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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Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

If you are like me lighthouses hold a deep fascination. It’s not just the buildings themselves that pull at my heart but its also the people who dedicated their lives to ensuring that passing ships were not swallowed up by the sea.

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse on the Mendocino Coast is nothing short of breathtaking. The lighthouse hugs this wild and windy shoreline like a blanket, warming and protecting the boats which pass by headed to distant ports around the world.  Wildlife is abundant. Walk quietly and you will see the deer grazing, some eagles soaring, and most likely you will be able to hear the seals bark; as the Fresnel lends patrols the outer coast for a distance of 13-15 miles, 24/7.

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This lighthouse was constructed in 1908 and was lit for the first time at midnight on June 10, 1909. The point was chosen to increase and protect maritime travel as boats picked up loads of timber that were harvested from the Redwood forests which stretched from mountain tops straight down to the sea. When you visit today you will be able to view the lighthouse as well as the three keepers residences, the Oil House, the Blacksmith and Carpentry shop along with various outbuildings.

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Personally, I think that the best time to visit this beautiful piece of the world is in late November – February or Mid-February to early May. This is when the Gray Whales migrate from Alaska down to Baja, Mexico to birth their young and then make the trip back with their calf in tow. Watching them spout and breach from the lighthouse sends a “HAPPY” chill straight down your spine and a sense of awe exploding throughout your brain.

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One of the many things I like about lighthouses and their grounds is that they are often available to rent for short stays and Point Cabrillo’s accommodations are amongst the best. The Head Lightkeeper’s House, The 2nd Assistant’s House and two cabins, all of which have been historically restored, are ideal for family vacations. Best of all they are reasonably priced, not cheap, but in-line for this type of experience.

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The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is open, like most state parks from sunrise to sunset, but many of the exhibits are only available from the hours of 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.  To rent the houses contact:DSC03920

 

 

Yurts Amongst The Sequoias

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About five hours from my home lies the Giant Sequoia National Monument. It is located in a relatively unknown part of the Sequoia National Forest and it is magnificent. Here at the Trail of 100 Giants you will find over 125 giant sequoias with bases in excess of 10 ft in diameter along with hundreds of lesser bodied trees. The tallest tree rises 220 ft into the air and many of these beauties are over 1,000 years old. They are truly a site to behold as their leaves dance in the soft breezes that flow through the grove.

If you venture up along the Western Divide Highway you will arrive at  The Trail of 100 Giants which is approximately 45 miles from Kernville or 15 miles from California Hot Springs. It has an easily accessible paved walking trail that is almost 1.5 miles in length. Quaint bridges and interpretive signs dot the trail and wildlife can be found feasting on the leaves of the plants growing alongside the trees.

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This is a place our family likes to come. The walk is lovely and when the summer sun is scorching the valley you can count on it being 10-15 degrees cooler. There are also camping and toilet facilities across the road at the Redwood Meadow Campground that have been there for years unchanged. So this past week we were in for a surprise when we entered the campground to find yurt camping available. The yurts had been brought in the previous week and they sat in amongst the trees with glorious views of the nearby meadow.

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According to the manager the yurts were renting for $75 per night and sleep 4. I have to say they are a wonderful addition to the park and they provide another interesting way to experience the beauty of this glorious area.

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To reserve a spot call:

IMG_8519FYI: The Trail of 100 Giants is only accessible during the summer and sometimes early fall before the snow falls.

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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Shipwrecks

 

If you want to see some wonderful old shipwrecks and some gorgeous scenery too then you must visit Munising, Michigan on Lake Superior. Here you will see three different wrecks via a glass bottom boat during your two hours ride aboard Shipwreck Tours. Perhaps the most impressive is the wooden ship built before the Civil War that sits only a few feet down on the bottom of the lake. Because of the perfect cold water temperature of Superior the wrecks have been preserved naturally and are amazingly intact and easy to see.

