About Madison S
Lives in London, United Kingdom
Since Sep. 2014
Hello! I'm Maddie- a native NYer whose Wanderlust has taken her abroad again and again. Having lived in six countries, and visiting others for school, work, leisure, and sport, I've adopted many localities, and am an admirer of a great many more. An avid scholar of language and culture, I hope to keep expanding my travel repertoire, and sharing great stories with the rest of the travel community. To give you some background on my travels, I spent months each year since childhood in Old Montreal, where part of my family lives. Summers were spent visiting folks in Ft. Lauderdale and L.A. My first big trip outside of the US on my own was to Australia & New Zealand at 12- I caught the bug early! I then moved to Japan where I studied for part of high school & uni. I am very familiar with Japanese cities, Sapporo and Osaka especially. Some of my favourite travel destinations include Goreme, Dubai, Marrakech, and Queenstown. (Plans for 2015 include China & Uganda!) Nice to meet you!
Sacred & Religious Sites
Scenic Walking Areas
Sacred & Religious Sites, Gardens
Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites
Architectural Buildings, Shopping Malls,
Historic Sites, Sacred & Religious Sites, Monuments & Statues
Nature & Wildlife Areas, Parks
Sacred & Religious Sites
Sacred & Religious Sites
Sacred & Religious Sites
Scenic Walking Areas, Points of Interest & Landmarks
Take your first steps into the realm of Kyoto's shrine-and-temple culture at Ginkaku-ji, the 'Temple of the Silver Pavilion.' Built by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482, the Zen temple was originally meant to be encased in delicate silver foil – a plan never realized before the Shogun's death. Despite its ill-fitting monicker, the temple's natural and rock gardens boast glorious beauty, and the building itself is a wonderful introduction to Kyoto's traditions and classic architecture.
Named for a Kyoto University scholar Kitaro Nishida, who used to stroll the path daily, the Philosopher's Walk runs along a canal lined with pink-budded cherry blossom trees. The walk can be picked up right outside of Ginkaku-ji, where it ambles past shrines and temples. The atmosphere and the antique feel of the buildings along the way may have you slowing to enjoy a moment of meditation, just like Nishida once did.
Just after the Philosopher's Walk, find yourself at Nanzen-ji Temple: former residence of Emperor Kameyama, and now a center of Zen Buddhism. Surrounding the temple are the Hōjō gardens, whose leaf-scattered ponds and Meiji-era aqueduct lend it an old world charm, making it a nationally recognized Place of Scenic Beauty.
A top Shinto location, visit Yasaka Shrine to get a bit of a different flavor on your first day in Kyoto. Once called Gion, the bright vermillion buildings and gates welcome visitors, and the verdant natural setting offers paths and gardens ripe for exploration.
Gion is the most traditional district in Kyoto, where young women still train to be Geisha while professionals put on artful performances in music and dance at local 'ochaya.' The streets of Gion, lined by restaurants, tea houses, and old wooden mercantile houses make it a spot worth visiting for the culture, and staying for a bite to eat.
End your day on a sweet note at Kasagiya, maker of 'wagashi' and 'namagashi' Japanese confections since 1914. Today the pleasant staff serve tea and sweets to guests surrounded by historic architectural beauty. There's always room for dessert – even at midday, if you happen to arrive early!
Not just a train station, the Kyoto Station Building is an ultra-modern city within a city, including in its 15 stories numerous trendy shops, restaurants, government facilities, a hotel, a movie theater, an art museum, and an Isetan department store. A good place to start your day off with breakfast and a great jump-off point to get to nearby Nara.
Nara, a short day-trip by train from Kyoto, is a popular destination and a must-see for any visitor to Kyoto. Scenic and historic, the natural first stop in Nara would be the Todaiji Temple. Its main building, Daibutsuden, is one of the largest wooden structures in the world and houses an enormous bronze statue of the Buddha of Infinite Light, built starting in the year 747 AD. It's so massive, in fact, that the width of the statue's nostril hole is cut out of one of the beams supporting the structure, and children (or very brave adults!) can crawl through for good luck. Who “Nose!” It might really work.
