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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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!

 

The Best Graveyard-Stirling, Scotland

If you are like me and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE genealogy than you will understand this post. Otherwise, you just might not.

Sometimes the perfect place to visit is the cemetery. Some people talk to loved ones and some take along picnic lunches. I love to look at the stones. Especially the ancient ones. Usually they are a piece of artwork and often the artists behind them have their own story to tell. I take pictures of these headstones and put the pictures of them up on http://www.findagrave.com so people can connect to the relatives in their past. To date, I have contributed over 5,000.

My favorite graveyards happen to be in Scotland. I am going to introduce you to the one in Stirling known as Old Town Cemetery. It’s a great place to go. Sitting atop a hill between the huge Stirling Castle and the Church of the Holy Rude it is the only cemetery in the UK that was laid out to celebrate the establishment of Presbyterianism. It is a vast place containing graves from the 1600’s up until the present. Because it encompasses so many eras you can really see how headstones change with the times.

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There are many Key Stones contained within the cemetery including Martyr’s Monument which recognizes those who suffered martyrdom in pursuit of religious and civic freedom in Scotland. The Reformer Statues stand in honor of those ministers who fought King Charles who was attempting to establish Episcopal teachings throughout the country. Here you will also find the ornate monuments of local businessmen who carved enormous headstones to honor their families.

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But my favorite monuments are the small unique ancient ones. Often devoid of names it is the unusual carvings that capture my fancy. Skulls, ancient symbols…they are all there.

So next time you are visiting a city take a trip to the local cemetery. It usually has a great view and you just might “meet” some interesting people too!

Ross Errilly Friary-Headford, County Galway, Ireland

This is one of those stories that show the importance of being spontaneous when traveling. We had never even heard of Ross Errilly Friary when we first saw it in the distance as we were traveling to our next hotel in Ireland. It certainly was not on our agenda.

I said to Dave, “Quick. We have got to go there. Turn us around!” Now he wanted to keep going to our hotel but he indulged my whimsical nature and he turned us around: past a few homey looking come-on-in sort of bars, past a dozen or so Irish cows ripping shoots of new green grass from the earth, and eventually following a small narrow road through the outskirts of Headford. As we came closer the enormity of the place became exceedingly apparent. This place is HUGE.

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As we parked and left the car walking towards the Friary we became engaged in a conversation with a gentleman who was removing out-of-place looking fence posts from the place.  Seems a movie had just been shot using the location less than a week ago. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the name.

Ross Errilly is a medieval Franciscan friary and is considered to be one of the best preserved monastic relics in the entire country of Ireland. It is believed that the friary was begun somewhere between the mid 1300’s to the mid 1400’s but when the first stone was laid is a mystery to this day.

The sheer size of the bell tower is the first thing that captures your attention as you walk through a small courtyard-like area.

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A small well preserved central cloister with recent burials contained within its walls. The sun reflecting and resulting shadows make this area magical and mysterious. There is also a second cloister located on the grounds.

At the north area of the complex you will find a huge kitchen complete with a water tank which once held live fish for the evening’s supper and enormous ovens. A massive dining room is nearby.

Huge altars dot the inside of the yard and many gravestones can be found littering the walkways, on walls and covering those altars. One can just imagine those movie actors brandishing swords and jumping from stone to stone as they dueled to the end.

Due to political and religious upheaval the Franciscans were forced to abandon the abbey many times during its history but by the end of the 18th century the friary was all but a neglected ruin. By 1866 it has become a well-known site where locals left the remains of the dead without proper burial and mounds of skulls and bones were could be found littered throughout the place.

Today it is operated by the Office of Public Works and is open to the public free of charge.

This one was of the best ruins in Ireland and for some reason it really spoke to my heart. When we arrived it was raining but as soon as we exited the car it stopped and didn’t begin again until we arrived back and hour later. Obviously,  history was kind to us that day and so were the Gods. I am thankful for the discovery it all.

 

Best Place To Go Near The Airport-Narita, Japan

If you have ever been stuck in an airport you know the importance of being stuck in the right airport meaning an airport near a great tourist destination. The town of Narita outside Tokyo Japan is just such a place.

We took a bus from the airport into Narita proper. Here you will find crooked winding streets that lead you to the showpiece of the city…Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. On your way to the temple stop to explore the wooden shops along Naritasan Omote Sando. Here you will find some of the most beautiful silk kimonos that you will ever see, traditional Japanese cooking utensils and lacquered bento boxes, and bins of souvenirs to suit the fancy of just about every tourist.  While in the area you must eat at the restaurants which feature the fake plastic food in their windows for easy ordering of traditional Japanese cuisine.

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We have been to Narita several times. On one trip we were walking down to the temple when we came upon a festival with large group of older women performing several traditional Japanese dances. Their slow graceful movements were mesmerizing as they moved in unison together like a swarm of butterflies.

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On another trip school children swarmed around us while handing us a card asking if they might practice their English with us. We spent a fun 10 minutes answering their questions until we moved on and stumbled upon the Narita Tourist Pavilion where we were snatched off the street by some very insistent older ladies. They lead us upstairs where we were treated to calligraphy lessons, traditional painting instruction and were dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. All this was followed by a tea ceremony. We had a fantastic time and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

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The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited.The temple was founded in 940 and has classic traditional buildings dotting its grounds. Incense fills the air as you enter through the gate. Intricate carvings adorn the buildings forcing you to slow down and take in all hidden artwork. With gardens that look like they are manicured by tweezers and beautiful statues it is a niche of tranquility in an otherwise bustling city. We have watched as hundreds of babies were blessed by the monks and have been in awe as people pay their respects to the dead. This is a special place in a city that has had its share of growth pangs thanks to the arrival of the Narita Airport in the late 1970’s.

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Narita also has an easy to navigate train station. We took the train into Tokyo to see a performance at the Kabuki Theater and arrived back in Narita worn-out but satisfied with our adventure.

Narita is the perfect place to spend some time outside of the airport and if you have a long layover I would urge you to check out this friendly city.

HINT: Narita is great place for a stopover. Check and see if United Airlines still offers a free stopover when traveling to various points in Asia.