Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. There aren’t many places that I can think of with so many temples, cultural artifacts and manicured gardens like in Kyoto. We had 2 days here and these were our favorite activities —
Day 1: Cycle Kyoto
Kyoto is one big sprawling city! In fact, whenever it came to planning this part of the trip, I pretty much got overwhelmed with temple mania! I mean, I can only take so many temples (before I start nodding off). That’s when I found the perfect solution — a full day of biking to the sites with Cycle Kyoto. Even Kevin would have a hard time falling asleep on a bike (though I wouldn’t put it past him!).
The trip starts at 10 AM and covers most of the city core as well as a massive lunch. And you won’t have to feel guilty about eating all that extra sushi because you’ll be biking a good 7 hours. Our group was quite the combo — a married Mormon couple, two older gentlemen in full-out racing biker gear, and us! It’s an easy ride for any age, even though for whatever reason, the older guys kept getting lost!
Highlights along the way included the blinged-out Golden Pavilion and the Fushimi Inari Shrine (a mountain covered with orange gates as far as the eye can see).
There were a lot of other temples we saw along the way. But to be honest, they sort of ran together in my head! What made this trip so much fun – besides the entertainment of our eclectic biking group – was the guide and all the stories of life in Japan. Many of their guides are ex-pats who have moved to Japan (which was a very different perspective than our many other Japanese guides).
Best part of all? The surprise green tea ice cream (after Kevin kept eyeing it up!). I was just glad it wasn’t the wasabi flavored ice cream!
Day 2: Cooking Sun Bento Class
On our second day, we were ready to relax the legs and try our luck at a cooking class where we’d be making bento boxes. I became absolutely obsessed with these popular lunch boxes — with their little compartments and wide varieties of noodles and selections in one dish. It’s perfect for the indecisive – do I want chicken? Or sushi? Actually I’ll have them both!
We each had our own cooking station, where we made Teriyaki chicken, a bean salad, tempura (or deep fried vegetables), and a rolled egg which eventually made it’s way into a sushi roll. Many of the dishes are actually pretty easy to make – with the exception of the tricky egg roll.
And while the sushi is also pretty easy to make, it’s a time commitment! Most of the class we spent prepping for that. It is definitely an art form. I mean, we had to fan the rice to make it the perfect temperature!
Our teacher spent some time in Orange County and was hilarious. We quickly became the teachers pet (obviously!) and heard her stories about all the things she missed (the biggest thing – Trader Joe’s!).
After 3 hours of cooking, our meal was finally complete. I swore I’ll make Japanese meals at least once a week. I have the rice ready to go, the rice vinegar. But well, ordering is so much easier! And besides, I don’t have one of those cool Japanese hand fans… I know, excuses!
DETAILS ON TRAVEL:
Kyoto Cycle: Full day (7 hours of biking) is about $100 USD. You will see the entire city. Highly recommended. They also offer shorter rides (about 3-4 hours) starting at $60 USD per person.
Cooking Sun: Has a school in both Kyoto and Tokyo, and offers a variety of classes from the Bento Box class to food typically eaten at Japanese pubs (i.e. small dishes). The Bento Box class was about $75 USD per person. Book directly on their website and load the address onto your phone (it can be tricky to find!).
WHERE TO STAY:
Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shinmachi Bettei: Our favorite hotel we stayed at in Japan – comfortable rooms, great location and a massive spa free for guests (and separated in to women’s and men’s areas). For a higher end hotel, very little English is spoken. Try your luck with writing any requests. Rooms start at $160 a night.