Over 30 ships have gone down in the bay around Grand Island and the Picture Rocks. The natural beauty of the rocks, caves and waterfalls are spectacular. You might even spy a Bald Eagle or two like we did on our visit.

And if you are into lighthouses the historic Grand Island East Channel Light is worth the cost of the trip.Opened in 1868 is was used to get ships from Lake Superior into the harbor of Munising . Its a rare wooden lighthouse and with fundraising from the community it will be saved as a lasting treasure of the area.

Admittedly, tickets for this little adventure are a bit pricey at $32 per adult and children under 12 are $12.00. But this is a very different and rare excursion that cannot be found just anywhere.

After the ride we drove 5 minutes to the U.S. Park of Munising Falls. With a paved hiking trail to this 50 ft. waterfall.; it is a great way to spend a little time before or after your boat tour. Waterfalls are plentiful around this area so I recommend you take some time to explore these natural wonders.

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This area of the UP is unique so pack a lunch or stay in the area awhile.Either way you are sure to come away with some amazing memories of a great time and some beautiful scenery that can only be found in this unique area of the Mid-West.

The Great Salt Lake-SLC, Utah

The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere and it is huge. It is actually the biggest lake outside of the Great Lakes region in the USA. Depending on weather conditions its size ranges from 950 square miles all the way up to 3,300 square miles. When we were there last summer the drought affecting the western United States had reduced its size considerably and vast swaths of salt lay crystalizing in the hot desert sun. All that gleaming white salt made it almost impossible to look at without hurting your eyes making the entire area appear like one colossal mirage.

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While you would think little wildlife could inhabit this area many birds live in the salt water and fresh water marshlands. The Bald Eagle, gulls, pelicans and swans either live in the area or migrate through it. If you are in the area Antelope Island State park offers unprecedented views of the lake, wildlife viewing and hiking/biking trails.

When visiting the GSL I found it very interesting that we had to wash off our shoes due to the high salinity of the salt just resting on the ground. The kids were amazed by this great salt body and I was too. A very interesting site if you are headed to Salt Lake City…in fact, you really can’t miss it!DSC08285

 

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!

 

Round Basket Boats-China Beach, Vietnam

I loved Vietnam. I loved everything about it including the people, the food and the scenery. But one of the things I loved the most was the round boats that sat on the sands of China Beach.

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I noticed my first one near sunset when we first stepped on onto the fine white sand. Something about the shape of it drew me in and I wanted to see more. So I walked over to a red one pulled up on the shore. It was full of fishing nets in the bottom with two simple oars resting on the top of the nets. A white plastic bucket fit in along the side of this beautiful red vessel that looked like something the Owl and the Pussycat surely would have sailed in.

These round boats are hardly unique in the world but they are abundant here. They are crafted of split bamboo which is dried in the sun, bent, woven into shape, and then tarred or varnished in order to waterproof the craft. They are excellent at repelling ocean creatures that bore into wood boats but leave these beautiful baskets alone. They are used because they are flexible, light weight, and are capable of carrying a heavy load. But one of their biggest assets is that they are able to pass through the rough surf that dots that Vietnamese coast allowing lone fishermen to get out to sea quickly and easily.

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I come from a long line of Nova Scotia and Massachusetts fisherman. My 2nd great grandfather, Angus McKay, was the captain of the Marsala, a John Pew and Son company boat. He accidentally stranded on a reef during a fierce snowstorm in 1889. Angus died from exposure and pneumonia leaving a young wife and family.  Mr. Pew hired my great -grandmother as his secretary and saved the family from ruin. Back then, fisher folk looked out for one another in that kind of way.

Fishing boats  and fishermen are in my blood. I see them both out in the waves working together to bring in the haul and I think there is nothing better than the sea and man working in tandem. And as I watched the slight old men pushing their round boats to the waters edge in Vietnam, I thought of the fishermen around the world that share a dream and a love of the ocean.

Undoubtedly,  Angus would have loved to have skippered one of these.

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