Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Looking Back On A Year Ago

For someone as outgoing and exuberant in real life as I am, I'm very introspective. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my life and how it and I have changed over the years. The last twelve months stand in stark contrast to the ones that came before, and I'm genuinely astonished at how different the last year has been. 2017 has been shit for a lot of people in a lot of ways, including me. There have been ups and downs, but my average personal happiness has been miles above 2016's. 

Manchester Christmas Markets At Night 2017

The first six months of 2016 were a slow acceptance of the fact that my then-boyfriend didn't love and ultimately didn't want me in his life long-term. He was perfectly happy for me to be around there and then, so long as I was at his beck and call and went away when he wanted me too. I was miserable for the first eight months of 2016, although it picked up in September when I reconnected with an old friend who is now my boyfriend. He pretty much turned my entire life around, and I don't just mean that in the sappy sense - he helped me get a job after six months of unemployment and misery, which meant I could move out of my Mum's house and get back to living my own life. I kind of disappeared for all of November last year as my life went through some major changes; I wrote about it and you can tell just how bonkers that month was for me.

While 2016 began miserably and ended happy, 2017 started happy and is ending even happier. Sure, there are a few things I'd like to change, but if I had everything sorted I wouldn't have anything to do in 2018, would I? I know I sound like a broken record but I really can't get over just how different my year has been. On the bare face of it, the two years don't sound that different: living in Manchester with a boyfriend and working in a job that's okay but doesn't pay enough. However, the boyfriend and job are both different, and only the city stayed the same. Rather than controlling, cold and uncaring, my boyfriend is laid back, warm and affectionate. Instead of working in retail with aching feet and looking at boobs for a living, I sit down and read words. It may not be my dream job, but it's a damn sight closer than bra-fitting. 

For anyone out there who isn't happy with their lives, I'd tell them that change is good. Embrace it and work hard and even just a year later you'll be able to look back and see the changes you've made for the better. It's not going to be easy, I can tell you that both 2016 and 2017 came with major tears, tantrums and trepidation, but it always ends eventually. My Mum has always said "this too shall pass", and no truer words were ever spoken. Eventually, everything changes, whether it's for better or worse is, at least in part, up to you.

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Monday, 27 November 2017

Monday Medley #18

I don't quite know what I've been doing for the last week. I feel like I've been really busy also don't seem to have done very much. I only posted once this week and it turned out to be somewhat prescient. I wrote about figuring out the kind of things I enjoy writing, but when it came to writing the post I had planned for Saturday I just wasn't feeling it. I intended to write about how much my spending habits have changed over the last year but no matter how I span it, it sounded like bragging. Rather publishing it and feeling uncomfortable or throwing something else together quickly and not feeling like it was good enough, I decided not to publish anything. That's a change I've been trying to make for a while; I put too much pressure on myself to stick to a schedule and stress myself out trying to keep to it even when I don't have anything to say. I feel like this is a shift in the right direction.

Weird lightbulb filled with water



I absolutely loved this post by Casey about how much Iceland means to her. It's a really emotional and moving read and is something I can really relate to when I think about New Zealand. However, if there's one thing this post will do is convince you that you need to go to Iceland.

I love Alice's style and her blog is brilliant and this post is no exception. She talks about some of the problems in the blogging industry and I can relate to so much of it. Blogging isn't respected outside of the industry but is equally intimidating for those trying to enter. Her post is a breath of fresh air and well worth a read.

Rachel's post about reigniting her passion for photography is well worth a read whether you're into photography or not, and is a really lovely post about rediscovering the things you loved to do as a child. All of her posts are well written and the photography is always gorgeous and unique to her style, so if you haven't already, she's definitely one to check out.

I am obsessed with Sandra's blog at the moment, both for food and travel. Her post about 13 things to expect when you go to Cuba has cemented my desire to visit Cuba sometime soon. It sounds fascinating and like a truly unique island culture, and the food looks incredible.

Laila's writing is always great, but in this post, she really excels. She writes about Autumn with great whimsy and really captures the feeling of this time of year. This little summary can't do it justice, so just go and read it.

