HAE DONG YONG GUNG TEMPLE

Serenity is elusive. We search for it but often come up empty-handed. Some climb mountains. Some listen to the birds. And some search the word over never understanding that they hold it in the palm of their own hand. BUT…let’s face it there are some places that just make it easier to feel that overall peace that we are so desperately looking for. One of those places where it is within reach is Hae Dong Yong Gung Temple in Busan which is also known as the Dragon Temple. After traveling with three children overseas for a week… peace… was what I was seeking.

This temple first came into existence in the mid 1300’s. You can read a little about it. It was destroyed during the Japanese occupation but was rebuilt in 1970. Yes, fairly new but still spectacular.

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Our trip started when we took the #9 bus from the subway station. We were dropped off about a 10 minute walk from the temple. This Hae Dong Yong Gong is known as the Zodiac temple and upon entering you see huge marble carvings of each of the astrological signs behind which stands a huge pagoda.

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Then comes the interesting trek down smoldering granite stairs where you pass several buddhas. The belief of those who trek here is that “at least one of your wishes will be answered here through your heartfelt prayers.”

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We crossed over the bridge where the sea rode waves to just below the cliff. It was amazing.  But frankly I don’t have time to write anymore as I head to Mokpo tomorrow. So instead I will leave you with pictures.

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The Monks Debate-Sera Monastery, Tibet

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One of the most interesting things I witnessed in Tibet occurred at the Sera Monastery. Sera sits just outside of the city of Lhasa. It is considered to be one of the three great monasteries of the Gelug University Monasteries in the country. Founded in 1419 it was once a huge complex at which over 6,000 monks resided but during the 1959 revolt much of it was destroyed and hundreds of monks were killed.

One of the things that this particular monastery is well-known for is the monk debates. The debates occur between the monks and their teachers with a prescribed set of rules. The defender(student) is asked a question regarding Buddhist philosophy by the teacher. His job is make and defend his argument. Meanwhile, the teachers attempt to trap a student into following the wrong line of the argument by creating places in the argument which can confuse the defender. The students sit on the ground, wrapped in their red robes, while asked question after question for hours. The brain power that has to be used is immense and it drained my few working brain cells rather quickly.

This is a startling place because when a question is asked of the student a loud clap is made with the teacher striking his left palm with that of his right. When the question is answered correctly the teachers brings his right hand to his left palm while sliding it down with a slap. With an incorrect answer the palm goes down and slides into the air near the student encouraging him to try again. And all of this isn’t done in a stagnant manner. The teachers arch, sway, jump and make grand body movements as they question the student in an attempt to rattle him. The noise is incredible with the slapping sounds reverberating against the walls of the courtyard and the gravel crunching under kicking feet.

Here are my favorite pictures of our afternoon spent at Sera. This is one of those times that I think I should upgrade so I could show the video I made of this amazing debate. It was one of those once in a lifetime events that makes you happily question the meaning of life for yourself while being thankful that there is no one intimidating you by the slap of a hand.

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Getty Center

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The Getty Center in the Brentwood section of Los Angles is an amazing feat of architecture. Designed to allow maximum viewing along with introspection from all areas; it is a place to go just to enmesh yourself in the soul of a building. Screw the art!

The Getty was built in 1997 and designed by Robert Meier. Bountiful gardens and vistas open up throughout the facility giving visitors a chance to be one with the glory of nature. With outdoor sculptures and numerous lavish fountains dotting the 24 acre complex it makes for a full-scale outdoor art experience.

Of course, the Getty, viewing one of the greatest collections of paintings in the world  by artists such as van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Delacroix; is an amazing experience.

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For those with an interest in illuminated manuscripts and old photographs; the Getty Center doesn’t disappoint.   But for the kids, the best part of the trip to the Getty will be riding the tram up the mountain from the subterranean parking garage.

The Getty Center is closed Mondays and on Thanksgiving, Christmas and January 1. Parking is $15. Admission is free. There is also a lovely restaurant that offers expensive food served up with incredible views.

