Yes, that`s right, it says bike. Not car, or SUV...bike. Now, since I have been able to drive, I think I have maybe been on a bike twice. And both times were on paved bike paths, with no cars and very few obstacles (read: people) to maneuver around.
In Kyoto, bicycles are the main mode of transportation. Everyone has one. Including me. (The city should be on red alert.) My bike is blue, it has a basket, a bell, and a blinking red light on the back when it gets dark. It is everything we would laugh cruelly at if we saw it in the US. In fact, when Marcus told me that my guesthouse came with a free bike, I did laugh. Like I was going to be riding around a foreign city on a bike...
Well, I don`t really have much of a choice. The closest train station to my house is about a 10 minute bike ride away. Technically, I could walk it, but it would be a hike, and Lord knows I`ve had enough of those to last me a while. So I began practicing on my little street...back and forth, back and forth. Surprisingly it came back pretty quickly. Like Brett said "it`s like riding a bike."
When I felt brave enough, I agreed to meet Brett and Mike on my bike to do some sight seeing. Of course, I got extremely lost and they had to come find me at a pay phone on a street corner. After they tracked me down we proceeded to ride through the busy streets of Kyoto, dodging taxis, streetlights, people, other bikers...
It was the second time in two days that I went on auto pilot. I just focused on Brett`s back, and staying upright. I didn`t spend much time taking in the sights around me, my main focus was staying alive.
The first place we rode was to the Fushimi-inari Taisha Shrine. It was a beautiful shrine with thousands of orange gates leading through forests with stop along the way for cemeteries, and places to pray. We then went to lunch at my first ramen shop--mmmm...I love Japanese food. After that we tried to squeeze in a trip to Nijo Castle, but unfortunately when we got there it was closing due to it being a national holiday. To get downtown to the castle, it was riding through major (busy!) streets. I think I`d have a hard time recognizing Brett from the front because since I`ve been here I`ve been basically keeping his back in sight, trying for dear life to keep up.
That night we went to Osaka and went out in a place called Shinsaibashi. If Kyoto is like Boston to the US than Shinsaibashi would be like Atlantic City...or even the Vegas strip. When I have the opportunity to post my pictures, you`ll see what I mean. Trains from Osaka to Kyoto stop at midnight, and of course there was no way we were going home that early, so we had to wait until the 5am train to head back. The next day I was worthless.
Yesterday, my friends that live here had to go back to work, so I decided to venture to Nijo Castle by myself. I rode my bike to my station, figured out the train ride (only one transfer) and had a wonderful day of sightseeing. The castle and its gardens were beautiful. Afterwards, I wandered to a shopping area of town called Sanjo where I strolled in and out of stores, and stopped for my first sushi since I`ve been here.
After a full day, I made my way back to my train stop, and was ready for my quick ride home. I went down to the bike parking lot, and my bike was no where to be found. Now, when I described my bike, I described 99% of the bikes in Kyoto--they all have baskets and bells. I did not realize that there were about 8 bike lots surrounding the station, and I had no clue which one mine was in. I wandered in circles, in and out of rows of bikes, for at least an hour before I FINALLY recognized my bike lot. There was a big number 6 by it that I paid no attention to when I got there, which would have been extremely helpful in the search. I didn`t bother to ask for help, because trying to describe a bike here would have been quite comical: think, Something About Mary`s "Have you seen my baseball??"
So lesson learned--look for landmarks, numbers, etc. around where you park your bike so you are not that Gaijin wandering for hours trying to find it.