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Figuring Out What I Like To Write

If you're a regular reader you may have noticed a bit of a change in my content over the last few months. When I first started this blog, it was very much focused on books and beauty. I gradually began to incorporate more travel and lifestyle posts throughout 2016, and this stayed constant until around this summer. As minimal makeup became more of a trend, I also began to be less interested in writing and wearing makeup. I've had, and am still having, lots of issues with my skin since the beginning of 2017, and skincare has become a much larger part of my life, usurping makeup in many ways. 

Night walk photo November 17

I also found that I only enjoyed writing makeup posts when they were actually well-informed and researched, rather than a simple 'these are the things I like right now' with no in-depth explanation as to why. Sure, it helps to beef up the amount of content you can publish, but I find writing and reading them pretty boring. 

This is a trend I've noticed throughout my blog. When I'm just churning out content for the sake of it, whether it's a review of a book I'm not particularly enthusiastic about or just a post about a favourite lipstick with a pretty flatlay, I find myself being reluctant to even post it. The things I like to write and feel proud of publishing tend to be posts that are either highly emotional and personal, or well researched and factual. Hopefully, I can continue writing the kind of content that I like and don't fall into the same trap I have in the past, whereby I end up writing things I don't like for the sake of writing something.

I'm treating this blog post as a kind of reminder to myself, so I thought I'd list and link some of the blog posts that I really enjoyed reading and am proud of so that I can refer back to it if I ever feel lost with my blog content. 

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Monday, 20 November 2017

Monday Medley #17

In case you haven't noticed, there's been a bit of a rejig here on the blog. Yep, Spare Oom is out and B,Rambling is in and I'm loving it. I expect I'll be fixing broken links until the end of time, but it's worth it for the fab new header designed by Jemma and a blog that feels more true to who I am and what I want to write. There will be a new blog post on god knows what coming your way on Wednesday as usual, but for now I'll stop my rambling (you getting the name now?) and get on with the usual weekly round-up of everything I've loved reading and watching in the last week.  



I've really been trying to make an effort to read more this week, but it's been a bit of a busy one so I've had mixed results. I'm almost at the end of The Essex Serpent, a book that I talked about first in April. That's how bad I've been for reading this year. I've really enjoyed it so far but haven't been blown away; I love the settings of Victorian London and small-town Essex, and the female-driven Scientific advances of the time are fab and it's great to see them brought into the the public sphere and acknowledged. This book is primarily about relationships and I think it deals with them really well, avoiding rushing and allowing them to develop very naturally. It's worth a read if you're into that sort of thing, but I wouldn't shout from the hills about it.


First up is a post from Cate, talking all about her new weekly challenge which sounds FAB. She will be using a random country generator to choose a country every Monday and cook a traditional recipe from that country. She's planning to explore the history of the dish and its place in the culture and I just think it's a brilliant idea. She kicked off the challenge with a Mauritian chicken daube dish, and I really enjoyed reading about the blend of cultures behind it. 

Beverley's post about what to do in the evening when travelling alone is such a useful one. When I went Copenhagen alone several years ago I spent every evening cooped up in my Airbnb, too nervous and uncertain to venture outside alone. I really did waste my time there which I really regret, and I'm determined to make the most of it next time I travel alone. I did a lot better when I was in Kyoto alone, but even so, Beverley's post really encouraged me and gave me ideas of great things to do in a strange city at night.

Elle's post about running off to New York for a month was another great read; I'm all for taking a break and heading off for some headspace and I think New York is a great place to do it in. Reading this seriously upped my desire to finally go to NYC, and it's a trip I'll hopefully make soon (next year? Fingers crossed!)

I freaking love Scandinavia at the best of times and Sam's post on spending a weekend in Oslo has only increased my desire to go back. I've been to Helsinki and Stockholm, but Oslo is definitely in need of a visit. Can you tell I've got seriously itchy feet at the moment? I'm in dire need of another holiday and nothing booked until April, so I'm living vicariously through Sam's stunning photography.

Since discovering Lauren's blog last month it has featured in these Monday Medleys several times because it's just right up my street. In this post she talks about a phenomenon I also experience: impatience. I want to go to New York and Helsinki now damn it! If I don't get it done straight away I feel like a failure, meaning I put way too much pressure on myself. Lauren talks about this much better than I could have, and her post is well worth a read if you tend to beat yourself up for not having a five year/one year/six month plan.


