Announcing Our Inaugural Social Media Manager: DIANA KLATT, MPH

Announcing Our Inaugural Social Media Manager: DIANA KLATT, MPH

After 2 months deliberating over an incredibly competitive applicant pool on the eve of our upcoming 10 year anniversary trip to Egypt next month, I have the unique pleasure to finally announce our inaugural social media manager for The Monsoon Diaries: DIANA KLATT, MPH (@klattalyst).

Global health epidemiologist, project manager for HealthRight International, creative director for Community Balance, and the communications assistant for the NYU College of Global Public Health, Diana will hit the ground running in seamlessly managing and developing content across all our social media platforms, especially within the intersections of travel, mental health, and medicine.

A vast repertoire of skills — including Stata, SPSS, SAS, Python, Java, C++, Adobe, and Final Cut Pro — has complemented her 5 years of experience both working in the health sector as well as developing internal communications architectures, business operations, and creating and managing digital communications strategies for a variety of companies.

Diana is also the creator and co-host of her very own podcast on public health, Global Caveat, thus asserting herself as more than capable to shoulder the responsibilities of our social media communications and outreach and take our live and daily travel updates to even higher standards.

But what truly won me over was an amazing human behind the resumé: an effortless personality, inexhaustible creativity, deft wit, willingness to engage in uncomfortable conversations and critical thinking, capitalization on initiative, tremendous empathy, boundless ambition, quirky sense of humor, dearth of bullshit, and a capacity for limitless spontaneity — traits which embody the very nature of our monsoons and style of travel. I only wish you had the privilege of getting to know her in person as I have.

 

And given what we perceive her abilities to elevate our adventures to the next level, perhaps one day you actually will.

 

 

As a postscript, I can’t sign off without writing how I first met Diana, not fully appreciating until now that the universe has literally tried to force us into each other’s worlds, and no matter how much we tried to look the other way. 

It is best described by a fateful serendipity that occurred on New Year’s Eve almost 2 years ago:

…Yesterday during her 4 hour layover in Beijing, Ann decided to strike up a conversation with a nearby and seemingly random girl also heading to Sydney.

Her name was Diana Klatt and she also happened to be attending NYU like Ann.

Small world, right? Don’t stop there.

As Ann casually began mentioning me, the trip, and The Monsoon Diaries, Diana vaguely began to realize she had already met me 10 months prior, even having been in my apartment! She was tagging along on a first date with a random monsooner from the Palawan/East Timor-Leste trip, after just connecting on a dating app, and after we all had crashed a random rooftop party in Times Square.

I invited the 3 of them back to my place after the party, but we were all so inebriated (I passed out on them after making hookah for everyone), none of us would really remember that night very well. And I woke up to an empty living room the next morning figuring that we would never see each other again. 

Cut back to present day: As Ann and Diana stared open-jawed, at the realization of another serendipitous encounter that was just unfolding on a random layover in Beijing of all places, suffice to say, the signs were too hard to ignore. Less than 24 hours later, Diana would join us for the New Year’s fireworks in Sydney. 

And today would be our first time speaking ever since that fateful night 10 months prior.

Since then, no matter how much we let try to let things fade between us given both our penchant for Irish goodbyes, it would appear the universe would not let that happen. After all, I always follow the signs.

So please join us in congratulating Diana as we celebrate a new chapter in our adventures. I am excited to be working with her.

Want to see Diana in action in a few weeks? It’s still not too late to sign up for our upcoming trip to Egypt with us! Details: Egypt 2019.

 

 

Rwanada Forever!

Rwanada Forever!

 

After a week in Afghanistan and a sobering day in Kabul, it’s definitely time to get out of harm’s way and return home. There’s no need to exacerbate the situation by lingering during what will be another tense period in Kabul.

On our way back, Evan and I decided to spend 3 days in Rwanda as one of the cheapest itineraries back to NYC.

Why Rwanda? Well, imagine a country to boldly become the first in the world to ban plastic bags, and where the last weekend of every month requires one person from every household to help clean the neighborhood and then use that time to discuss community events. Imagine a country that has reeled from a genocide that killed 70% of an ethnic population to become one of the fastest growing economies in modern history, all the while boasting low corruption compared with its neighbors and becoming one of only two countries with a female majority in the national parliament.

