Apple Cake and Autumn Leaves

Last week, I headed south for an overnight research trip to Kōyasan, in Wakayama Prefecture. On the way home, I stopped off in Kyoto, hoping to see some pretty autumn leaves.

Kyoto is famous for autumn foliage, but I’d only been there once in autumn (on another research trip, in 2016)–and the timing was wrong to see the colors at their peak. I thought I was too late this time, too, but as luck would have it, I was wrong:

Autumn leaves on the Philosopher’s Path

Since I only had one day (really, a half day, since I didn’t arrive until almost noon), I decided to start at Ginkaku-ji (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion) and walk south along the famed Philosopher’s Path to Nanzen-ji. The Philosopher’s Path is a famous walk that runs along a narrow, tree-lined canal in eastern Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. It passes by a number of shrines and temples, though given the time constraints, I opted to visit only three: Ginkaku-ji, at the path’s northern end, and Eikan-do and Nanzen-ji in the south.

I walked along the canal, taking pictures of the trees and peeking in the windows of the little shops that line the walk. The world is so full of chains and big-box emporiums–and admittedly, they have their places–but I love that the Philosopher’s Path is still little, local, and unique.

About halfway along the canal, I passed the take-out window of a small cafe that fronted the path. As I went by, a silver-haired man who appeared to be in his early 70s called out to me in English.

“Hello! Please come in! My wife just baked this cake today!”

I stopped and turned, and he gave me the kind of award-winning smile that lights up even the cloudiest of days. “She made chocolate swirl–only one piece left”–he gestured to a basket of individually-wrapped slices–“and apple-cinnamon.”

Now, chocolate swirl cake is nice, but he had me at apple-cinnamon–especially since I’d skipped lunch in my rush to reach the leaves.

His smile grew as he showed me to a table, where I ordered a cafe latte and a slice of cinnamon-apple cake.

Latte and homemade cinnamon-apple cake at Cafe Pomme.

My table looked out on the Philosopher’s Path. There might be more perfect ways to spend an autumn afternoon, but not many.

When I finished eating and went to the counter to pay the bill, I bought his last two slices of apple-cinnamon cake to go, explaining that my son and I would eat them for breakfast the following morning. As expected, my host was thoroughly delighted (and I was equally glad to have the cake–it was delicious).

I left the cafe and continued my walk along the canal. The afternoon sun set the leaves aglow, and the happy murmur of other people strolling up and down the walk mingled with the gentle burbling of the water. More leaves–and a once-in-a-lifetime level experience awaited me at Eikan-do . . . but that’s a story for another day.

Where do you stand on the great apple-cinnamon versus chocolate swirl cake debate? Which one would you have chosen?