Has anyone else been watching Trump: An American Dream on Channel 4? It's super fascinating to look back and see where the lunatic came from, but seeing him as a young man is seriously creepy. It's shown on Thursdays and is my current weekly viewing (apart from The Apprentice obv) and it never fails to creep me out a little while also educating me about the most powerful man in the world...someone save us please.

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Saturday, 18 November 2017

15 Favourite Photos From Japan

I took over two thousand photos while I was in Japan, of varying quality, but there are a few that I absolutely love. Dare I say it, there's even one in here I'm quite proud of. I had a fantastic time in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, and I will definitely return to Japan one day.

Matsubaya Ryokan Room

This is a very quickly put together flatlay taken at Matsubaya Ryokan in Kyoto; I like it simply because it's the only flatlay I took while I was there and marks a change in my photography. A lot of my photos before this were flatlays, but after Japan, I've found that I prefer photos with a bit more dimension. If you're wondering why the pages of my guidebook are crinkled, it's because I spilt green tea all over earlier that day.

Dotombori Backstreets

This photo is from my first night in Japan, taken in Osaka after a complete nightmare trying to check into our hotel. My brother and I were wandering round Dotombori, sleep deprived and hungry, completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of Japan. This was a quiet spot amidst the chaos, running parallel to the main shopping and eating street which was heaving with tourists and locals alike.

Dotombori Canal at night

This quick shot of the Dotombori Canal was taken on our second night in the city, and we actually ended up eating yakitori at a restaurant on the left bank of the river, watching the tourist boats travel up and down. I have a video somewhere of one of these boats, blasting out music, moving steadily down the river and the Japanese tourists on it absolutely losing their shit when my brother and I waved to them. I think they'd had rather too much to drink.

Soemon-cho, Osaka

I like this photo in part because of how badly framed it is. It's slightly cock-eyed and I was trying to avoid including the crowd and failed brilliantly. I quite like how it ended up as it gives a sense of just how busy and those Osaka back-streets were; it wasn't all neon lights and skyscrapers, it was the smell of fried food and the feeling of shoulders pressed up against each other, it was an overwhelming crush of people almost everywhere you went, which is perhaps why my favourite moments from Japan are all moment of quiet amongst the madness.

Hozen-Ji, Dotombori, Osaka

Speaking of which, the tiny streets of Hozen-Ji just off Sennichimae in Oska provided one of those pockets of calm. It was a glimpse of pre-war Osaka and was relatively quiet, although it quickly became busy when a group passed through, so narrow were the streets.

Osaka Lanterns

I fell in love with Japan's paper lanterns pretty quickly. Alone, they provide a soft illuminating glow, without the harshness of neon. Several quickly become a bright light in Japan's relative darkness. I noticed that while I was there, the darkness. Street lights aren't as bright or omnipresent as in the UK, meaning you often walked in the darkness between pools of light, a phenomenon more prominent in Kyoto.

Kyoto French Restaurant

Sticking with lanterns, I think this might be my favourite photo of the trip except for ones of my brother and I being silly. I love the way the light just catches the bicycles and it's such a Japanese image for me. It's a tiny French restaurant tucked away in Kyoto, and when I went for a look it was packed with locals rather than tourists. I didn't have time to stop and eat, but I loved the juxtaposition of the French flag with the lanterns, cracked concrete and greenery. This was the Japan that I saw and loved.

Kyoto River Shrine

Again in Kyoto, this was very quickly snapped while out on a night walk along a stream, just as it started to rain. It was backlit by a lone street light and (I think) it's a shrine to a local god for travellers to make offerings to for safe journeys.

Arashiyama Staircase

I've always loved photos of ascending staircases, perhaps because I like the mystery of not knowing what's at the top. This was taken in Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto, home to the bamboo grove and a place in which I suffered some mild sunstroke (not recommended).

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove Canopy

Annoyingly, this is my only decent photograph of the bamboo grove itself. I took several videos slowly panning up through the branches but this was the only good photo I managed. I still love it, particularly the way that some of the branches don't quite meet and seem to avoid each other, akin to crown shyness.

