Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kyoto: philosophy, silver pavilions and is that an aqueduct?

On my third day in Kyoto I hired a bike. Most of the city is quite flat, and besides the excellent footpaths there are lots of small roads to cycle on, so traffic isn't an issue at all. I wasn't sure if my sore leg could cope with the cycling, but as long as I walked up any steep bits my leg didn't seize up too much.

I crossed the river and headed northeast, to Northern Higashiyama. I bypassed Southern Higashiyama, probably the most commonly visited area, and headed further north, till I turned right, past a strange statue to manual labourers with small heads and huge hands, and onwards to Nenzen-In temple.

The gardens here, and those of the nearby Tenjuan temple, were lovely, with ponds, waterfalls, small water features and well presented trees. Admittedly they lack the colours of spring blossoms or fall foliage, but it's still possible to appreciate the structure and vistas they create. And the zen stone gardens are just magnificent. I also loved the beautiful painted screens in the rooms. Please note all photos taken without flash so no damage done.

Quite surprisingly, in the middle of this temple complex is an aqueduct. Incongruous European architecture in the middle of a Japanese landscape. I even scrambled up to the top of it for a gander.

After wandering around the Nenzen-In temple complex I got back on the bike and headed further north. It was now lunchtime, and rather than try one of the local tofu restaurants I decided to stop for lunch in a small Okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki are cabbage patties, with various other ingredients added, cooked on a hotplate at your table. They are sort of like a spanish omelette or a frittata. Lots of westerners really like them, and after having one today I suspect it's because they are actually pretty bland and not overly testing for the western palate. Stodgy really…

After my tasteless but good filling lunch for a cyclist I continued north along the Path of Philosophy which is a car free path along a canal. It's surrounded by greenery, and from the quality of the adjoining houses it's pretty upmarket too. I stopped to buy some bananas at a little fruit stall with an honesty box, checked out a woodblock print gallery, and got completely bemused by the cat shrine, or whatever it is, complete with fat happy felines for you to feed and pet should you be so inclined. Shudder…

Next stop Ginkaju Temple. This is also known for its Silver Pavilion, and has a lovely wooden pavilion with white screens by a pond, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and some interesting dry stone gardens as well. It was quite crowded, but the groups tend to move on quite quickly, so if you take your time and don't hurry, you can usually snatch a little quiet time to appreciate the scene. I'm really enjoying the gardens, even if they aren't at their best right now, whereas I think I'm over the actual temples. There's only so many massive wooden structures with tiled roofs you can absorb before they all blend into one. Whereas capturing the garden vistas, that's much more fun.

After Ginkaju I made my way to a small temple called Honen-In. This gets a smattering of visitors, yet has a lovely garden, including two small raised dry stone beds, one with cherry blossom motifs in it. Pretty cool!!

Then I cycled over to Hanen-In temple, which looked remarkably like something from China, but the garden was closing soon so I didn't cough up for the entrance fee, and instead headed home, back to the hostel through the streets of Gion, hoping, but failing, to see a geisha.

I cycled past this monument on a grassy mound, maybe an ancient burial site?

Back at the hostel I joined the staff and a few other guests in a Korean meal cooked by my French Canadian roomie, then headed off to bed early. I was off to the market in the morning.

That's next!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The story of my back

I've been struggling with finishing off the Japan blog posts because I need to edit a whole bunch of photos before I can publish them. And the problem is that I can't sit at a desk long enough to do it because I have gone and injured my back.

A week or so before I left for holidays I had a huge weekend in the garden, repairing the upper chook run, digging and carting soil, and laying a whole trailer load of horse manure on the garden. Typical things you do just before a holiday...

My back was quite sore the week after, so I took daily anti-inflammatory medication, and by the end of the week I was feeling better. I jumped on a plane and headed to Japan.

When I arrived I did a lot of to-ing and fro-ing at Narita airport, dragging my bag around, up and down elevators etc whilst I was trying to sort out my money situation. Then I took a shuttle bus to my hotel and slept the night.

The next day I was fine, travelled back to the airport to meet the gang, sat around for a few hours then we all manhandled our luggage through a few train stations, up and down stairs and elevators, shoved into and out of trains, and even up onto luggage racks. Though I don't think I personally did the latter.

The next day I had a sore leg and thigh. Not too bad, but a little sore. I went skiing, and after two runs on my brand new skis turning in the soft new snow on the edge of a couple of piste runs, I agreed to join the group heading into the trees to ski a pristine, untouched lift line. In retrospect, this was probably a really dumb move given I had new skis and am not that experienced in thick powder.

First I did an accidental ejection out of my skis, due to the DIN bindings being too loose for the conditions. This probably exacerbated my sore back, and was quite hard to get back into my bindings as the snow was thigh deep. Then I crashed on my way down and had to dig my skis out, then I did it again. I can't even think now, how much that must have strained my back. Then I continued to ski, in pain, on piste, for most of the day. I am nothing if not a stubborn warrior.

By the evening I was in extreme pain, which only worsened over the next few days, taking me maybe four days before I could stand fairly upright. So I went skiing again.

When we moved north to Appi Kogen Milan very kindly helped move my bag for me, and I continued to ski. On the second day at Appi Kogen my one attempt off piste was a disaster, as I struggled to move forward enough to initiate a turn, and the legs felt too weak to support my weight. It was a disaster and I retired in tears. Not the first lot I've shed either...

As we moved further north the pain improved. Most of my pain was in my groin and thigh, akin to a sharp burning pain like when you reach your anaerobic limit, say cycling up a hill in low gears. But there was also pain around the knee and shin. I tried various back exercises, which seemed to help a little, and had some shiatsu massage. The only time I was pain free was in a hot bath. I adored those onsens...

In Kyoto I continued to have pain, and only took pain killers intermittently. Since I've been home I haven't been taking anything, mainly so I can monitor where the pain is going or moving to as I do the exercises prescribed by my physiotherapist.

As it turns out I have injured my nerves at the L3 level, causing femoral nerve impingement and wasting of my vastus medialis (the muscle on the inside of the thigh). My physio calmly informed me today that if it wasn't improving he'd suggest I seek surgery.  In other words, I really fucked my back up.

The good news is that it is improving, but I now realise it's going to be a slower road to recovery than  I envisaged. After all, it has now been five weeks, so I am entering chronic pain territory. Of course I expect to make a full recovery, but I realise now I need to be patient. Luckily, I have a lot of sick leave entitlements so there is no financial imperative to return to work. I am getting a wee bit bored though, as I am limited in what I can do.

I am walking every day, not far, but enough to keep active, and doing a bunch of mobilising and strengthening exercises. The pain is beginning to localise to my back, which is where it should be, which means today, after my physio session, I've been in more pain than I've been for a week. I just may have to resort to medication to get to sleep.

The Kyoto posts should be up soon, hopefully...