Thursday, July 10, 2008


We're in Kyoto now at the XIV Resort. J & H are fast asleep after a busy day of traveling around Kyoto via train and by foot.

The food in Japan is something to marvel at whether you're at a shop or in a restaurant - the taste and presentation are truly amazing. A big surprise is all of the little patisseries and boulangeries we've been seeing. The Japanese seem to have a touch of Francophilia. The patisseries we've visited have the most beautiful dainties and treats for sale in lovely little wrappers. I love it!

When we got to XIV, we were all starving. We asked the porter (who we know know as M) if she could recommend a place to eat. She mentioned the two restaurants at the hotel but they had set menus which weren't exactly what we were looking for and not to mention, incredibly expensive. She said she would check to see if the restaurant by the cable car station was open and give us a call. She not only called us but walked up to our room to let us know the details. We were to meet her at the entrance of the hotel at 6:15 pm. Up until now, I haven't really mentioned how phenomenal the customer service is here in Japan but suffice it to say, it is completely off the chain. Case in point, when we met M at 6:15, she not only told us where the restaurant was but she WALKED us there holding a paper lantern. If that wasn't enough, she sat with us at the table while she translated the menu with our host and helped us order! She then left the lantern behind for us to use on our way back to XIV. (Truly amazing!)

The restaurant was in the main part of a series of very traditional looking buildings. It was very cozy with only two tables and a teeny tiny bar where two business men were having drinks. There were several courses to the meal and each dish was stunning - in both presentation and taste. I felt as though we were taking advantage of the host because the meal was so reasonable for such a priceless experience.

When we got back to our room, we quickly put on our slippers and made our way down to the spa - more commonly known as the onsen here in Japan. H & I experienced it for the first time yesterday after our trip to Nara. We were both a little nervous and shy at the thought of going completely naked and soaking in the baths. Traditionally, onsen were used as bath houses and referred specifically to the hot spring baths. Please don't mistake these for the sleazy bath houses found at the back of downtown urban publications. The onsen is a wonderful place to retreat. Men and women have separate bathing areas and each is equipped with several different pools - some with massaging jets and waterfalls, others simply filled with hot, hot water. One area had a very mild current which stimulated the nerves. I had to try it in brief intervals. It was the wildest sensation. The next morning, I felt like I had been kneaded vigorously and was aching. Wild. Before entering the onsen, each person showers completely in their own little space. It's unlike showering in North America. There's a stool and a removable shower head and a basin. Shampoo, body wash and conditioner are all provided. (At XIV, there was even facial cleanser included!) Once you're all clean, then you can step into the baths. The spa here at XIV had a section which had an open roof to the outside but of course, was walled off. There was a sauna, as well as a steam room with steam beds. It was so relaxing. I wish this was a common practice in North America. It's such a wonderful way to take care of yourself. H & I weren't as nervous this time and really enjoyed it. If I get up early enough, I think I might go first thing in the morning.

Did I mention how beautiful XIV is? The resort is nestled on a mountainside and is really spectacular inside. The staff are really sweet and friendly. And yes, we're sleeping on Western-style beds tonight! Yay!

Tomorrow, we plan to see some temples. Apparently, there's a lovely garden and temple at the top of the mountain which we can get to using the cable car by the restaurant. Also, there is another famous temple that Megumi recommended for us to see but I've forgotten the name of.

P.S. We ended up seeing M again as we were buying tickets to take the train a few stops. She was heading home after her 12 hour shift and we asked if she knew of a little combini (convenience store) where we could pick up some onigiri for breakfast along with some other snackies. We took the train to her stop. Before we parted ways, she told us that she had left an envelope for us at the front desk with information about various temples around Kyoto including maps. (I said, off the chain, didn't I?!) What a sweetheart! We made a plan to talk again tomorrow during her shift. (I wonder if she's looking for a penpal...) Anyway, as we we were walking back towards the entrance of XIV, the concierge greeted us with the envelope! Can you believe that with this level of customer service, tipping is not a common practice here?! Incredible, I know. (Don't let it stop you, though. The thought of not tipping for such phenomenal service just seems so wrong!). It's going to be very hard going back to North American standards... (Sigh) ;)

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