Kobe Nunobiki Falls Staircase

Yet another stairs photograph, this time from Kobe. It leads up towards Nunobiki Falls and was absolutely heaving with giant spiders and other creepy crawlies. The only reason I managed to get this photo was because my brother had sprinted up the stairs in the 30-degree heat to get away from an oversized huntsman spider. Please note, my brother is 6"2 and built like a rugby player, and I found him crouched on top of a boulder on a bridge clear of the trees like the ground was lava. In fairness, the spider was horrendous.

Fushimi Inari Stone Torii

Now for three photos of my favourite place in Kyoto - Fushimi Inari Shrine. It's one of the most famous shrines in Japan and it's easy to see why. I wrote about it in my post on the top five things to do in Kyoto, but the short version is that there are over 10,000 crimson torii, or gates, that lead up the mountain. The red and green make for a spectacular contrast and I absolutely loved it. I chose this particular photo because it included one of the rarer stone torii, and I like the difference in tones and textures it brings to the photo.
Fushimi Inari Electricity Red Torii

Can you really blame me for another one? I love this photo of Fushimi Inari because of the electricity lines running up the side, providing a nice contrast to the green of the woods and the red of the shrine on either side. It's a nice example of sacred and profane living alongside each other, as they do more in Japan than anywhere else I've been in the world.

Fushimi Inari Red Torii Empty

And here's the money shot. I was very lucky to get an empty photo of the shrine as while it wasn't packed when I went it was definitely still busy. I took this in the split second after a Japanese tourist moved out of the frame and an instant before another one moved into it. There was no time to focus or adjust the ISO levels, something I usually at least attempt when using my phone, but this was a complete chance and I had to just go with what I got. I'm pretty pleased with the result.

Kyoto Lantern and Neon

I'll finish with one last lantern photo because I do just bloody love them. I talked (probably too much) earlier about enjoying the contrast of neon and paper lanterns, and this one has both! The blue of the neon with the diffused red of the lantern is very reminiscent of Japan for me, with both modern and traditional coexisting peacefully with neither attempting to outdo or usurp the other. It's a funny place Japan, but I think I liked it.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Screw Finding A Niche | Rebranding

As a blogger, you're told over and over again to find your niche. You can't be successful or earn money from blogging without a niche, the blog posts say, even while the blogs themselvesare crying out for any kind of originality (no one specific in mind so not intending to throw shade, I've just read a LOT of posts on the subject). In the brief time I've been working on this blog I've written about diverse subjects including food, theatre, beauty, fashion and travel. The only connecting tissue between my love of books and bold lipsticks is me. And that's all there needs to be in my opinion. 

While branding myself as a specific book or beauty blogger might help with consolidating and refining my audience, that isn't something I want to do or would encourage others to do. I love looking at my analytics and seeing the diverse group of people my blog attracts, and I'd rather write about what I'm interested in and not limit myself. 
On that note, I'm rebranding! I feel like I've outgrown Spare Oom, originally chosen because it was a Narnia reference (so books) but is also closely linked with the Wardrobe, and thereby fashion - or at least that was my vague thinking while trying to come up with an original name in the space of ten minutes. 
The new blog name will be B,Rambling, with a whole new URL, header, email - the whole shebang - named as such because that's basically what happens on here. It's me, Bethany, rambling. Keep an eye out for the full rejig towards the end of the month but no doubt you'll see me shouting about it on social media as I'm pretty excited about it. 
That's all for now, but let me know if you think niches are important in blogging!

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Monday, 13 November 2017

Monday Medley #16

I'm feeling much better about my blog than I have for the last few weeks. I'm feeling good about the content I've produced of late and somewhat positive about the next few weeks, although I'm dreading December when I'm supposed to be doing Blogmas. We'll see how I feel nearer the time before I commit to anything. Without further ado though, these are the things I've loved reading and watching in the last week.  

Allotments in Piccadilly Basin, Manchester



I recently returned from Japan, where I visited Osaka and Kyoto, but I didn't quite manage to fit a trip to Tokyo into my brief time there. Kiersten's post on the Golden Gai district has definitely made a return trip to Japan leap to the top of my list. It sounds like a brilliant place to spend an evening drinking and eating while rubbing shoulders with the locals, and if I'm ever in Tokyo I'll definitely be visiting.

