A love letter to Kyoto

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Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Kyoto, a place like no other, holds a special place in my heart with its many Buddhist temples, traditional wooden houses, imperial palaces, gardens and delightful food, but most of all for it’s beauty, history and peaceful quietness that allows space for reflection.

I first wrote about Kyoto on this blog three years ago after a visit where I stayed at a Buddhist temple for a weekend in order take a meditation class, and over the course of the few days found many unexpected surprises, met new friends, walked through a bamboo forest and hiked to the top of a mountain to see the monkeys.

This week I was fortunate to visit Kyoto again with some of my colleagues for a day of fun and exploration before we kicked off our work in Osaka with a corporate partner.

Yet today my heart is heavy that just a few days after our visit Kyoto saw an atrocious act of arson with a fire that caused so much harm and lost so many lives.  I share photos from our visit on Monday with reverence and respect to Kyoto and my heart goes out to the families of those lost.

Monday, July 15th, a day of exploration…

We were staying in Osaka so we got up early and took the train to Kyoto and immediately made our way to the bike rental company.   Once on our bikes, Kris and Kristin navigated us through the city to the bike path along the river so we could make our way north to the Philosopher’s Path.

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As we rode through the streets, crooked and small, and along the path, I felt exuberant and so free.  We were lucky in that it was not too hot; the day was cloudy, which kept us out of the sun, yet it did not rain.   The wind was on my face and rushed through my hair.  As we made our way the scents of the city filled my nostrils: wafts of fragrant flowers, bursts of incense seeping from the shrines and temples, and delicious smells of delicacies flowing out of the myriad of restaurants.

The Philosopher’s Path is a stone path lined with cherry trees that follows a little canal where one of Japan’s famous philosophers was said to have meditated during his daily walk to Kyoto University.

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After walking our bikes along the path, we stopped at Omen for lunch to have some of their famous udon noodles and experience local fare.

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After lunch we mounted our bikes again and made our way back to the banks of the Kamo River.

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We stopped for a minute so that we could walk across the stone path…

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The Kamo River stepping stones include large turtles crossing the river.

Our final destination was across the city again to The Golden Pavilion, dazzling architectural beauty surrounded by water and zen gardens.

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The Golden Pavilion

Before heading back to the train station we made sure to enjoy the refreshing green tea ice cream.

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

 

 

Juan Gamez – Lost in wanderlust

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About four years ago on my way to Japan for the very first time I felt excited to start over from a life that wasn’t what I wanted for myself, to experience the unknown, and to make memories that will last a life time. I found myself sitting on my flight listening to music when the song The Nights, by Avicii, started playing on my iPhone. The words spoke to me instantly…. Avicii said “When I was sixteen my father said you could do anything you want with your life. You just have to be willing to work hard to get it. That’s when I decided that when I die I want to be remember for the life I lived, not the money I made.” It seems kind of crazy but my dad told me that exact same thing when I was a young boy living in Colombia. It felt like the song was made for me. I knew that I had to stay hungry for knowledge and adventure, that’s when I got lost in wanderlust.

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Traveling, exploring new cultures and getting lost in foreign cities is what gets me going.

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There is nothing more exciting than when you are trying to figure out where to go or what to order but the best part is you have no clue how to speak the language nor do you even know the basics… It’s funny and fascinating. So what do you do when you have no way to communicate through speaking? Point at what you want, smile and hope for the best!

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Open yourself up to new cultures, new foods and new people. Getting away for a while will help you learn a lot about yourself.

In one of my journeys around the world I had the chance to meet some school kids in a village in Bali, Indonesia. They wanted to learn about where my friends and I were from.  As we told the kids where we were from we realized it was four different countries! In our group we spoke three different languages and we all came from very different backgrounds, but we were united by one thing – we were consumed by wanderlust.

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You only have one life so find happiness by doing what you love. Do it for yourself and the ones you love. Don’t be afraid of trying something new, experiencing new cultures, and the most important thing is to have fun on your journey. Get consumed by wanderlust.

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Juan M Gamez is a United States Marine. He was born and raised in Columbia, South America and moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the United States when he was 15 years young.  He is fascinated by culture and art.  He loves traveling, photography and seeking adventure at all times.