Security and safety are prevalent — every mall, hotel, and restaurant requires airport-level screening — even though there is no active threat like there was in Afghanistan. It may still be a work in progress and its leadership may still have its controversies regarding political suppression but so does Wakanda. But am I talking about Wakanda?

Rwanda comes pretty close!

Look at how clean these streets are. This was everywhere we went:

 

 

So from Kabul, Evan D., Amanda and I boarded a 1.5 hour Flydubai flight FZ 306 at 6:15pm, landing in Dubai at 8:45pm where we met back up with our UAE host Sean and Evan K., another friend we met on the Afghanistan trip (who had left a few hours earlier), at a swanky hookah bar in Dubai called QD’s.

There we decompressed about our trip to Afghanistan until Evan D and I said our goodbyes and caught our connecting 6 hour Rwandair flight WB 305 to Kigali at 1:55am, landing at 6:00am.

I even got in a good full night’s rest while on the flight!

 

 

At the airport Evan and I debated whether to rent a car, eventually relenting after haggling our agent down to a decent rate.

We then drove over into the city and dropped off our stuff at our lodgings at Mijo Hostel.

Now I don’t usually comment on lodgings, but this has got to be one of the best designed free-standing hostels I’ve ever been to:

 

 

I even left a little message there, just like old times back in Punta Cana, DR:

 

 

After a lazy coffee at the hostel and breakfast at nearby Java House, we headed northwest to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a sobering tribute to victims of the Rwandan genocide where an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans and up to 70% of the Tutsi population were killed.

Free admission but the introductory 10 minute video is required before entering.

I wrote about this back when I visited Tuong Sleng and the Killing Fields in Cambodia: Conceptualize the notion where 70-80% of the ordinary everyday people you meet in an entire country is a survivor of genocide. This museum puts that very fact into perspective. Everyone here has lost someone close to them.

 

 

After an hour here we drove further south, paying our respects at Hôtel des Mille Collines aka the “Hotel Rwanda” famous for sheltering 1268 people during the genocide.

The story of the hotel and its manager at that time, Paul Rusesabagina, was later used as the basis of Terry George’s film Hotel Rwanda in 2004.

 

 

Afterwards we drove further south to the highly effective Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial, dedicated to the 10 Belgian soldiers who were captured and hacked to death by the presidential guard during the initial events of the genocide.

 

 

If you’re not yet overwhelmed, there’s are 3 more memorial to the genocide south of Kigali. The closest is 20 minutes away at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial Centre. Admission is free.

 

 

Ntarama Genocide Memorial is another 20 minutes south of Nyanza. They require that you go on a compulsory 20 minute tour at reception but like all the genocide memorials, there is no admission fee.

 

 

It’s the piled up clothing of the dead here that really hits hard for me:

 

 

Then finally at the end of the road another 20 minutes away, we visited the Nyamata Genocide Memorial.

 

 

As it was not even close to evening yet, we drove the hour up north back towards Kigali, heading to the Rwanda Art Museum by the airport. It’s famous for housing the debris of the plane crash that killed both the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda that sparked the beginning of the 1994 genocide.

It closes at 6pm so we had 20 minutes to spare when we arrived. Entry fee is 10,000 Rwandan Francs and photography is strictly prohibited. They really watch you like hawks.

 

 

Then heading west, we stopped by for a wander at Kimironko Market north of the airport.

 

 

And finally after sundown, I was recommended to try the roasted goat ribs at Royal Car Wash:

 

 

After dinner, we returned to the hostel where we met Tom Karrell, a fellow American visiting Rwanda with friends for the week from his home base in Uganda. After an hour speaking with him and at his suggestion, Evan and I decided the next morning at 8am to drive the 2 hours up north to the Rwanda/Uganda border just to have lunch at scenic Lake Bunyonyi. That post is here: U-“Gone”-Da in 60 Seconds!

When Evan and I floored our back back to Kigali at 3:30pm, we both made it just in time to a well-deserved 1.5 hour massage at Zenora Wellness Center for 50,000 RWF. You can book ahead online on their website here.

 

 

Then we drove over 5 minutes to take a peek at the art exhibits at Inema Arts Centre.

 

 

While there, we were recommended to come here on Thursday nights as they throw a huge art gallery party featuring the artists along with drinks, BBQ, and a DJ for a crowd of 300-400 locals and expats.

