Visiting Kyoto and Osaka is like going thru a time travel machine- you'll briefly see how the old Japan looked like only to be yanked back to present time as soon as you pass by Dotonbori. I met the nicest people there with impressive work ethic. My tour guide wanted to refund our payment after I had to cut the tour short because someone in my company can no longer walk due to his knee injury. I can’t think of any other place where people would do that kind of service.
There are tons of Instagrammable spots in both Osaka and Kyoto. Both cities are both impressively clean. I still don't know which city I can compare it to perhaps Singapore. I can’t help but marvel at how clean the subways are, there was no dormant water smell nor rodents that is common in NYC. FYI, prepare a lot of coins to use the subway if you plan to explore the subways this way.
I stayed in Swissotel Nankai-Osaka which is conveniently on top of the Nankai Railway’s Namba Station offering direct train access to Kansai International Airport and all major tourist attractions such as Kyoto, Nara and Kobe are within easy reach. But I suggest to allot at least 45 mins to get lost in a Namba Station on your first day- I know, the learning curve is a b*@#h. Once you are familiar with the area, it will be easier.
My first day was in Osaka was spent in Universal Studios. That was the 1st time I got lost in Namba station. We went there to dissipate the kids' pent up energy.I know you guys are thinking why Universal? I traveled with moms and this is their life, and temporarily mine. The activities were different from Universal Studio's western counterpart- people were well behaved and considerate. For example, people would sit in the floor so that kids from the back may see the parade. The only “rude” people were the non-locals.
I can't truly say that I had fun in Universal Studios Osaka. Even though it was winter, it was still ridiculously packed-especially in the Minions part. People are obsessed with minions that I am starting to believe that it is a cult. I was also fascinated by what people wore. Teen squads tend to dress alike or the have a theme and dress according to it-oh, Millennials. Its also nice to observe mommy winter designer fashion, I saw Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Prada and sometimes Hermes bags-turned diaper bags left in the baby stroller areas.
My first hotel was very close to Dōtonbori. If you don't like crowds, this might not be a good area for you. It's an energetic place known for their street food. I tried the Takoyaki, grilled crabs, ramen, and cheesecakes from Pablo Cheescake and Uncle Rikuro. I highly recommend the ramen from Ichiran and Okonomiyaki from Fukutaro Honten. Remember to bring cash, a few establishments accept credit cards. Uncle Rikuro’s cheesecake is overrated. It tasted like overcooked soufflé and it has raisins. Not a fan of raisins, but my company liked it. Pablo's cheesecake was pretty much the same, it's more moist and I like the cheesecake with fruit at the bottom.
Four days into the trip, I stayed in St Regis Osaka. It is a lovely hotel in a more a more peaceful location, unlike Swissotel it is on top of a less convoluted subway stop. Phhftt, do people who stay in St Regis really take the subway? I think I was the only one who made use of it. They do have excellent breakfast in La Veduta but don't go after after 9 am, you might have to wait for a table. Their pancakes and coulis are excellent is definitely a must-try. if you plan to stay there, try their signature Bloody Mary and look for a bartender in Yukari, she will concoct your the drink of your dreams, she will also give you awesome bar recommendations in the area.
I highly recommend the Strawberry Tea Ceremony in St Regis. It's amusing what kind of foods and drinks they can turn into black and pink. Literally, everything they served were only black and pink.
To be continued...