You can follow his travels on Instagram @jgamez

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Carrie Allen – Lost in Translation to a Journey Within

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In the summer of 2016, not long after I started my new adventure working for the Cambridge Innovation Center, I headed off to Japan with my colleagues Tim (Founder and CEO) and Makiko for two weeks in Tokyo, with the intention of expanding our work there.

I arrived in Tokyo on July 30th.  Tokyo is fabulous.  I loved it, truly, even though Tokyo is the world’s largest megacity with a population of 38.8 million people.  I kept thinking about Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation.

After a week in Tokyo, I was ready for something completely different. I felt a bit overwhelmed, unsettled and a bit closed in. I needed to set off somewhere for a few days that would help to ground me, give me the space I craved, and to experience something new.

I decided I would head to Kyoto, taking Shinkansen, the fast train.  I would stay at a Buddhist temple for the weekend and take a Zen meditation class.  I was nervous, truly nervous, but often fling myself head first into whatever is in front of me, not letting my trepidation hold me back. Emotions are complicated.

I was hopeful that with the Buddhist meditation class I would somehow journey inside, find quiet and my inner voice, maybe even something ancient and holy within me.

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Upon arriving outside Kyoto I noticed that it was Quiet.  So much quiet… peacefulness. Beauty. Bliss.  The opposite of the hustling traffic and people of Tokyo.  Even though the website had warned to not use google maps for the 10 minute walk to the temple, I did.

As I wound my way through tiny crooked streets, smaller alleys and a miniature walkway through a backyard, I realized I was trailing another woman following the same, odd, circuitous route.  I thought, surely she was headed to the temple too, and clearly followed directions as well as I do.  We smiled at each other and confirmed we were on the same path.

As it turns out, Liz had the same idea to spend a weekend in Kyoto at the temple and take the meditation class.  Liz (an American) had been living in Tokyo with her husband, who is in the military, for a year and a half.

Google maps took us to a location that was confusing and guided us to a door.  Everything was so quiet, we stared at the door, the door stared back at us … it was locked and had no signage.

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After a few minutes, a monk came out.  Excitedly we let him know we were here for the weekend and class.  He didn’t seem to understand. After some confusion and back and forth, he helped us understand, with hand signals and limited words exchanged, we’d come to the wrong temple, but as luck would have it we were not far off.  We were in a big temple complex.

We checked in and were assigned our rooms.  I decided to venture out to a restaurant called the Wonder Cafe for dinner. I saw Liz on the road and asked her if she wanted to join me.  She declined, she was running off to catch a bus to an outside market 40 minutes away, even further into the countryside.  How brave, I thought.

The next morning, I was up early and ready for the meditation class.  We lined up sitting, facing the garden.

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The monk first taught us about mediation and the importance of meditating every day for at least 5 minutes. He said the only thing that is unchanging is change itself. Impermanence, everything changes. We must embrace that and not dwell on the past or fret about what could happen in the future.  The outside world cannot impact our happiness.  Focus, breath and let change happen. We must quiet our minds, stay positive and focus on our breathing.  This helps with metacognition, which also helps with our emotional intelligence.

After the meditation class we had thick matcha green tea and biscuits as a way of prolonging our calm spiritual meditation.

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After the tea ceremony and class, Liz and I reconnected, as that morning we had decided we would leave the compound to explore Kyoto for the rest of the day.  Liz said she had met Natasja, another traveler from Denmark, after class and she would be joining us.

As I often do, I had played out in my mind exactly how the weekend would unfold.  I pictured mediation, and a calmness and quietness enveloping me.  I got that from the class that morning for sure; however, the unexpected surprise was in venturing out with two new friends to uncover what secrets Kyoto had for us.  Three women came together from different walks of life and different corners of the world.  We became fast friends.

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The day and ensuing fun unfolded in different ways.  We ate green tea ice cream, had an amazing lunch, hiked up a mountain, visited with monkeys, walked through a bamboo forest and ended the day at a tiny little restaurant and met new friends there as well.  We shared so many laughs, talked about our lives, who we are, where we came from, and about our hopes and dreams.

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All this packed into a day.

We enjoyed each other so much that we decided to meet in Tokyo the following week for more fun, which included a sushi conveyor belt restaurant and visit to a karaoke bar.  My journey to Kyoto, and within, led me back to Tokyo with fresh eyes and perspective.  In Kyoto I learned to open myself up to those around me more freely, to move past nerves of the unknown, and to live in the present.

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