 

 

Afterwards we then killed time with some tea and coffee on top of a library at the swanky Innovation Village (aka Shokola Storytellers Café):

 

 

After an hour here, we headed to the airport to return our car. On our way back, we finally hailed the thrilling moto-taxis for 1000 RWF for dinner at Sundowners.

Once again, I had the roasted goat. And it was divine.

 

 

And to make things even more interesting, we would happen to be in Rwanda on July 4th, their annual liberation day that formally recognized the end of the Genocide when the Rwanda Patriotic Front regained control of the country.

This means nothing would be open so I celebrated by chilling at the hostel and giving myself a well earned rest day before getting on my return itinerary back home to NYC via a free Ethiopian Airlines business class flight that I just redeemed with 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points.

From Kigali to Addis Ababa (No In-Flight Entertainment systems!):

 

 

The Cloud Nine Business Class Lounge at Addis Ababa was also so crowded!

 

 

But they do offer special ceremonial Ethiopian coffee here near the entrance, which I thought was a nice touch.

 

 

Thank goodness for business class as I was able to skip the lengthy security lines for the USA/Canada/Israel flights (Gates 23-26):

 

 

But be forewarned, some people will try to jack the business class line without having their tickets checked so be aggressive in holding your spot on the line.

Flight ET 500 from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Washington DC (IAD) includes a 45 refueling stop in Dublin in the middle (An 8 hour flight and 7 hour flight respectively for each leg), so wherever you sit should be like a home away from home.

I snagged seat 1A (luckily seat 1B next to me was also empty, so I had the whole first row to myself!):

 

 

The amenities kit has your standard toiletries set, skimpy eye mask, foam earplugs, socks, a pen, foldable comb, lip balm, and toothpicks:

 

 

Where the IFE left much to be desired, they fed me A LOT on both flights: Light snack, dinner, and breakfast for the first leg from ADD to DUB, then a hot canapé and a 3 course lunch on the second leg from DUB to IAD.

My favorite was the local Ethiopian set where you get to choose from a variety of delightful local Ethiopian dishes on a cart complete with their special soft Injera sour flatbread:

 

 

After 16 hours in the air and sleeping for 10 hours of it, I landed 10 minutes early in IAD at 8:10am.

With a 9 hour layover before my final leg back to NYC, I messaged everyone I knew who would be free to meet up. Guess who ended up answering the call? Anya Solovyeva whom I first met back at our hostel in Baku, Azerbaijan 10 months ago!

 

 

Now I’m waiting on my final leg home where there’s a total ground stop to LGA. I figure of all the delays to experience on this entire trip, it would be the domestic one back home. First world problems.

 

- At time of posting in Kigali, Rwanda, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Cash Me In Kashmir Feeling Murree As Ever!

Cash Me In Kashmir Feeling Murree As Ever!

 

For our last day in Pakistan, we decided to head up into Kashmir for Imran’s (our friend and guide who has been showing us around the past week in Pakistan) hometown and the resort village of Murree

 

 

Starting with a drive from the Rawalpindi/Islamabad area at noon, we reached Kashmir at around 2pm. You’ll know you’re in Kashmir once you see all the military posts and artillery off the side of the road.

 

 

Once we got out into the center of Murree, it was like a literal breath of fresh air 2291m (7500ft) above sea level.

 

 

This area is completely closed off to traffic, so this pedestrian-only environment was a welcome tonic after a week of constant driving through the urban sprawls of Islamabad and Lahore.

 

 

After we passed the town’s center, we walked along the hills and took in the off juxtaposition of heavy military presence among otherwise a serene natural backdrop.

 

 

You can take a cable car/ski lift here to other parts of Murree:

 

 

After walking nearly the entire length of the Murree area, we sat down for tea and small bites with Imran’s first cousin Tahir and his friend.

 

 

Afterwards we hailed a trolley to take us back to the village center.

 

 

From there we walked over 5 minutes to Tahir’s house.

 

 

After treated to more tea and a small lunch, we debated over politics and religion which to some surprise, didn’t turn out to be very contentious at all (one of us proclaimed her atheism – eeek – which some of us thought would rattle folks a bit).

 

 

We were then invited up to Tahir’s rooftop for gorgeous panoramic reviews of the Kashmiri valleys:

 

 

And to finish off our evening, Tahir gleefully read fortunes from our palms to pretty accurate findings.

 

 

By 8pm we began to head back to Islamabad.

