Next stop on our trip was Nara, where we were looking forward to staying for a couple of days discovering this former capital of Japan. As was becoming traditional, we arrived late in the day, so we decided to save any sight-seeing for the following day. We were staying near the station and the centre of the city, so after dropping our bags off at the hotel, we headed out to get our bearings and find some dinner.
Most of Nara’s tourist sites are located in and around Nara Kōen, a large area of parkland home to around 1200 deer (with a few temples thrown in for good measure). This seemed like a good excuse for hiring some bikes, so we set off in the morning to try and find a bike hire location. This proved to be trickier than we had anticipated. At the first place we went to that was recommended by the tourist information I was told that I was too heavy for the bikes. My carbon fibre race bike seems to cope ok, but these old steel city bikes (or mamachari – “mum’s bike” – as they are known in Japan) must have been particularly delicate. So off we went in search of some more robust bikes that could cope with the job.
This is when we were introduced to ‘Le Fromage’, a beautiful bike in bright green. We hired the last two without hesitating and off we set to find our first temple of the day. A few hundred metres after leaving the hire company we began to realise that ‘Le Fromage’ had a few limitations. The first being gears, or lack of them – it was a single speed. Had this been such a good idea?
First stop was to be at the temple Tōdai-ji, famous for it’s Buddha statue. This is the star attraction of Nara, and somewhere we had been eager to visit. The Great Buddha is housed in it’s own hall, Daibutsu-den, and is absolutely huge, standing at an imposing 15 metres tall. After spending some time exploring the rest of the complex, we made our way back to the bikes, and set off for our next stop. This proved to be a challenging, all be it short ride, as although much of Nara is largely flat, Nara Kōen slopes up the valley side as you move further from the city centre.
After catching our breath and admiring the views at the temples of Nigatsu-dō and Sangatsu-dō we continued on to our second main stop of the day at the Shinto shrine of Kasuga Taisha. It was a nice place for a break, located in a wooded setting, with the approach lined with hundreds of lanterns. From here we also made the short walk up to Wakamiya-jinja, another nearby shrine.
With this stop being the highest point on our route we were excited to get back on our bikes for a pleasant ride back into town. Unfortunately this is where we found the next problem with Le Fromage – brakes. Or Maisie’s brakes to be more precise. Although they weren’t great at actually bringing her to a stop, there was a small consolation in that they were really noisy, therefore warning unsuspecting pedestrians of any impending impact.
Having seen everything we had been planning for the day, and with some time to spare we decided to spend a quiet moment just enjoying the park itself. On our ride back to the city centre we stopped beside a beautiful lake with a pagoda in it’s centre. It was such a peaceful spot (once Maisie had successfully stopped her bike), so we decided to stop for a while and enjoy the late afternoon sun. It was a nice way to end our day in Nara, and bring to a close our time with Le Fromage – it would be an emotional goodbye.