Nara Travel Blog› entry 21 of 174 › view all entries
October 5th, 2009 – by: domnicella
Headache number two was when the dude at the front desk took it upon himself to mark up my map to such an extent that he completely blacked out a tiny little alleyway, which while I'm sure is inconsequential 99% of the time, made the difference between sending me toward the sites versus sending me in the complete opposite direction. Lovely. And why couldn't I sort this out on my own you ask? Maybe because Nara doesn't believe in printing street names on their maps. This is one Japanese phenomenon that I'm not a fan of. I have yet to get my hands on a map with ALL the street names listed. (My suspicion is that the lesser streets and alleys are not deserving of being named, because usually even the locals are at a loss for what to call them.
So after walking the wrong way for nearly ten minutes and knowing all the while something was wrong, as I was supposedly walking in the ONLY direction that ALL of their EIGHT World Heritage sites call home and nary a souvenir shop or fellow tourist to be seen, I said screw the useless map, I'm following my instinct. So I backtracked a bit and made my way in the direction that I sensed was the correct way and came across a pedestrian mall. Similar to the one in Asakusa in Tokyo, I figured even if I wasn't on the right track at least this was better than a road leading to nowhere.
I decided to take the guesthouse dude's suggestion and walk to the farthest corner of Nara-koen to see Kasuga Taisha first, and hit the rest of the sites on my way back. Nara-koen was pretty neat in itself, it only has a medium incline as opposed to hiking up the side of a mountain, and so was a welcome change from the past two days. Otherwise, it alternates between open grassy park and wooded trees, but it's definitely more "park" than "nature," if that makes any sense. The above asserted neatness comes from the deer. Yes, deer. As in Bambi. They're everywhere. I had NO idea! The first few I saw were just randomly grazing next to a shrine, and I snuck up as quietly as I could to take their picture. I couldn't believe I got so close! Here I am patting myself on the back for being one with nature.
So I huff it to the far end of Nara-koen to check out Kasuga Taisha, one of their many World Heritage sites, teeming with anticipation and expectation, and get there and go "this is it?" Seriously. It was a shrine. Great. Do you have any idea how many shrines I've seen in the past two weeks? And do you realize that I trained here specifically to be wowed and got lost TWICE on my trek up here and this is just a shrine?? Could you repeat that please? So I circle it, thinking I'm missing something.
So off I go to Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, opting to skip the scenic route. I will say that this World Heritage site lives up to all it's acclaim. Anticipation, expectation, bring it. It'll spank whatever hopes you have for it and go "is that all? I was looking for a challenge.
Inside sits a gigantic Buddha, flanked by two lesser (but still enormous) Buddhas. The big Buddha was like the size of the one I visited in Kamakura (and I'm going to have to check the guidebook to be certain, but I believe this is the bigger of the two), whose own temple burned to the ground. At the time I couldn't fathom a structure large enough to house that thing. Now I can. We're talking BIG. Texas has nothing on this place.
From there I walked through Nara-koen a bit more, but it started to sprinkle and I didn't feel like finding another "meh" shrine as compensation for getting soaked.
On my walk back I realized that I had circled the entire park, and that aside from revisiting the top five sites, I had seen it all. And everyone's amazed "you're really going to stay in Nara rather than make it a day trip? TWO nights?? What on earth are you going to do in Nara for two nights?" started to sink in. It had always been yeah I'm gonna stay in Nara for two nights, so what of it. I happen to like slower paced places and nice green scenery and I don't care if there's no nightlife. Because to me, when someone says there's nothing to do somewhere, I automatically default to think nightlife because these people are my age and always after the best bars and clubs.
Long story short, I get to the guesthouse, break the news in an offhand and no big deal way (I mean, the place was empty and I hadn't been allowed to sign in or even see a room earlier, so who cares), a very long and increasingly heated conversation ensues, during which the two women call for backup and have a dude stand in the doorway, as if I was going to try to run out on them (which I found insulting and all the more infuriating).
I did, however, keep an eye on the clock all through the horrible 45 minutes or so spent arguing over cancellation policies and honorable business practices, and bolted down the street as fast as my legs would carry me and onto the train to Kyoto just in time. From there I trained to Osaka, where I ventured it'd be ok to check-in two days early since the website advertised vacancy. The sprinkles followed me to Osaka and turned heavier and heavier, finally coming down in an all-out rain just as I was making it to the guesthouse. An extremely helpful waitstaff helped point me in the right direction and a wonderful busboy accompanied me the last two blocks (they were unmarked, I was doing the lost and wandering in circles in the rain thing again), and insisted I keep the umbrella they gave me.
And, as if jamming to Fleetwood Mac on the train wasn't enough (Stevie Nicks really has a way, doesn't she?) to soothe and mellow me, my host cooked me a fresh pot of homemade soup after I arrived. It was loaded with bok choy and daikon and green onions, and was out of this world. Then I was pampered further still with fresh sliced Asian pear. Mmmmm, we know I adore Asian pear. And all this after he insisted on bicycling to the train station (through the rain!) to fetch me a better local map.
One last note about bullet trains: Tonight I got to ride a nozomi for the second time. The rail pass isn't supposed to allow access to the nozomi trains, but I've somehow managed two separate rides on them (not really sure how that worked out). For you shinkansen virgins, the nozomi is the fastest of the fast. It is THE bullet train. If you look at a map, the distance between Kyoto and Nara is smaller than that between Kyoto and Osaka. In all fairness, only a local train runs between Kyoto and Nara. And as I've said before, these local trains aren't exactly slugs either. To give you an inkling of the speed we're talking, it took me an hour to train from Nara to Kyoto tonight. It took me seventeen minutes to train from Kyoto to Osaka.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!