 

 

And right before leaving, we helped Evan haggle down some pashmina shawls to take home.

 

 

After settling back at Jungle Barracks, we then packed our stuff and had a leisurely dinner before I headed to Ali’s sister’s house for some last minute shisha and post-wedding gossip with the newlyweds (photos would get some people in trouble)! And after a lovely hour with them, we headed back to Jungle Barracks, drove off to the airport, then drove back to pick up my backpack that I had left behind in my room (ugh rookie mistakes still!), and still made it in time for my 6:30am flight out!

 

 

Istanbul

With 85,000 United Airlines miles, I was able to snag a Turkish Airlines Business Class flight out at 6:25am for Istanbul where I got in a few hours of sleep (I already have reviewed the Turkish Airlines business class product in another post).

And right before Turkish Airlines moves all their flights to their new international airport next month, I had one last chance to experience one of my favorite business class lounges in the world, which I reviewed more in depth last June. You can now feel the evident wear and tear in a lounge ready to be abandoned within the month.

 

 

Amsterdam

From there I boarded an afternoon flight out to Amsterdam where I reunited with 2 longtime friends and monsooners (at this point I can’t count how many run-ins around the world I’ve had with them), Anthony and Rik, as well as Selma, whom we befriended 2 summers ago in Kosovo

 

 

And just to make it complete with yet another monsoon serendipity: A random message on one of my Instagram stories last week would lead to someone I met 3 years ago at an ECAASU conference, Yan, to join our group in Amsterdam as she also just so happens to be in the area! In fact it would be her random message that steered me to pick Amsterdam as my layover in the first place. Don’t say I don’t follow the signs…

 

 

After a night out with outdoor drinks at Hannekes Boom and shisha at Wonder Bar Two, I turned in at Anthony’s place for a few hours of sleep before heading back out again early morning for my 9:25am flight back home to Newark Airport on the United Polaris Class 2-1-2 configuration.

Last time I took this flight a year ago, I flew out on its cramped 2-1-2 configuration on the aisle seat. What a difference moving one seat over to the middle column could make. So much more comfortable.

 

 

Although I’ve been away for a week, Ali’s gracious invitation to his wedding after a chance run-in 5 years ago made me feel it was more than just another week away, but rather a years-long course towards destiny.

Serendipities rarely have a profoundly lasting effect when you stretch them over a long enough period of time, but this one definitely did.

 

 

 

- At time of posting in Murree, Pakistan, it was 7 °C - Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast

 

Islamabad: A 5 Year Promise

Islamabad: A 5 Year Promise

 

Islamabad just got served

 

How I Got Here

5 years ago I crashed a random wedding in Lahore where of all the “WTF small world moments” I’ve had in my life I would run into an acquaintance named Ali Raza, whom I had first met briefly when I spoke at CUNY Baruch only a year prior.

Flabbergasted, we then took a photo together and he remarked that whenever he‘d get married he would invite me to come back to Pakistan and attend his wedding, insha’allah!

 

 

We then don’t speak until 5 years later when I get an invitation in the mail: He’s a man of his word.

 

 

And so am I. Pakistan 2.0, let’s go.

This time with the help of Ali’s father, I avoided the shitshow I had went through last time trying to get a Pakistani visa and instead acquired my visa within 4 days. They even gave me multiple entry!

 

 

Ali was also even gracious enough to invite/let me bring along a few monsooners to help him celebrate!

 

 

Qatar Airways Business Class: 1-2-1 Herringbone

After a very comfortable 24 hour journey on Qatar Airways’ new Qsuite Business Class, eventually reaching Doha from a conference in Boulder, Colorado, I headed out for my last 3 hour leg to Islamabad on Qatar’s older business class seat in the classic 1-2-1 herringbone configuration.

 

 

Aside from the obvious differences of less privacy and no sliding doors, the amenities kits are understandably smaller and simpler.

 

 

For the meal I opted for a cold chicken tandoori appetizer.

 

 

For dessert, they served a caramel cheese cake and a bowl of small fruits.

 

 

Arriving Into Islamabad

We arrived at Islamabad International Airport at 1:50am in the morning.

 

 

And just like how I felt last time when I arrived into Pakistan 5 years ago at the arrivals area in Lahore’s International Airport, the staring games once again commenced the moment I stepped into arrivals. Oh how I missed even this.