Hayley's post about subscribing to an IDGAF lifestyle after her life went a bit bonkers (and not in a good way). It's a brilliant post and I'm so excited for where Hayley's life will take her in this new chapter. Be warned though, it will make you want to quit your job go for it - whatever it is. 

Another fab one this week was by Jemma, who wrote about the most incredible things that come with a creative job. My job sounds creative but actually isn't, but I'm looking to move towards a more creative role and this post has really boosted my drive to keep working towards it.

I love Charlie's travel blog, but I couldn't help but relate to her recent post about taking selfies as a solo traveller. It's something I tend to find quite embarrassing and difficult but her photos make it look effortless and the tripod and timer trick is something I need to try next time!

I love makeup, and although I don't tend to write about it as much these days as when I first started blogging it still has a tender place in my heart. However, Fee's list of beauty facts contained a few gems that really did blow my mind and it's well worth a read!

My absolute favourite post of the week was by Bethany Jane, who posted some of the most spectacular photos of Scotland I've seen in a while. I miss the whole country and can't wait until I return there in December. Photos of the incredible Glen Etive aside, this post is beautifully written and really captures how it feels on a foggy day in the Highlands.


I finally started watching Gilmore Girls and I'm hooked. I'm almost at the end of season one (NO SPOILERS!) and I already love all of the characters and am way too emotionally invested in their lives. SUCH a good show.

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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Finding Time To Read

Considering reading is my main hobby aside from this blog, I really don't do it that often anymore. I think a lot of people find that the older they get the more their hobbies fall by the wayside. We lead increasingly busy lives, desperately juggling work, friends, partners and keeping fit, and often the first things to slip are the things we truly enjoy doing. 

Reading is definitely something I miss doing regularly. I go through phases of reading lots for about two weeks and then get swept up in the business of life and I forget about it again. I've talked about my ever-growing to read pile before, and it's time I started making a dent in it before the end of the year. When I do make time to read, I find it massively helps with my mental wellbeing. Taking even half an hour every day to read and immerse myself in a book helps me to unwind in a way that watching TV or playing a game can't quite achieve. In an attempt to try and bring reading back into my life in a big way, I'm implementing a few things to try and squeeze it into my daily routine.

It sounds obvious, but if you don't have a book you're not going to read a book. I'm terrible for forgetting to bring reading material with me, meaning I end up spending lunch times or train journeys scrolling through instagram or reading blogs on my phone. It's fun, but getting properly stuck into a book is so much better. There's now a book just living in my usual handbag and I'm hoping this will mean I actually remember to read.

I quite often fall into the trap of dedicating myself to one book and then struggling to finish it. Sometimes you start reading something quite heavy-going and almost start to dread continuing reading it, meaning that you never end up finishing it but feel like you can't pick up something new to read until you have. I'm going back to my old ways of reading several books at once, meaning if I'm starting to lose interest in one I can switch to the other and vice versa. Maybe this way I can finally finish Middlemarch...

Alternative reading matter is also something I tend to overlook. As much as I love books, I've recently discovered that some magazines can be just as fulfilling a read. I'm not talking about Elle and Marie Claire, I'm thinking of the independent magazines that are brought out less frequently but as such have more well-thought out and curated content, and are more likely to cover topics I enjoy reading about. I'm thinking that once I've learnt a little more about independent magazines I may write a blog post about them, but for if you're interested I recommend Lauren's post on her favourites.

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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Patches of Green

I absolutely love Manchester. I love the wildly different areas even in the city centre; from the Gay Village to Chinatown, the sleek skyscrapers of Spinningfields to the hipster vibe of the Northern Quarter, there's something for everyone. The only problem is a serious lack of green spaces. Other cities are littered with parks, and while Manchester has the odd one, and Heaton Park is only a tram ride away, the city centre is seriously lacking in greenery.

The council seems to have recognised this and has started incorporating plants into infrastructure where they can, such as the green wall at Deansgate tram station and the actual trees planted on the platform of St Peter's Square tram stop. Even so, finding a patch of green that's not swamped with pigeons is difficult.

On a recent trip to collect a parcel from the big post office in Ancoats, my boyfriend and I stumbled across a blissfully empty patch of grass and trees. It wasn't big enough to be called a park, too hilly for playing fields, and was squashed between a new block of flats and some takeaways so I'm going with patch.