 

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Ahwhanee Hotel in Yosemite

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One of the great United States Park Service hotels is undoubtedly the Ahwahanee located in Yosemite National Park. Opened in 1927 it is considered to be a masterpiece of U.S. Park Service Rustic architecture and hospitality but it has also served its troops well too. Back during WWII the Ahwahanee served as a rehabilitation hospital for Naval troops with a skiing program put into place to help the soldiers regain their strength. But its greatest honor occurred in 1987 when it became one of the premier destinations on the National Historic Registry.

It really doesn’t matter what season you visit you will always find the service impeccable and the views breathtaking. Yet, if I were planning a vacation here I would avoid the summer when the place is packed and the weather is often uncomfortably hot.  Personally, my favorite time to venture here is in the winter when the Ahwhanee is all decked out for Christmas. Using ornaments and decorations from a bygone era it is step back into history.  And perhaps the most coveted ticket in this neck of the woods is the one to the annual Bracebridge dinner held during the holiday season.  Here fortunate guests travel back to Christmas past, feasting all evening on delicacies and local wines while enjoying entertainment that might have been served up in a manor in the 1600’s. So alluring is the show that people sign up years in advance for a part in the production and famed photographer Ansel Adams was once one of the performers.

One thing I love to do while here is to sign up for the Ahwahnee Tour and History walk. Here hotel experts will fill you in on how the hotel was constructed and you’ll learn interesting Hotel tidbits like the fact that the chairs in the drawing room were made to purposely tip you up towards the windows so you always have an amazing view.

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As you can plainly see the  Ahwahnee Hotel is an amazing place of natural beauty and even if you cannot get reservations you can certainly stop in for a stroll and a cool glass of ice tea. But more importantly, take the time to wander outdoors. Cross over a bridge or two and watch the mist from the waterfalls soar into the sky. And if you are lucky, you might just see some of these beautiful creatures…but don’t get too close… because Momma bear is near and she would be happy to have you for breakfast.

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Finally, one of the biggest disappoints regarding the Ahwahnee is the despicable behavior of the Delaware North corporation which operated this park until it lost its lease bid to a rival company. Unfortunately, this greedy corporation is claiming rights of ownership to the names of all of the buildings in the park and today the Ahwahnee is being renamed after almost 100 years. It is a disgrace and I refuse to refer to this hotel by anything but its original name. In fact, I urge you to join me in a boycott of Delaware North properties and airport concessions. You can also let this malicious corporation know about your displeasure of their name grab of our historic buildings by contacting Victoria Hong Director of Corporate Communications at the corporate headquarters at this email address:vhong@delawarenorth.com

Strausbourg Canals

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One of my absolutely favorite places for strolling along the canals is Strausbourg, France. These waterways are alive with small boats trolling their waters and swans gliding along. The occasional big-gun tourist boat also enters the locks,passing by the many outdoor patios that line the canals.

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Of course history plays out everywhere you turn. In the heart of Strasbourg lies the Petit-France district where you will find the half-timbered houses that centuries ago were occupied by millers and tanners but are now home to fabulous restaurants and shops.

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From old bridges that cross the city and  ancient houses that line the waterways there is always something of interest along the way.  And the flower boxes strategically placed here and there make the canals burst with riots of color. Of course, one cannot forget the magnificent Strausbourg Cathedral which sits just forward of the canal.

 

During the summer Barrage Vaubin (part of the city’s ancient ramparts) are transformed into giant works of art that change as music plays through loud speakers lining the venue. From trains and clocks, sea monsters and spectacular buildings this light show is just plain amazing.

The canals of Strausbourg should be on your “must-see” list. Unlike the canals of Venice, which are dirty and strewn with litter, these canals are pristine and even more picturesque. These waterways are the heart and soul of medieval France so be sure to take advantage and follow the canals to find the place of your dreams.

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Most Beautiful Covered Bridge-Lucerne, Switzerland

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful covered bridge in the world is located in Lucerne, Switzerland. The Chapel Bridge, is also the oldest covered bridge in Europe as well as the oldest surviving truss bridge in the entire world. Named after nearby St. Peter’s Chapel, the bridge crosses the Reuss River in the heart of old Lucerne and its a landmark that cannot be missed.