 

 

Once outside arrivals, Ali’s driver and Ali himself (as well as Daniela, who arrived earlier that morning) greeted and drove us over to our lodgings in Rawalpindi.

 

 

We finally settled in at 3am at Jungle Barracks, which was actually an awesome place to stay and run by ex-military officers looking a perfect place to stay active in their retirement. Super secure, safe, and has all the frills I need for a comfortable stay. And the WiFi here is excellent!

 

 

The next morning we chilled out and basked in our Vitamin D. The weather here this season during the day is perfect.

 

 

We have separate entries for Ali’s Mehndi/Rasm-e-Heena, Baraat/Shaadi, and the Walima in case you want to take a peek at all the outfits and splendor of the functions here. But this post will be devoted to our city tours of the planned capital city of Islamabad over the course of our week here.

 

Exploring Islamabad

We began with a drive up to serene village of northern Saidpur, which existed long before Islamabad.

 

 

There we had a late lunch at Des Pardes:

 

 

Nearby here you can keep driving up Daman-e-Koh for stunning views:

 

 

While you’re up there you can dine at The Monal for an unforgettable meal overlooking Islamabad:

 

 

After dining at The Monal we drove south to visit Islamabad’s most recognizable landmark, the Faisal MosqueIt was built in 1987 and designed to resemble a Bedouin tent.

 

 

For lesser-visited sights, if you need to go shop, there is the daily hustle at Jinnah Super Market:

 

 

You can also drive down the green avenues of wealthy Blue Area:

 

 

On the southwest side of town is the Pir Meher Ali Shah Shrine in the Golra area.

 

 

And on the northeast side in Nurpur Shaha is the Shrine Of Hazrat Bari Imam Sarkar:

 

 

If you’re visiting on a Sunday, don’t miss the weekly shops that open up at Itwar Bazar:

 

 

Or go shopping at any of the local chowks by Shakaparian Park:

 

 

To finish off your day, don’t miss the Pakistan Monument. It’s a gorgeous structure built in the shape of blooming flower petals.

 

 

And stop along Rawal Lake for sunset if you have time.

 

 

- At time of posting in Islamabad, Pakistan, it was 17 °C - Humidity: 58% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

O My Gosh-avank, It’s Lake Sevan & Dilijan!

O My Gosh-avank, It’s Lake Sevan & Dilijan!

 

Just tried real hard with punning the title just now, with special thanks to Fanny and Mihaela for the inspiration.

And about last night…

 

 

Oh boy.

Recovering from a night we’ll all joke and laugh about years to come (“happy birthday” Sheryl! hahahahaha, and thank you Hostel Bivuoac for not kicking us out), we somehow forced ourselves awake this morning at 9:30am and bolted across nearly the entire length of Yerevan’s city center to make it just in time for Hyur Tours’ weekly excusrsion to Lake Sevan and Dilijan. 

Apologizing to everyone on the bus for being “those people”, we promptly then all passed out on the one hour drive north to Lake Sevan.

 

 

The largest body of water in the Caucasus region and one of the largest freshwater high-altitude (alpine) lakes in Eurasia, Lake Sevan provides 90% of the fish catch for the entire country of Armenia.

 

 

You can visit the picturesque Sevanavank monastery that overlooks the lake up 200 steps from ground level. Once built on the southern shore of an island, Josef Stalin’s artificial draining of Lake Sevan led to the island to become transformed into a peninsula.

 

 

After about an hour here, we drove about 45 minutes north to the spa town of Dilijan, which is also known as “the little Switzerland of Armenia.”

 

 

Home to artists, writers, pottery makers, and craftsmen, Dilijan is most famous for Sharambeyan street in the city center, which has been rebuilt and maintained as an “old town.”

 

 

We had lunch in Dilijan where we were served a full course lunch with baked fish, veal, dolmas, and vegetables.

 

 

We then drove about 30 minutes to Goshavank, a 12th-13th-century former monastery in the village of Gosh that’s notable for being financed by the UAE for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Hmmm….

 

 

Finally, we drove about 45 minutes to Haghartsin Monasterya 13th-century monastery that’s somehow always photogenic, even when covered by fog and dense layers of snowfall.

 

 

From the tour bus parking lot we had to walk an extra 15 minutes to reach the monastery.

 

 

Also being financed by the UAE, the monastery looks like it has remained in near mint condition.

