Monday, December 10, 2018

Day 1: Kyoto Station and Gion

18th October 2018 (Thursday)

The bus arrived at Hachijo-guchi Exit on the southern side of Kyoto Station, in front of Kyoto Avanti. There was no sign of Kyoto Station written anywhere. I did not know which direction to take to Kyoto Station. I pulled out my Garmin eTrex 20x and set it to go to Kyoto Station. From the direction given, I walked to the building with several vans parked under the building, across the road from Kyoto Avanti. I walked alongside the building and soon, rows and rows of lockers came into view. I continued walking. There were more and more people around. I knew I was at Kyoto Station when I saw Shinkansen ticket vending machine.

Check-in time at Kyoto Guesthouse Lantern in Gion where I had booked my accommodation for two nights was 4:00 p.m. In order to get there, I needed to go to the city bus terminal, which was on the northern side of Kyoto Station. I could cross to the northern side by taking the Pedestrian Walkway.

While waiting for the time to pass, I would go to Ramen Kouji on the 10th floor (American English) for lunch and explore Kyoto Station after that.

I soon came across the staircase & escalator which should lead to the Pedestrian Walkway. There were so many people. I followed the crowd. Near the exit to the northern side, there was another wing to the right with more shops. I could see the open sky. It ended with an open space and an escalator going to the roof-top. This could be the way to the Ramen Kouji. 

On the first floor (or 2nd floor in American English)

I walked into this wing, and at the end of the floor, I made a u-turn to take the escalator going up. Yes, there was a signage saying Ramen Restaurants (not Ramen Kouji) was on the 10th Floor (American English). 

Inside Ramen Restaurants, there were many small shops, like what I read from the internet.  It was about 2:10 p.m. and there were still many patrons. Outside every restaurant, patrons queued up waiting for their turns. I went to one offering appetising ramen and two men in coat were in front of me. From their accent, I would say that they were either Malaysians or Singaporeans.

A waitress was there to help patrons in ordering the noodle from the vending machine. After getting my food voucher, I barely had to wait when I was shown into the restaurant and to my tall stool. The eating space was tiny. I had to put my baggage and camera in front of my feet under the long dining table. It was quite uncomfortable sitting and eating in this position. This was my first experience eating in a Japanese establishment.

Now, before you started asking me whether I speak Japanese or not, I don't. This particular waitress spoke fairly good English.

After a late lunch, I wanted to check where all bus terminals, train stations and Shinkansen stations were to prepare myself for the excursions which I would be making the next few days. First, I wanted to go back to the south side to find JR Nara Line station because that was where I would be getting my ticket to Fushimi Inarai the next morning.

From the restaurant, I went straight down to the ground level. The city bus terminal was just in front of the station north entrance. After checking around the terminal and making some mental notes, I decided to go to the south side. 

I could not find the Pedestrian Walkway anymore! The city bus terminal was on the north side. The south side should be on the opposite side but when I walked into the station to go there, my path was barred by ticket gates to the train platforms. I went to the basement. No, there was no walkway to the south side. I went up one level on the east side and it led to Hotel Granvia. Looking at the opposite side of Granvia, I saw the staircase leading to Ramen Restaurants. I was cracking my head, trying to remember the direction I came from. I checked the photos I took. It did not help. I just could not remember how I reached the city bus terminal. Where was the Pedestrian Walkway?

I gave up. I would try to find the Pedestrian Walkway again tomorrow. It was time for me to take the bus to my guesthouse. I went to take city bus no. 206 and alighted at Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. From there, I continued walking in the same direction as the bus until I saw 7-11 and from there, turning left to go into an alley. At the end of the alley, I turned right. Kyoto Guesthouse Lantern in Gion was the second building.

Important: On the north side, Pedestrian Walkway is one level up; on the south side, it is two levels up

At the guesthouse, the door was locked. I rang what I thought was the bell. Nothing happened. Then I called out. A middle aged woman came and welcomed me into the guesthouse. She was the property owner. Originally from Taiwan, she has been staying in Japan for the last 10 years. She could speak a fair amount of English, though she preferred to speak to me in Chinese when she knew I was from Malaysia. She briefed me on the house rules and showed me the facilities. I had to pay an accommodation tax, and she showed me a leaflet from the authority to collect this tax.

I left the guesthouse at about 5:20 p.m. and went to explore Gion and to go to Yasaka Pagoda to take some night photos. It was only 5:20 p.m. and was beginning to get dark. It was like 6:30 p.m. in Sibu, Malaysia.

I went looking for the alley where Maiko and Geisha have been photographed. However, internet was of no help since I did not find any article on where to find the alley. While walking along Shijo-dori Street, I came across an alley with low, ancient-looking building and lots of people walking about. The intersection of this alley and Shijo-Dori Street was N35.00378° E135.77505°. Indeed, as I explored the street, I came across the Maiko/ Geisha.

The Maiko and Geisha were an attraction, and cameras would be trained on them whenever one was spotted. However, they were a shy lot. They didn't like to be photographed and would walk very fast to escape the cameras. I could only catch a glimpse of one before she disappeared. I would come back the next evening and try my luck to capture them on camera again, and hopefully, the photo quality would turn out better.