The bridge was first constructed in 1333 as a form of protection for the city against enemy attack. In the 17th century, Catholic painter Hans Wagmann, began painting scenes which depicted the city’s history and the Catholic Churches influence on it in the interior triangular frames of the bridge. These works of art have been revered by the inhabitants of the city for centuries, so, in 1993 when a major fire occurred on the bridge and many of these paintings were lost, the city was devastated. Lucerne spent millions of dollars reconstructing parts of the bridge but the missing paintings are obvious and seem to haunt the bridge like a ghost in the night.

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Ultimately, the Chapel Bridge is the most beloved symbol of this beautiful old city. Flower boxes line the entire bridge and bustling swans float nearby waiting for hand-outs by the thousands of people who cross it daily.  In addition, there are a few small shops located on the bridge itself selling primarily Swiss products like the world famous Swiss army knives.

When we were planning our trip to Europe, Chapel Bridge was one of our “must-sees” and it was definitely worth the trip. An ancient and beautiful city with a beautifully preserved covered bridge…it doesn’t get much better than this!

Hint: This is a free site. Be sure to take advantage of it by crossing both in daylight and during the night. A nighttime crossing gives Lucerne an entirely different look and vibe with the reflection of the lights off the water. 

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The Port at Bodrum-Bodrum, Turkey

One sweltering hot day in the middle of the Grecian summer we decided we needed to get away. But where should be go? Being on an island did not offer many opportunities but as our friendly hotel manager pointed out there was one place we could go while visiting a new country to boot …so we booked passage to Bodrum Turkey on the ferry and took off the next morning.

Now I live in a state known for its high temperatures and I am used to the heat. Yet, it was so hot the day we went that even the boat skipping over the cool water provided little relief. The cross breezes were so mild that blowing my own hot air cooled the air around me more than the breeze coming off the water. It was sweltering, so I took to dipping my shirt in the water to cool down; the effect not long lasting as it would be dry within 10 minutes. But the water was crystal inky blue and the birds dived along beside the boat making  for a memorable ride as the parched hills seemed to rise higher the closer we came to Turkey’s shore. But what I remember most was when St. Peter’s Castle a/k/a Bodrum Castle suddenly appear on the horizon….now that was a site! And then slowly the harbor around which it is perched came into view. Oh, the anticipation of seeing what was in this ancient port city stirred the fire in my belly.

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After disembarking we stood in line, passports in hard, waiting to have them stamped. I guess we looked harmless enough because they let us in. Sometimes that still astounds me… that whole letting me in process. Really….me?!!!!!!

With landing completed we joined the throng of tourists also taking a day trip to this fascinating country. Boats with flags of all colors and countries lined the dock. Some were sleek, some dingy, but all were magnificent in their own way. We turned towards the castle.

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Construction on Bodrum Castle began in 1402 by the Knights Of St. John. Each langue of the Order had its own tower and each had their own distinct style. The castle was built with plenty of twists and turns in order to keep enemy soldiers at bay. It served as a sanctuary for Christians throughout the area for over a century.

Then in 1962 the Turkish Government decided to turn the castle into a museum called the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. It houses one of the biggest collections of ancient glassware in the world and contains relics from the 12th century BC. Ship excavations are detailed and the treasures that can be found through the many rooms of the castle are truly a site to see.

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Back outside the port area bustles. Tourist shops line the street, small restaurants and craftsmen ply their trade.

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                                                         I found this sign slightly humorous

Little side streets and alleyways beckon you to explore a little deeper into the heart of the city.

 

This is a photo of an artist whose pictures we admired and bought several from him which hang in our home today.  Such a sweet, friendly and talented man!

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You will find just about anything you want here (except really good shade) so shop carefully because undoubtedly you’ll find the same item cheaper further on down the street.

While in Bodrum we took one of the tour buses. That is a story itself which I will save for another time. But if you are ever in the area I would recommend a stop at Bodrum. In fact, if I had to do it all again I would have spent several days in and around this area of Turkey only this time I would forego traveling there during the intense heat of the summer. And because is a land where ancient and modern meet,  you never know just what surprises await you but they are sure to be memorable.

