like a giant mouth full of razor sharp teeth is going to leap out of the shallows and drag you into the water. Despite the threat of crocodiles, it was absolutely stunning paddling downstream and watching the wildlife. The tranquil illusion was once again shattered though when we got out the canoe to find a massive croc sitting on the bank. I am pleased to say we escaped with all our limbs.

The packed day also included going to an elephant breeding centre, where we saw some gorgeous babies. They’re currently trying to extend a project where more of the elephants can wander around freely instead of being tethered. I highly approve. In the afternoon we crossed the river in another canoe (!) before getting in a pretty smart-looking jeep and heading for the more remote areas of the park. There are deer hiding in every bit of undergrowth, peacocks perched on the trees and within half an hour we’d already seen a wild rhino bathing in a pool. That was exciting enough, but a bit further on we spotted another rhino behind some scrub. Just at that moment, a patrol elephant being ridden by his trainer walked past, startling the rhino. In a split second we were in its path and two tonnes of rhino was bearing down on us! Our jeep driver jumped in to start the engine and at the last minute the rhino swerved and careered off through the bushes. That’s an experience we’ll never forget!

The lodge packed in the activities and the next morning after breakfast we rode an elephant! They are amazing creatures and up close don’t really seem real. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about riding elephants but I think you should try everything once. Our elephant was just about the biggest of the lot. You get on by climbing some wooden stairs and stepping onto her (all the tourist elephants are female) back. The four of us sat in a little wooden box (!) and it felt like we were miles in the air. I have to say the ride wasn’t very comfortable, but it was an amazing experience. Our first safari experience was pretty action packed and we were very pleased we could share it with Mum & Harry. We then got on another bone-shaking bus and headed north to stay with some long lost relatives ๐Ÿ™‚

J & R xxx

That bloody fish market

So we’d come to our last full day in Japan. We decided to head back to Tokyo and tick a few things off the list that we didn’t get to do last time round.

First on the list was the Tokyo Fish Market – the Lonely Planet’s top pick. An auction takes place at 5am whereby all the top restaurants bid for the best quality fish caught that very morning. You can view this from a gallery then tuck into what is apparently the best sushi in town.

We were told to get there before 5am as the queues can build up. We’d missed it first time round due to a public holiday so this time we were determined to see it and got there before 4am to be safe.

I think some divine force didn’t want us to see the fish market that day or any other day – some eager beavers had got there at 3am and all of the 120 available slots had gone by the time we got there!

Jess remained fairly sanguine about it whereas I got a little grumpy… We retreated back to our hotel and woke up feeling like our second fish market disappointment was all a bad dream.

Thankfully the rest of our final day in Tokyo was great – a quick trip to trendy Shibuya and an authentic Japanese meal called a ‘cheese burger’ to round things off ๐Ÿ™‚

Japan was fantastic from start to finish and we both wished we could have stayed longer. But our flight to Nepal would wait for no man (or woman) so onwards we march.

Love to all
R&J xxx

Hiroshima; the unexpected city

Across the world, Hiroshima is known for being the target of the world’s first atomic bomb. The name instantly conjures up those black and white images of the mushroom cloud that hovered over the flattened city, almost exactly 70 years ago.

At 8.15am on 6th August 1945, the USA dropped the A-bomb (as the Hiroshians call it) which detonated 600 metres above the centre. The entire city was virtually levelled; the blast demolished almost everything in a 3km radius from the hypocentre. Nobody knows exactly how many people were killed, because the after effects of the bomb are still being felt, but around 140,000 had died by the end of 1945. So, we arrived on the bullet train with some trepidation. But seven decades on from the devastating event, Hiroshima is now a vibrant, buzzing city, with tree-lined boulevards and welcoming people.

All the sites commemorating those who lost their lives are pretty much directly below where the bomb exploded. We wondered straight to the Memorial Park, which is beautiful; full of poignant shrines and statues, dotted in between gorgeous trees and flowers. In the centre of the park is the eternal flame. The plaque explains that it’ll keep burning until all the world’s nuclear weapons have been destroyed. Just across the turquoise river is the A-dome. It’s one of the only buildings that remained semi-intact following the blast and it now stands, charred and hollow – a stark reminder.

However, although the events of seventy years ago won’t ever be forgotten, there is a positive and happy vibe in Hiroshima that makes it hard for you to be sad for long. As we left the Memorial Park, there was a guy on a bridge with a sign offering free hugs (we politely declined). The rivers that run through the city are all lined with cherry blossom and the locals seem to spend most of their free time picnicking in the sun.

On our first evening, we ended up at a rock & metal bar called Kobe, run by a guy called Bom (yes, that really is his name). He gave us some tips about where to eat and when he found out we were on our honeymoon he gave us free Sake!
He also showed us a rock magazine from the year I was born, featuring a blonde Ozzie Osbourne on the cover. Surreal.

Hiroshima’s most famous food is its own style of okonomiyaki. Imagine a noodle and cabbage pancake. I know – it sounds awful but it’s actually delicious! Searching for a well-reviewed place called Hassei, we came across another more ‘local’ eatery, where people were queuing to get inside. Once sat down at the counter (where you essentially get your own hot plate to finish your okonomiyaki exactly how you like it) we realised what the fuss was all about. If you find yourself in Hiroshima you must try this dish!

