Travel Guide: Kyoto

From Takayama, we took another bullet train to Kyoto. I usually only like to stick to subways in foreign cities but in Kyoto, the bus system was more efficient than subways. With that said though, I think it’s comparable to the crappy streetcars in Toronto. You have to get on at the back of the bus and when your stop comes, you have to fight your way to the front of the bus to pay and get off. What kind of Japanese efficiency is this? I recommend buying a day pass with the bus driver if you plan on taking the bus more than 3 times in a day.


To do:

Nick and I love live music, especially when we are in foreign countries. We went to Jittoku one night where they have different musicians playing music from 7-9. We noshed on some food and I nursed my plum wine while listening to various different kinds of Japanese music

We went into nearly every grocery store we came across, this is a very large grocery store with two floors. I bought a salad from here that I loved and am still trying to recreate. They also sell these sandwiches on fluffy white bread with different stuffing inside. We had a peanut butter one and our eyes nearly watered because it tasted so good. Nick doesn’t even like white bread and he couldn’t stop fighting me for the sandwich. The second floor sells random knickknacks and clothes.

Fushimi Inari-taisha
Kyoto is the city of many shrines and since it was our first time here, I wanted to tackle the most iconic ones. We ended up running all the way to the Fushimi Inari-taisha during our morning run. You enter through a small market first with lots of food vendors. Afterwards there is a large temple where people bought ornaments to write their wishes on. People also pay extra to have a ceremony done for them near the temple, we were lucky enough to see one but photos weren’t allowed. We walked up the many many steps to get to the top, the further we went, the less people there were which was better for photos. On the way down, we decided to take the off beaten path and hiked down through the forest. It’s not for the faint hearted.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The bamboo forest is in Arashiyama, an area where you can spend all day in. We walked through the forest but it was filled with tourists, it loses a bit of its magic when there are so many selfie sticks in the way.



Monkey Park Iwatayama
We hiked up to the monkey park in Arashiyama and I thought I would be really scared of having monkeys walk around me but they were very chill. There’s an area where you can buy a bag of apples of peanuts to feed the monkeys through a net. I loved feeding them, their hands were so gentle when taking the apple slice from me.


Row Row Row Our Boat

The river running through Arashiyama was very picturesque and so we rented a rowboat so we can pretend to be romantic. I was useless at rowing the boat, all these Japanese men were flailing their arms trying to show me how to do it as I rowed in a circle. Thank goodness Nicholas use to dragon boat and so I just sat back and relaxed. Apparently I wasn’t suppose to relax and I was suppose to be his eyes and we crashed into a couple of boats….gently.

Do it: Portugal

Nicholas and I went to Lisbon for 6 days and stayed in Bairro Alto (at this airbnb, which was perfect for just the two of us). It was situated just outside of the touristy Baixa and Chiado district and full of restaurants and bars! On Saturday night, we looked out of our balcony and the streets were filled with partiers! People would get a drink in a bar where they would give them their drinks in plastic cups and then they would wander out onto the street to hang out. We loved the atmosphere! Most of the locals can speak English and we were able to get around with just these phrases, Obrigato (thank you), ola (hello), contra (bill), fala Ingles? (do you speak English?) Other things we noticed were that locals didn’t eat dinner till about 8pm which was fine with us because we got hungry usually at 7pm and we were able to snatch the first seating at restaurants. The food in Lisbon was amazing, we didn’t have one bad meal and everything we ate was so delicious whether it be from a takeout kebab place or a fancy dinner.

Alfama is the oldest part of Lisbon and is by far the most picturesque neighbourhood we visited. I love a good thrill of the possibility of getting lost in steep winding alleyways (only in daylight though!) We did a pay what you can walking tour of Alfama and had Andre as our guide. He was very lovely and I highly recommend this. The tour is meant to be a guide to the neighbourhood through the eyes of a local. Not only did he give us a historical account of Alfama but also brought us to the home of a lady who sells Ginjia (local cherry liquor) by her window, sang fado for us by a fountain and told us interesting tidbits of everyday life (like how some shops have birds singing in their cages at the front to attract customers).

We also took a walking tour from the same company in Belem, this time it was more historic because of the area and not as personal as the Alfama one. But I still recommend it because it’s a pay what you can kind of tour and our guide was very thorough in telling us about the different monuments in the area.

The main attraction was the Jerónimos Monastery where monks back in the day invented the famous Portuguese custard tart and started selling them next door. It was crazy touristy here but head over to the Pasteis de Belem for lunch. Before this, I had tried a traditional custard tart in Lisbon but still preferred the Macau’s version but the custard tart at this particular place changed my mind! It was not too sweet and the pastry was perfection. The delicious pastry even translated to the crust of the pizzas and the pie crust of the duck pie (not pictured).

The tour guide ended the tour at the Monument to the Discoveries which I had seen in pictures and wasn’t wowed by it. But in person, it was incredible and I was blown away by the sheer size of it, this monument was definitely something you have to see in person.

Nearby was the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which holds art by Picasso, Jeff Koons, Dali and Warhol, the best of all was that it was free!