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HINTS: This is not a cheap excursion. It costs a little less than $40 USD round trip for the ferry.

HINTS: The Museums are closed on Mondays. The entrance fee to Bodrum Castle is approximately $9 USD.

My Absolute Favorite German Town-Gernsbach, Germany

Okay, I will admit that I am a little biased. I may even be more in love with this town than just about any I have ever been to but it has nothing to do with the fact that my 2nd great grandparents emigrated from here and that their parents and their parents parents lived here too. No, this town is a true historical gem and it deserves any accolades it receives. Each and every one of them.

The day we came we had visited a town 10 miles away that my SIL’s family had emigrated from. It was small, desolate and looked like much of it had been destroyed during WWII. New buildings stood on a main street lined with them. It was a real disappointment to her because there was no character in the town. None. Needless to say, I was afraid that I would be bitterly disappointed to have come all that way to see Gernsbach and have it just be a shell of a town. Thankfully it wasn’t.

Gernsbach is located 7 km from Baden-Baden in the Black Forest.  The town was established in the 12th century and paper is a huge part of its economy as it has been for centuries. My 2nd great grandfather worked as a Joiner while living here in the early 1800’s. His mother, Elizabeth Lippert, was born in this town in 1792.

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The first clue that this would be a grand place to explore was the huge stone bridge that stood as an entrance to the town and divides it in half. We made a quick right and began climbing up the hillside streets where we had views  that stretched for miles of the surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking. This has got to be one of the most romantic spots in all of Germany so take advantage of it.

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Another era of the past were the cobblestone streets filled the town square and stretched out beyond meandering throughout the city.  But the most impressive thing were the row upon row of beautiful timbered houses that have stood for hundreds of years.

One has been around since the 1600’s and tours are given of this outstanding building which is in the process of being restored. We climbed throughout the building venturing here and there and when we reached the top the views of the church on the hill were unmatched. I have to confess I ran my hands along the buildings outer and inner walls just sure that my 5th Great Grandmother had once done the same and that somehow we were touching each other’s hands.

Besides the numerous timbered houses there are also charming fountains that dot the city. Filled with baskets of flowers surrounding the water they are some of the most beautiful that I have ever seen.

There are also two churches, the protestant St.-Jakobskirche with its beautifully tended cemetery. It is an interesting thing that in Germany that you will rarely find old tombstones. This is because a family will lease the burial plot for a period of thirty years and if the family does not pay to have the plot renewed, everything is removed including the headstone. That said, this churchyard does have a few old stones that are worth looking at.

 

The other church is the Catholic church which was re-built in the 1800’s. The town walls surrounds it along with the early history of the place. We happened upon the church when the organist was practicing and the music was as enchanting as the building was beautiful. Hearing the organ explode throughout the church is something I will never forget.

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Part of me hates to write about Gernsbach. It is an undiscovered gem. I am afraid that the next time I go back it will be swarming with tourists because with all its history and  beauty this town is worthy of the biggest and  best bus tours. This place is an undiscovered treasure. Selfishly, I hope it remains one.

Altes Rathaus, or Old Town Hall, was once a palace built for a rich timber merchant in 1671-1618.

 

Best Neolithic Site-County Meath, Ireland

Sitting high on a hill in the Boyne Valley sits Newgrange; one of the ancient wonders of the world. It is an amazing place that sets your imagination on fire as it takes you back to a place so old that most people have never seen anything remotely like it before. Built before both the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge; this burial mound is over 5,000 years old, but like a shy maiden you would never guess her age, for she has aged well.

We drove to the site which overlooks this valley carved out of hills with running streams throughout. This place is truly out in the middle of nowhere. Traveling down a steep road we could get glimpses of the massive site through the trees as we neared the Bru na Boinne Visitor Center. Here we bought the tickets necessary to board the bus that takes you to Newgrange itself. But while waiting we viewed depicting life as it was lived so long ago by the Neolithic people. Most exhibits here focus on how the tombs were built, why they were built, and how they were used. The architecture here is superb with glass walls allowing visitors to take in the picture perfect views of the Valley. In addition, there is a small tea room to sit, take a snack, and just enjoy all that surrounds you.