Nara Park at the base of Mount Wakakusa is home to over 1,200 wild sika deer and is a nationally-recognized 'Place of Scenic Beauty.' Deer, once considered sacred and now an official national treasure in this area, are populous – an old legend says that their divinity came from the blessing of a local Shrine God after he appeared riding one in an old legend.
Kasuga Grand Shrine is a site of historical Shinto architecture, housed deep in Nara forest, and built originally in 768 AD. Famed for the stone lanterns that line the path up to the shrine, and the bronze lanterns that contour its interior, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with well over 3,000 lanterns on display. The surrounding forest grounds also house a botanical garden, and yes, you guessed it – more messengers of the Shinto gods, deer!
This long, cobble-stoned alley on the western bank of the Kamo river is the famous sight where kabuki began. Geisha still practice here, in the many tea houses, for the twice-yearly river festival in the Kaburenjo Theater. Besides the traditional forms of entertainment, there are various restaurants with riverfront seating and delicious fare (some are admittedly quite expensive — check the menu ahead of time). A good place to take in the atmosphere over a meal — especially after spending all your time in Nara, feeding the deer!
The Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former seat of Japanese rule, where the country’s Emperors have resided since 1867. Today, tours of the grounds are offered daily, and the garden grounds are open to the public. Even though the palace saw little use as a residence, it was the site of coronations for generations, and its stoic grace and old-style beauty have been enchanting visitors for years. An interesting place to delve into the historical politics of the old capital.
Southward of the Imperial Palace lies Nijō Castle, where a heavily fortified palace (and the remains of an elder citadel) sit among gardens and revisionary buildings, originally for an array of support purposes. Commissioned by the Tokugawa Shogunite, and funded by forced donations by his feudal lords to show their loyalty to his patronage, the impressive castle is one of Kyoto’s seventeen designated Historic Monuments of the ancient city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Complimenting the historical tale that the Imperial Palace begins to tell, the castle is surely a must-see.
Glittering in the minds of all who conjure up a picture of Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, 'The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.' Though its true name is Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple), this center of Zen Buddhism attracts visitors by the thousands annually for its facings of pure gold leaf and its reflective seat upon a lake – which seems to cause it to glow, and brings the temple effortless light and elegance in all seasons. One of Kyoto’s seventeen Historic Monuments of the ancient city, it is also notable for the surrounding gardens, which are in the style of the Muromachi. As such, the gardens integrate the beauty of the natural foliage and the sophistication of the architecture, to create one unified landscape.
Ryoanji, or 'The Temple of the Dragon at Peace,' is another stunning example of Zen architecture. Its gardens are considered the greatest example of 'dry landscaping,' with sweeping rock formations, smooth and patterned to inspire peace and mindfulness for onlookers and meditators alike. Yet another of Kyoto’s seventeen ancient Historic Monuments and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple was originally the 11th century estate of the Fujiwara family, and has served as the grave site of the Hosokawa Emperors, whose 'Seven Imperial Tombs' are still there. It is a wonderful wrap-up to a tour of Japan’s history, culture, and Zen concepts.
A designated 'Place of Scenic Beauty,' Mount Arashi (Arashiyama), is breathtakingly beautiful by anyone's standards, and filled with options for visitors to explore and entertain themselves with. There is a gorgeous bamboo forest walk with tall stalks, the 'Moon Crossing Bridge' with spring views of the cherry blossoms in bloom, a 'Lanterns and Flowers' lane during the winter, and a Monkey Park, plus shrines, temples, ancient graves, and gardens (naturally!). The area also includes seven hot spring facilities overlooking the area (definitely worth a visit to relax your weary bones at the end of a walking-heavy trip!)