It was there that my boyfriend took these photos, who is the reason for the smiles in these pictures. I love them simply because I look so happy; I've concluded that I'm never going to be one of those people that looks cool and moody for outfit photos. A bit of silliness and joy makes for a far better, if less "blogger appropriate" photo, in my opinion. A walk in winter is one of life's greatest joys; wrapped up against the cold, your cheeks turning pink and the wind nipping at your nose - I reckon that's the best way to spend a Sunday morning. I'm planning to make more of a habit of walks like this, so expect more pictures like this in the future. 

Jumper - vintage Jaeger, pinched from my boyfriend | Jeans | Boots - Old Topshop (similar)

I feel like there ought to be more of a point to this post, but the truth is I've run out of things to say. I simply wanted to share this morning with you as I had an absolutely fantastic time. Nothing momentous happened, except perhaps when I managed to jump down from that box without breaking an ankle. It was a very ordinary walk, but sometimes the happiest times are the most ordinary.

I've been making an effort to embrace the ordinary lately; rather than expecting myself to have something amazing planned every weekend, to always have a holiday on the horizon, or pressuring myself to produce only really exciting blog content, I should be enjoying my life as it is. Self-improvement is great, and I love trying new things and exploring new places, but I do need to remind myself that my life right now is fantastic in the most ordinary of ways. Here's hoping you don't mind my more mundane blog content! This is just my life as it is, and I love it.

I recently discovered the paint tool on my laptop and I'm having far too much fun with it. Let me know what you think!

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Monday, 6 November 2017

Monday Medley #15

I think I'm feeling good about blogging again. If you're a regular reader you may have seen that I've been feeling pretty low and uninspired by blogging of late, but a change of scenery and bit of hard graft later and I'm feeling loads better. I'm particularly proud of the last two posts I've written, one all about the wonderful few days I spent in Kyoto and the other about the root of my problems lately, organisation vs creativity. For now though, I'll share with you my absolute favourite things I've been reading and watching this week.


I am a big fan of houseplants, and while I don't seem to kill them very often anymore they don't exactly seem to flourish, so I absolutely loved Joanna's tips on how to care for them. Maybe I'll finally convince a cactus to bloom...

I'm really not great at getting up in the morning, and my 6am starts for my current job are a daily misery. Hannah's post on how to wake up in a better mood really rang true for me, as I also find that it's the little things that make the difference to my mood in the morning and the rest of the day.

Travel posts are my current favourite thing to read, and Amy's post on 72 hours in Rome was the stand out for me this week. I spent a whirlwind day in the city several years ago and absolutely loved the historical monuments that pepper the city. I'd love to go back for a day, perhaps as a stopover on the way to Tuscany. 

Becky's post on lazy blogging made me cringe. Of late I've definitely been guilty of just churning out a lacklustre post about lipsticks or moving house just for the sake of publishing something. This post was part of the kick up the bum I needed to stop slacking and actually go back to producing content I'm proud of, because otherwise, what's the point of blogging?

I'm including Amy's post about her soon-to-be-published book because it sounds right up my street, and is likely right up yours as well. It's set in dystopian Britain and follows Clara in her rebellion against the oppressive state by the teaching of banned books, but also shows the perspective of her step-father, a senior official in the regime. I can't wait to read it.


I realise I'm about twenty years behind with this, but I have finally seen all of the Star Wars films. I watched the original trilogy last year and this weekend my boyfriend and I sat down and finally finished the prequels. I really wanted actually have all the context before the next film comes out, which looks incredible. Rey is still my favourite character but I also love Qui Gon, Padme and Leia.  

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Top 5 Things To Do in Kyoto

Kyoto isn't like anywhere else I've been, and I don't know if I'll go anywhere like it again. Religion is a funny thing; I've seen many of the magnificent cathedrals and churches of Europe, either austere and stern or ostentatious and intimidating. They're designed to make the observer feel small and submit to the power of god. Greek and Roman temples can have a similar effect, and Egyptian monuments like Medinet Habu and Karnak definitely have the same oppressive atmosphere. Most religions are designed to make the supplicant submit in some way; to believe and obey a higher power. For a city overflowing with temples, Kyoto is nothing like that. 