Screen grab from my Gion walking track, displayed  on the free map from Open Street Map (OSM) using Garmin Basecamp

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Day 1: Arriving in Osaka and Transferring to Kyoto

18th October 2018 (Thursday)

When the boarding gate for Flight UO 850 was finally announced past midnight, I went to look for Gate 211. Where was Gate 211? There are three wings. First, I went to the wing showing gates "1-36, 201-230,501-530". A few steps away, the signage showed Gate 211 was to the right, but there was no path to the right! I turned back and walked to the wing for gates "40-59" since it was to the right. I walked to the very end and there was no Gate 211. I came back to "1-36, 201-230, 501-530" wing and walked to the very end, ignoring the sign showing gates "201-230" to the right.

There, I saw the signage showing Gate 211 was one level down. By that time, the escalator and the lift to go down were barred and entry was prohibited. It would only open at 6:00 a.m. the following morning. My plane would be departing at 7:05 a.m. and I was worried I had to rush to get to the boarding gate the next morning. I had no choice but to stay close by and find a place to catch a short sleep, but sleep was difficult to come by.

While resting, I found airlines/ airport officials walking around looking for passengers who did not turn up at the boarding gates. They were really going all out to ensure that passengers did not miss their flights. They were probably lost. I had never seen such concerns for passengers at other airports before.

At about 5:15 a.m., I decided to get up. I had to get ready to go to Gate 211. The lift and escalator going down were still blocked off. A little further away, I found one escalator which had opened for passengers to use. It was about 5:40 a.m.

Going down one level, the signage was again confusing. One signage showed that I needed to go another level down, but entry to the escalator was barred. Then I noticed another signage pointing left to go to Gates 201-230. Yet, another notice said that passengers needed to go to Gate 520 and take the shuttle bus to Gates 201-230.

I went to Gate 520 and there was a queue forming already. Shortly after, a shuttle bus arrived and we reached Gates 201-230 after about 12 minutes. I arrived at Gate 211 just after 6:00 a.m. for my onward flight on HK Express to Osaka Airport at 7:05 a.m.

Hong Kong Airport stood out from other airports that I have visited. I love the fact that there were so many USB charging ports for passengers to use. The wifi was fast and registration was unnecessary. In addition, hot water stations were available all over the airports. The only drawbacks were the confusing signage and the absence of reclining chairs for tired passengers to have comfortable rest. 

While queuing up for boarding, I realised that most passengers were carrying boarding passes issued by the airline at check-in counters. I was probably the only passenger carrying an A4 size boarding pass printed at home. When I handed my boarding pass to the airline official at the queue, I was brought to the gate counter to have my documents checked. After verification, I was sent back to the queue again. I guess the reason passengers were not printing their own boarding passes was because there no counter check-in fee imposed, unlike Airasia.

Flight UO850 took off at 7:13 a.m. and touched down at Osaka Airport, KIX at about 11:15 a.m. Passengers then have to take a mass people mover (like those in KUL or SIN) to Terminal 1 for Immigration.

At Immigration, passengers first have to have their fingers scanned before proceeding to the Immigration counters. I was asked to remove my spectacles and was asked a few questions by the young female immigration officer. Among the questions asked were, what company I worked for, whether I have an outbound ticket, where I was staying, how many people were in my group, etc. I pulled out my hostel reservations and ticket to show her. After being satisfied, she stuck a visa label on my passport and I was allowed to proceed to the arrival hall.

After exiting to the arrival hall, I noticed that the airport was not very large. My first order of the day was to go to the first floor (or in American English, second floor) to buy an ICOCA card and to go to FamilyMart to buy IIJMIO SIM card. However, I saw a notice at Softbank offering SIM card. I went to check and without realising how expensive it was, I got myself a SIM card for ¥7,000 for 10 GB. My brain was not on auto mode converting Yen to Ringgit. I should not have been so impulsive and should have checked out IIJMIO SIM card first to compare prices.

After getting my SIM card, I went to the first floor (or 2nd floor in American English) to buy ICOCA card, sold at JR ticket office. I could not find the place. I searched north and south and at every conceivable corner and still could not locate it. Then, looking outside the airport, I saw a walkway to another building. Walking out, I saw Kansai-Airport Station sign hanging from the building. Yes, I finally found the JR ticket office.

I went straight to JR ticket office. There were several vending machine. After selecting English on the machine, I followed the instruction to purchase the ICOCA card. It was very easy. I paid ¥5,000, instead of my original intention of buying ¥10,000 worth of credit.

After getting my ICOCA card, I went down to the bus terminal on the ground floor (or in American English, first floor) which was in front of KIX Terminal 1. I went to Zone 8 which I read was where the buses to Kyoto Station picked up passengers.

I went to the ticket counter and told the officer there that I wanted a ticket to Kyoto Station. She asked me how I wanted to pay for the ticket. I said ICOCA card. She replied saying ICOCA card could not be used. When I wanted to pay with cash, she asked me to get the ticket from the ticket vending machine. 

Just after getting my ticket, I saw a bus about to leave. I rushed over hollering, "Kyoto Station! Kyoto Station!" at the bus driver. He had just closed the bus door and reopened it for me to board but the parking/ baggage attendant stopped me from doing so. I didn't understand why and what he was saying in Japanese. I had no choice but to wait for the next bus.

Passengers were expected to queue for the bus. On the floor was marked Kyoto Station, Hachijo-guchi Exit so that passengers knew where to queue. The parking/ baggage attendant would take the large baggage from the passengers and arranged them neatly for the bus baggage compartment. They would be given slips as receipts in exchange. 

The bus arrived punctually at 12:25 p.m., and departed at 12:30 p.m. on the dot. It arrived at Kyoto Station Hachijo-guchi Exit at 1:54 p.m.