The Peace Museum opens at 8.30am and the next morning we were pretty much first in line. Although it’s totally harrowing and shocking, you feel compelled to read all about what happened to the city and the people living there on 6 August 1945. The photos and accounts from survivors are pretty graphic but the information is well presented and I’m glad we went. We were both pretty sombre when we left, and I couldn’t help thinking how and why did they rebuild everything? Seeing the photos and models of the area after the blast really hammers it home that there was literally nothing left. How is it that humans can be so unbelievably cruel to one another, yet also find the strength to move on and create something good following such a terrible event?

What you probably didn’t know about Hiroshima is that it’s surrounded by great places to visit and we spent the rest of the day at the nearby island of Miyajima. It’s a short bus-train-ferry ride away and is well worth it. The island is beautiful, with pretty beaches, green and wooded mountains and cheeky deer who love to pose for the camera! However the star attraction is the Floating Torii which marks the entrance to the Itsukushima-jinja shrine. The ‘gateway’ is completely surrounded by the turquoise seawater, and frames the mountains behind. We hiked up the island’s tallest mountain, Misen (530m), where you get a fantastic 360 degree view. It was boiling hot, especially for March and we were pretty sweaty by the time we reached the summit. However it was definitely worth it and we headed back to Hiroshima feeling very relaxed (absolutely nothing to do with the beer on the beach).

For a second night we attempted to go to the elusive Hassei restaurant, but ended up in a completely different place by accident! It served rather fancier food and there was a bit of an awkward moment when the waitress plunged her tongs into the serene-looking fish tank, picked out an unknown spiral shellfish and then minutes later presented it to us as our final course….! It was all a bit too much, but I suppose that’s what happens when you can’t speak Japanese and you have no idea what you’ve ordered! It was definitely a case of Lost in Translation ๐Ÿ™‚

J & R xxx

Temples, castles, geishas and eels

Still buzzing from the best skiing we’ve ever experienced, Jess and I started the lengthy journey to Kyoto – the cultural capital of Japan and home to some 2,000 temples! Our timing to visit Kyoto was both good and bad – the cherry blossom is arguably seen at its finest in Kyoto but as a result attracts hordes of locals and travellers to its streets. Finding accommodation was a nightmare and we ended up paying an exorbitant amount of money to rent an entire house through airbnb. Writing this blog as we’re about to leave Kyoto I am relieved and happy to say it was well worth it!

You could spend weeks in Kyoto and not take in everything it has to offer – apparently even the Japanese themselves journey to Kyoto to learn about their culture. In order to keep this blog entry below novel size, I will focus on the highlights.

No trip to Kyoto is complete without a trip to Inari Taisha and its series of approx 2,000 torii gates that wind their way up through a forested mountain. The sunlight plays through these gates making for an amazing sight along with a cracking view from the top earned after a sweaty hike.

After taking in another temple (Kiyomizu) we walked along two gorgeous streets called ‘Ninen-zaka’ and ‘Sannen-zaka’ – these are lined with old wooden houses, cherry blossom trees and food stalls to satisfy any culinary desire. Jess and I managed to pick the smallest restaurant in town and waited 1 1/2 hours for our food – thankfully the portions were enormous and the tempura prawns to die for.

Our next stop left us a little disappointed – we were reliably informed that a certain park in Kyoto (Maruyama) is THE business when it comes to cherry blossom viewing. However, as we experienced in Tokyo, we were just a little early for the blossom AND once again we saw no uninhibited behaviour on display ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Thirsty after a long day on the tourist trail Jess and I headed into the entertainment district (Gion) in search of a cold Asahi. Many of our best travelling experiences have happened totally by accident and this evening was to be no different. Jess stumbled (not due to the Asahi beer) across a theatre which was soon to be showing a world famous Geisha dance. The Geisha are for all intents and purposes entertainers. They have observed rituals such as dances, flower arranging, tea preparation, plays and musical performances for hundreds of years. Watching them perform some of these was incredible – mostly the dancing but even the flower arranging (yes, the flower arranging) had a serenity to it. They are so meticulous in every movement and facial expression they make – it’s unlike anything we’d ever seen.

The following day featured more temples but without doubt the highlight was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. If any of you have ever seen ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ you will remember scenes in a bamboo forest – well it is even better in the flesh. The bamboo towers above you and again the light plays through the trees and is beautiful. It’s also a short walk from there to a house, formerly owned by a samurai film star, with incredible views from its gardens back across Kyoto.

Our experiences of Japanese cuisine to date have been nothing but delicious – this was however until Jess and I sampled eel for the first time over lunch that day. Jess coughed, spluttered and damn near spat the offending eel out across the table. Unless you like something that resembles white rubber and tastes like it has been marinated in vinegar for 10 years, we’d suggest you steer clear.

Recovered, we went for a lovely stroll along the Kamo-gawa river and watched people run, cycle and booze on the river banks as the sun set. A great day all round.

Our final day in Kyoto featured 3 brilliant things:

1 – We went to Nijo-jo castle, notable for the fact it’s not a temple (trust me there is such a thing as ‘temple fatigue’) and it has ‘nightingale’ floors, built above bits of sharp bamboo that when stood on emit a bird like chirp – assassins trying to kill the emperor were heard before they were seen.

2 – We met Mika, the sister of Mami (who lived with Jess and family in Devon for 2 months) – much like Mami she was sweet, funny and very kindly bought us lunch!

3 – We went to Kyoto’s most famous onsen (hot bath) for some naked time (separately I might add) – nothing like it after a long day on your feet.

Kyoto was really special and our little house the perfect base to explore – even if it did cost ONE BILLION YEN (doctor evil laugh).

Next – Hiroshima ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

R&J xxx