Fushimi Inari Shrine

While some of the temples may be grand and even occasionally ostentatious (I'm looking at you Kinkaku-ji), there's still an element of openness; they're not intimidating. While they may at times be awe-inspiring, such as Fushimi Inari Taisha, you still feel welcome and almost safe. Kyoto blends Buddism and Shinto seamlessly, with the two sitting side by side as easy neighbours. The Shinto shrines were my favourites, with the Buddhist ones veering more towards flamboyance. Shinto is rooted in nature, and that shows even in the larger temples. 

Rural Kyoto, Arashiyama

There's a constant air of festivity in Kyoto, but there exists pockets of calm within the wooded shrines and back streets. It's an incredible city and I saw only a fraction, but I do have five things that I recommend you do there if you ever get the chance to visit.

Stay in a ryokan

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn and something every visitor to Japan should try once. You'll generally sleep on a futon on tatami mats, and they offer a uniquely Japanese experience. They can be pretty expensive, but budget versions do exist; I stayed at Matsubaya Ryokan, which is a ten-minute walk from the train station and close to several subway stations. I found the whole experience slightly odd, with my tiny room and bedding that was folded into a corner most of the time. It's a tight squeeze but I thoroughly enjoyed my few days sitting and sleeping on the floor. I can confirm that it's surprisingly comfortable. If you're more into your tiny modern living a slightly bonkers alternative is a Japanese Capsule Hotel.

Matsubaya Ryokan
Matsubaya Ryokan Room
Me, having far too much fun wearing a yukata and pouring tea in my tiny room.

Visit Gion

Gion is a district in central Kyoto and the place to go to see geisha, or geiko. It's packed full of traditional tea houses where you can experience a slice of old Japan. It's pricey and extremely busy, so I didn't linger for long, but watching geiko in their regalia wend their way through the crowds is something you won't see anywhere else. There are a few other hanamachi, or geiko communities, in Kyoto, but the two in Gion are the biggest and easiest to get to.

Gion Temple
Geiko in Gion

See the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

This and Inari Shrine are worth getting up early for. If you're staying in central Kyoto you'll need to hop on the subway or a bus for a few hundred yen, and then walk for a while to reach the bamboo grove. If you time it right you'll have the place almost to yourself, and can wander through the spectacular gardens and pathways at your own pace. The softly moving bamboo branches suggest whispers and secrets, and the whole area has an atmosphere of calm, at least until the hordes arrive.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Wander through Fushimi Inari Shrine

This is another one that gets busy quickly but is well worth fighting your way through the crowds. Inari is the god of business, merchants and rice, so it's they were a pretty big deal back in feudal Japan. Featuring around 10,000 crimson torii gates, the shrine is spectacular. The sprawling shrine is dotted with statues of kitsune, or foxes, messengers of the god Inari and the holders of the key to rice houses. It's pretty easy to get to by train, and if you only have time to visit one shrine in Kyoto, make it this one.

Fushimi Inari Torii
Fushimi Inari Kitsune

Take a walk by the river at night

I got lost on my first night in Kyoto, desperately trying to find a cafe recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook. I ended up wandering up and down the Nishi-kiyacho canal that runs parallel to the Kamo River, and it was honestly one of the most magical experiences of my trip. Lanterns softly lit the gloom, and the moon shone in the water. I wandered down dimly lit streets and passed quiet bars full of locals, crossed rickety footbridges made of bits of wood and watched fish splashing idly in a fish trap set for them beneath the boughs of a willow tree. It started to rain at one point and I got soaked, but it was warm so who cares? It almost seems like a dream or something that happened to someone else. It was backstreet Kyoto, and while very different to the bustling streets of Gion and the lightness of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, it felt like the real Kyoto. It was where the locals walked, and I exchanged quiet greetings with the few I saw on my meanderings down those dark paths. It was probably quite dangerous in hindsight, but I was utterly entranced by the serenity of that night.

Kyoto canal at night
Kyoto backstreets at night

I hope you enjoyed this post; there will no doubt be a few more Japan-themed ones over the next few months as I work my way through my backlog of post ideas, but this was the one I really felt like writing, and today I wanted to remember that feeling of calm I found in Kyoto.

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