 

 

Behind the monastery stands a tree trunk where like the wooden column in Nara, Japan, legend has it that if you’re able to crawl through the hole underneath, all your wishes will come true.

 

 

Although I didn’t crawl through the tree by any means, perhaps you can say another travel wish actually came true:

During our 2 hour drive back to Yerevan while bumming off the bus WiFi, I was scrolling through my IG feed when I noticed a photo of Garni that I had thought belonged to Fanny’s IG account. However, it was far from it; the photo instead belonged to another traveler named Sandy who has been following my blog since the early days of 2010-2012, and then would go on a solo trip herself this year.

We last conversed when I was nearby in Azerbaijan 3 months ago after noticing another one of her posts on my IG feed, after which we tried to coordinate meeting up in Japan. However, it wasn’t meant to be and I left it at “it’ll happen when it happens.” Little would I know until today on the bus ride back to Yerevan that she is ALSO in Armenia at the same time we were, so I sent her a message about possibly making our serendipitous encounter finally happen.

And a few hours later, we would finally meet in person for the first time:

 

 

We also kidnapped another American in our tour bus named Brandon from South Dakota, and with the forces of the universe at work, we somehow got everyone to join in on Chinese hot pot for dinner. 

I would say “only in Armenia” but at this rate with how many serendipities have been happening to me on my travels, I’m not quite sure that would be an accurate statement at all.

 

 

I don’t know why this keeps happening to me, but I’m not complaining.

 

- At time of posting in Dilijan, it was 3 °C - Humidity: 91% | Wind Speed: 7km/hr | Cloud Cover: snow

 

You Look So Kyoto!

You Look So Kyoto!

 

To preface this entry, Kyoto is more massive than I’d expected. But not the massive as in where every square foot is a temple, going as far as the eye can see like in Bagan. Rather, I was surprised how it was massive more in a dense, in-your-face, modern metropolis.

 

 

Once Japan’s former capital city, Kyoto is not exactly the storied, compact, fanciful, mystical, rural Japan you’d expect from researching what to see here.

Think of Kyoto as a sprawling, dense, bustling concrete jungle that has been built around strictly demarcated and guarded pockets of evocative footpaths, neighborhoods, and temple grounds that are still rich with history.

 

 

That said, to see the “must see” temples require a mad dash around what seemed like the circumference of the entire city sprawl. So our 3 days in Kyoto will never do this city justice — you can spend months here and still wonder if you really saw everything (you didn’t).

However, I feel that our 20-mile long walking (+ a little bus and cab) itinerary we did on our second day here, combined with the tea ceremony and sunset on the first day, along with a free day on our third day would give you the most efficient and best bang for your buck and a good first impression of Kyoto’s beauty before you become fully “temple’d out.”

 

Yes, even this we got "temple'd out" by

 

If anything, it’s also wonderfully nostalgic/saudade to be in the very city that inspired one of my favorite songs to one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies:

 

 

After a morning in Nara, we checked in into our digs at Grids Kyoto Hostel at 2pm, which happened to be located in the Gion area which is known to be Kyoto’s geisha district.

 

Photo credit: Donna Vo

 

After freshening up for an hour, we walked over 15 minutes to Nineizaka area where we had booked reservations for a 45 minute tea ceremony at Camellia at 4pm. Since Kelly was coming in too late to make it to the tea ceremony, we luckily had Camilla — our friend from Brazil that we made all the way back at our hostel in Hiroshima — to take her place. How things just work out so nicely!

Also known as Chado or sado, the slow and graceful movements of the tea ceremony are rooted in Zen Buddhism and originated here in Kyoto. A normal 45 session first begins with a demonstration of the tea ceremony, before giving participants the opportunity to make their own. If you want to take some home, you can purchase your own ceremonial grade matcha afterwards.

 

 

Afterwards we lingered in Nineizara for their famous Kyoto sunset.

 

 

Although we weren’t the only ones with the same idea:

 

 

Linger more after sunset for some truly remarkable mood lighting.

 

 

I think I lingered here a little too long.

 

 

Afterwards Luke, Amy, Natasha, and the last monsooner to hop on our group, Kelly, joined us for dinner in the dense food/bar/pub alleyway of Pontocho Alley, one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric dining areas.