Cervejaria Ramiro was a seafood restaurant featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. If you spoke English, they gave you an ipad with the English menu on it but you were not suppose to order from it, we were thoroughly confused. But the waiters there were very fast and really good at making recommendations. A lot of the items (including our crab) was priced by it’s weight. We ordered clams on garlic, oysters, conch and crab and we were happily stuffed.

O Trevo was another place recommended by Anthony Bourdain and he had the bifana which was a pork steak in a roll. We also ordered the duck with rice which totally stole the show! It reminded me of Chinese clay pot rice because the flavour from the duck meat was infused into the rice.  

A Tasca do Chico was recommended by Andre as a place locals go to to listen to Fado (a genre of music dated back to the 1820s where the songs are melancholic, think: a woman singing about missing her husband who was at war and usually accompanied by guitars.) We went twice at night time and both times we had to wait a bit outside before they would let us in. It was packed in there and we had to wait at the bar before some people cleared out of tables so we could get a seat. We ordered gin and tonics and they were huge and delicious. We found that the gin and tonics we were ordering at bars were much bigger than what we would get back home. There were different singers throughout the night and they usually sang about 3 songs each. This was one of our favourite things to do on our trip!

We stopped by Artis Wine Bar at 10pm for a second dinner and was so glad we found this gem! They did tapas style food and it had a great atmosphere. We shared the octopus (Nicholas’ favourite), fish soup (my favourite) and beef skewers.

Sintra was a 30min train ride away from Lisbon where we visited Quinta da Regaleira and the Pena Palace. Websites usually recommended you visit the three palaces and if you had a second day, visit the Quinta da Rageleira but through research, I knew I wanted to cross off the latter one first. When we got off the train, I couldn’t figure out where the bus was to take us there so armed with google maps, we hiked there. It was a bit of a walk, so I only recommend walking in Sintra if you’re physically fit. The Quinta da Rageleira was a very magical place, it has a mansion you could walk through and a garden with lots of passageways, caves, or random stairs that led to towers. You never knew where you would end up and the gem of the garden was hopping on stones in a brook, going down a very dark tunnel in a cave and arriving at the bottom of a well. This would be a great place to play hide and seek. Like I said before, we didn’t have one bad meal in Lisbon and even in this tourist attraction, we had the savoury crepes and chocolate cake for a snack and they were delicious! I highly recommend eating lunch in the courtyard outside of the mansion.

Next we hiked to the Pena Palace, this was a serious trek and we hiked up mountains in search for a short cut, seriously not for the faint hearted. The Pena Palace was opposite of what the Quinta da Regaleira looked like, it was painted yellow, pink and orange. I almost thought we were in Disney. The inside was also worth touring, it was well decorated and very majestic.

Cervejaira Trinidade was another restaurant recommended by Andre, it was a former monastery so all the waiters are dressed in monk's clothing, the tables are pews and altars and the food was served in metal bows. We had the steak in three sauces and a steak in Portuguese sauce which came with a side of fries and chips. They don’t ask you how well done you want the steak, it just comes as is. The sauce on the steak in three sauce was unreal!

We had passed by Antigo Primeiro de Maio numerous times on the way back to our airbnb and it was always packed! We decided to go on our last night and we were happy to have found this gem! Our waiter was very friendly and made great recommendations for us. We had calamari to start off with, our mains were black hog and pork shoulder and a traditional Portuguese cake for dessert. The black hog was amazing and highly recommended!

Eat it: Iceland

icelandic fish and chipsThe Icelandic Fish and Chips was my favourite meal of the trip. It was affordable and healthy, well, as healthy as fried fish can be. They're an organic bistro that use spelt flour and rapeseed oil! They provide dips made of skyr (an Icelandic yogurt that is sold everywhere) with different flavours. We chose (from left to right) coriander and lime, truffle and tarragon and tartar. The truffle and tarragon was by far our favourite. They have different fish to choose from depending on what they can get, I had a haddock and it was very flaky. The potatoes on the other hand were so so. herefod steak houseClockwise from the top: smoked puffin, lobster soup with cognac, Skyr, whale peppersteak and grilled puffin breast. We decided to splurge on a meal of Icelandic fare and found Hereford Steak House to give us the best bang for our buck. They had a whale or puffin prixe fix meal for $60. Puffin tasted like jerky and the whale tasted like a beef steak. It was pretty tasty but I don't have to have it again.

icelandic hot dogsThis is the infamous Icelandic hot dog, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. It has fried onions at the bottom, topped with a weiner with remoulade sauce and Icelandic sauce (which tasted like mild mustard) squeezed on top. For $3.80, it was the cheapest thing I ate. I still think a Toronto street dog taste better, although I might be biased.

saegrefinnThe Saegrefinn was an interesting restaurant, you first choose the already skewered fish and vegetables. Then they take it to the kitchen to grill it and then bring it to your table. The lobster soup was very good but I do suggest sharing it if there are two of you, it was very filling.

cook at homeMy last tip for eating on a budget in Iceland is to go to Bonus, a chain grocery store with a funny pig as their logo to buy food to make breakfast and snacks. We made breakfast every day and had dinner in the apartment once. Icelanders love organic food so all the vegetables we bought were organic. My omlettes have never tasted so good because the vegetables were much sweeter than the ones back at home! I really do miss those Icelandic eggs.

Read what to do in Iceland here.