After about 20 minutes of coffee sipping, we boarded the shuttle bus and were taken to Newgrange. I was amazed at the size of the mound which encompasses about an acre. Spying out of the bus windows you see enormous retaining wall that is surrounded by artfully carved kerbstones. There are many standing stones ringing the mound that add a sense of mystery to the place but it seems that they are a newer addition having been placed there sometime in the Bronze Age.

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From the bus we walked quite a way to the entrance where we were met by a guide who described all we could see and would be seeing inside the chamber, which incidentally, only takes up a small part of the over-all site. But by far the most interesting thing about Newgrange is the roof-box which sits directly over the entrance. The Neolithic people designed this narrow space to align with the sun so that on December 21st (Winter Solstice) the first of the sun’s rays pass through the box, extend down the passage and into the chamber. The chamber then lites up and glows for about 15 minutes before being consumed by the darkness once again.  Both burnt and unburnt bone have been discovered here leading researchers to believe that bodies some bodies had been cremated before being placed in the passage.

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This is a place where the spirit and the intensions of the ancient live on. It is a site where hilly ground keeps treasures and secrets buried but still “seen.” It is a place where those who enjoy the mysterious should venture. Newgrange…remember the name!

 

A Day Trip To The Mayan City Of Lamanai- Belize

One of my favorite day trips EVER was the time we joined a small tour headed for the ancient city of Lamanai in Belize.

The first part of the trip was by jeep which covered miles upon miles of rutted roads . This is where we really were able to see and experience life in the back country of Belize. The poverty was immense and all encompassing. Children dressed in rags ran out of their small houses to wave at the strangers passing by with smiles taking up the majority of their sweet small faces. They were delighted to have something to see and break up their day.

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It was also during this ride that I saw my first ever cashew tree. Colorful cashew apples dressed in yellow and red  hung from narrow branches and swayed in the breeze. A single prized cashew nut protruded from the bottom of this apple which would soon be collected and roasted. The oil from the shell is caustic and can burn the skin so handling the nut is not advised unless you know what you are doing.

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After a two hour ride we finally arrived at the New River where we took a small boat and headed for Lamanai. Along the way we saw crocodiles, jacanas, hawks and many different types of waterfowl. Little boys in dug out canoes were everywhere fishing and delighted to show off their catch from the safety of their boats. As the river meandered along we were surprised when we saw a family of Amish along the river. Seems that there is a colony of the sect living in the area. It was amazing to see people whom I had seen in Pennsylvania Dutch country all the way out in the wilds of Belize.

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Finally we arrived at Lamanai. Ancient Mayan temples surrounded us but it was the errie  never ceasing cries of the howler monkeys hidden in the trees that got our immediate attention. Never in my life had I heard such loud screams and haunting howls! We watched the monkeys scamper in the trees for a time before heading over to the High Temple.

The High Temple (N10-43) climbs 108 ft from the jungle floor allowing for never-ending views along the river. It was the highest building at Mesoamerica at that time it was completed. Construction began in 100BC and the temple was built over an existing neighborhood that dates back to 300 BC. But it is the opulent Central Stairway that is really the star of this show. It is a tough climb to the top when you are encased in the sticky humidity of the jungle.100_6147 2

The Jaguar Temple (N10-9) was given its name due to the two jaguar masks that lie at its base. It is one of the newer temples and was constructed during the 8th century. One interesting fact is that the niches in the jaguars eyes, ears, nose and cheeks were where the native peoples left offerings to the Jaguar God.

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In all the site contains 8 Ceremonial Plazas along with five Temples and an ancient harbor. Other original buildings include Stella-9 and The Mask Temple(9N-56). The site also offers a small museum in which pottery and other ancient artifacts from the area are displayed. Even more amazing is that only 5% of Lamanai has been excavated. Oh, the hidden treasures that are waiting to be found. Makes me want to go back to college and study archeology!

This is one trip that I will never forget. While I cannot remember the cost I can say that every penny was worth it!