 

 

Although we had first made an attempt to dine at Yamafuku Shabu Shabu, they were completely and understandably too full to accommodate a space for 10 people at the last minute. However, one of the staff members, Yuta, was kind enough to lead us down a 5-7 minute walk down nearly the entirety of Pontocho Alley to another restaurant, Kamehachi Bekkan where they quickly accommodated our group without reservations.

 

 

After dinner, we then headed out for more drinks at lounge/pub/club/hookah bar called ZamZam:

 

 

We then returned to our hostel at midnight for bed, waking up 8 hours later. While Trish couldn’t come out because of her foot, the rest of us went out and made our first stop at Tenryu-ji Temple, the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism.

 

 

From there we walked to the photogenic Arashiyama Bamboo Grove & Forest.

 

 

We then weaved quickly back to the main street of Arashiyama and right nearby is a very inspired Kimono Forest:

 

 

We then took a cab to Kinkaku-ji Temple, the famed overly photographed “Golden Pavilion.”

 

 

From there we caught Kyoto City bus 204 and took it all the way east to the Ginkakuji-michi stop and walked up to Ginkaku-ji Temple, the Silver Pavilion.

 

 

After Ginkaku-ji, we exited the temple and walked half an hour south along the entirety of Path of Philosophy, a pleasant stone walking path following a canal lined by hundreds of cherry trees through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district.

 

 

At the southern end of the path we stopped by maze-like beauty of humongous Zenrinji (Eikando) Temple, at the recommendation of Camilla.

 

 

Their garden here is one of the most picturesque in Kyoto.

 

 

After 45 minutes there, we then stopped by Nanzen-ji Temple a few minutes down. It’s known for its beautiful entrance that was used as the backdrop for that scene in Lost In Translation (video at the top of this post for your reference).

For example, this is the scene from Lost In Translation:

 

Real life:

 

Lost in Translation:

 

Real life:

 

Childhood memories checked off, from Nanzen-ji we walked past Shoren-in Temple to explore Chion-in Temple via the enormous San-mon Gate.

 

 

It’s free to wander; so head on up, climb those stairs, and be transported to another world.

 

 

Climb up a few flights of stairs for a room and view all to yourself:

 

 

We spent a good 45 minutes here before they closed at 4pm, so we exited Chion-in on the left.

 

 

We then walked across Maruyama-koen Park to follow Nene-no-Michi before once again reaching Nineizaka. This time I didn’t stop for sunset.

 

 

But that sunset was so good. So here’s another one:

 

 

We then reached the nearby Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of Kyoto’s most popular.

 

 

They have a great elevated view of Kyoto here:

 

 

However, they’re undergoing renovations at the top of posting, so the view that we wanted —

 

 

— was this instead:

 

 

Prior to entering the temple, there’s also an underground grotto designed like a maze to your left. If you can somehow find your way in the pitch black darkness to find this special stone, it’s said a wish of yours will come true.

After Kiyomizu-dera, we cabbed it over to Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, our last stop on this itinerary. And how fitting:

 

 

Thousands and thousands of orange archways make up this important Shinto shrine, although the recent typhoon prevented us from reaching the very top. Can’t fight the moonlight. Can’t fight nature.

 

 

Be careful of the mosquitoes here! From there we took the Keihan Line from Fushimi-Inari Station to Shihijo, where we had a Teppanyaki dinner at Kyosikian before calling it a night. Today we walked 35,000 steps, covering 18 miles and 46 flights of stairs!

Tomorrow is a free day where everyone goes do their own thing: shop, study, walk, explore, onsen, relax, and where Billy from our hostel in Nagasaki (and then again in Hiroshima) rejoins us for a night out!

 

Our last few hours in Kyoto at Shisha Cafe Velvet

 

What To Eat In Kyoto

 

Kyoto Hotpot at Kamehachi Bekkan:

 

Kyoto-style Lunch Set:

 

Matcha. Like Match Rice Cakes:

 

Matcha (Mochi) Dumplings:

 

Matcha Almond Pudding:

 

and straight up matcha:

 

Cotton Candy bigger than your FACE:

 

Matcha/Red Bean slushies, with seaweed-wrapped mochi sticks:

 

Feeling antisocial? Nearby our hostel was an Ichiran branch, where you order ramen from a vending machine at the entrance…

 

and then get served that very ramen inside in your own private cubicle from unseen staff:

 

Next stop: I’m returning to Tokyo after 7 months!

 

 

- At time of posting in Kyoto, Japan, it was 23 °C - Humidity: 72% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: clear