After two days of traipsing round shrines, it was probably about time we visited something more down to earth. First up was the Kyoto Gosho, the imperial palace. It's been burnt to the ground a fair few times, and moved around, in its history; and of course, the emperor now resides in Tokyo, so it's only really used for ceremonial occasions. This was also a guided tour, but at least this time, the guide was able to interject the occasional English explanation, although I dare say I missed a fair amount as I was often lagging behind the group, waiting for all the other tourists to move out of my camera frame!
Nijo-jo, built by shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu at the beginning of the 17th Century, was a different kettle of fish. Here, we were able to rent an audio guide, particularly for the interior of the palace. Sadly, no photos permitted in there, but the grounds were fair game. Once again, Japan's long history with fire meant that the main donjon of the castle, which had been relocated from nearby Fujimi castle, burned to the ground in the 18th Century, but at least the major fortifications were a little more longlasting. One of the highlights of the shogun's palace is the Nightingale Floor, which through ingenious springing and balancing, makes it impossible to sneak or walk down the passageways without being pursued by a cacophony of squeaks and whistles.