We woke up at 6:45 so that we could grab some breakfast/coffee at Starbucks, with the thought being we'd grab that at 7:30 and take a cab to the train station at 8. But it turns out that the Starbucks that Dewey and Clarita went to did not open until 8, which has got to be latest-opening Starbucks we've ever heard of. So instead, we got an earlier cab ride to the Kyoto train station and grabbed coffee at the McDonald's in the station. Justin grabbed some pastries at one of the shops, as we were going sake tasting in the morning and he wanted to have as many carbs as possible to "soak up" the sake. The Kyoto station is something like 8 levels high, and has an enormous food court - we were on the south side, which is actually separare from the rest of the station, but even in our little area there must have been at least a dozen restaurants, not to mention little shops and grocery stores. Just before our 8:30 meeting time we met Sachi, who would be guiding our small group today. A few minutes later we met Oleg and his significant other (not sure we ever caught her name - either that or the sake made us forget).

Sachi had gotten us train tickets, and we headed south on the Nara line for Inari. We went only a couple of stops, then got out at Inari Station, and then walked a few blocks to Inari Shrine, one of the main highlights in the Kyoto area. The shrine was nice enough, but Inari is mainly known for the thousands of Torii Gates that make a sort of tunnel along various paths. It was pretty cool, and it looked like most of the gates had a relatively recent coat of paint (either that, or they use really great paint). There are several paths, and we did the "short" version that was maybe a 5-10 walk back and forth. The longer path goes up a hill and provides a great view of Kyoto, but we didn't have the 3-4 hours it takes for the hike - maybe next time. There were tons of people there, as we were still in the middle of Golden Week, so we'd wait until there was a gap in the group of people walking, then stop, wait, and then hope others weren't coming the other way. You can tell in some of the other photos the rough density of tourists.

After getting back to the train station, we went a little furher south, taking the Nara Line to Tambabashi Station, then switching to the Keihan Line and getting off at Chushojima Station. When we departed, we wlked around the Fushimi neighborhood, which was a nice little neighborhood that was very walkable, not very crowded, and filled with sake bars. We skipped the bars and instead went to Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, which had a lot of historical items and depicted how sake was made back in the day. At a 30,000 foot level, here's how the process went:

No, we did not think to write all of this down whilst at the museum. But we did think to take pictures of the plaques describing the process, and then summarize it here. At the museum, we walked around looking at all the contraptions, but frankly it was difficult to imagine how it all worked when just sitting there not doing anything - a video (even if just in cartoon form) would have been much better. After milling around, we got three samples, one of a sweet sake (more sugar), a dry sake (less sugar), and a plum wine (extra sweet, but with a better flavor). They also had a gift shop, and Justin, not knowing this wasn't the last stop, got a bottle of super dry for us to drink.

After we left the museum, we continued to walk around Fushimi (we think north from the sake museum and then right on Uoya Dori) - enjoying our bottle of dry sake - until we got to a small shopping mall near the Fushimi-Momoyama train station. We were lagging behind the rest of the group, and one of the first stores had a bunch of eclectic items, including some Bulldog and Boston Terrier stuff. Justin spotted a Boston Terrier bath mat and decided to grab it for his mom for Mother's Day - not everyone has a Boston Terrier bath mat from Fushimi, Japan. We weren't sure exactly why we were in the mall, but then we found out we were there for another sake place where we were having a second tasting. We were a bit surprised because of the timing - it was a half-day tour and it we were told we'd be back by about 12:30, but it was already almost noon. The people a the shop asked us what sort of sakes we wanted to try, and Oleg indicated he wanted whatever the brewmaster recommended, which we all agreed was the way to go. Since it was 3 couples, we all decided the guys would get one set of sakes, the gals would get a different set, and each couple would split each of their glasses with their partners, thereby enabling us to try 6 different sakes. The tasting confirmed that we're much bigger fans of drier sakes.

We were running a bit late, but not too worried yet. It was a short walk to Fushimi-Momoyama station, and we got back right around 1pm in Kyoto. We walked across the street (technically, in a tunnel under the street) to Hotel Avanti, where we checked in for our afternoon tour with Sunrise Tours. Our bus was set to leave at 1:40, so we grabbed a quick lunch at a steakhouse right next door. We just made the bus, even though - by our watches - it was 1:38. Our bus was headed south to Nara - further south than the train had taken us in the morning. Our guide Suki was assuredly good, but between the steak lunch and all the sake, we didn't catch much of what she had to say.

The bus ride was maybe 45 minutes or so, and the first stop was Todai-ji, a massive complex of the huge Todai-ji Temple and numerous surrounding buildings and open lawns where wild (but tame) deer hang out. We're not sure if Todai-ji was in fact bigger than the other temples we'd visited, but it certainly seemed that way. There was a massive Buddha in the middle of the temple, and several other large statues as well. After walking around inside the temple for 20 minutes or so, we had another 30 minutes or so to walk around, so we headed uphill to the east, seeing (at least hurriedly) several of the other buildings (we think other Buddhist Temples and maybe a two-story restaurant that tried to match the architecture) plus some deer. We could have easily walked around for another hour or so, so maybe next time we'll do an all day tour in the area, or just go there ourselves and look around without being on a set tour.

The next stop was very nearby, the Kasuga Shrine, which is famous for its stone and bronze lanterns everywhere. In addition to the lanterns, there were also quite a few orange Torii gates, albeit a small fraction of what we saw at Inari. We can't remember what all Suki told us about Kasuga, but frankly by this time everything was starting to run together. The sun was getting a bit low and finally the number of people everywhere was starting to thin out. Alas, we had to get back on the bus to head back to Kyoto. The bus dropped us off at the hotel, so that was nice. For dinner we decided to try a Tonkatsu place that we'd read good things about on Tripadvisor, Katsukura Sanjohonten.

We have no idea what the name means, but we recognize "Katsu" and we also recognize "Sanjo" - that was the name of the street it was on. It was actually in the mall we'd walked through the night before, only we didn't really recall seeing it. There was a good reason for this - the "door" to the restaurant was a small hallway covered with a drape, and after passing through the drape you went through a portal, exiting the loud and bright mall into a parallel universe with an outdoor corridor that was both quiet and dimly lit, with stone steps leading about 50 feet back to the actual restaurant, which was a standalone building from the mall. The food was very good, and the two of us and Dewey got their high quality pork tonkatsu dinner while Clarita got a combination tonkatsu and shrimp katsu dinner. There were multiple sauces available for dipping, and they also gave us sesame seeds for us to crush up to mix with the sauces.

Just like the night before, Dewey and Clarita took a cab back whilst we walked. We picked a different street tonight, taking the street one to the north (Aneyakoji Dori) of Sanjo. We took the street to a restaurant called La Jolla that supposedly had the best Mexican food in Kyoto. We weren't particularly interested in food (as we were stuffed) but instead some margaritas for Cinco de Mayo. Interestingly enough, we passed by a Hawaiian restaurant on the way to the Southern California themed Mexican restaurant - a little bit of home(s) in a faraway land. Inside La Jolla, we were sure it must have been opened by an expat who used to be a surfer. It was incredibly "authentic" in the sense it easily could have been in Leucadia, Huntington Beach, or any other surf spot in Southern California. It was full of old posters, old maps, surfing memorabilia, etc., had a "California burrito," all of which made us think it would have been too hard to acquire from halfway around the world. Turns out no - the owner was Japanese, and had only visited Southern California on a surfing trip long ago. Whatever the background, the margaritas were passable (a little bit too much gran marnier relative to tequila) and the chips and guacamole were very good. Dewey joined us for our second round, and then we headed back just before 11.