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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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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Railtown 1897-Jamestown, CA

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Okay, all you railroad buffs, today we are going on an adventure extraordinaire. It’s time to climb aboard the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California. This 26 acre site offers a freight depot with an incredible roundhouse which you can explore until your hearts content.The original turntable still works and there are many passenger cars along with other interesting and rare railroad equipment. But best of all there are several powerful steam engines, including the famous Engine #3, which has appeared in many movies and TV shows including Little House On The Prairie, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Lassie.

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Railtown 1897 is a place to venture back to days gone by. It’s a place to bring young and old a like. Here you can climb onto steam locomotives, stroll vintage passenger cars, and walk the floors of the waiting room at the depot.  And if you are really lucky “Grandma Jean” will give you a personal tour of everything you need to know about this unique and exciting State Park including these tidbits:

  1. The drier the steam the more powerful the engine
  2. The taller the wheels the faster it goes

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But perhaps one of the most interesting things about this State Park is the fact that it has a fully functioning engine repair and restoration facility and you can actually watch as they fix the old engines that arrive for an overhaul. That is worth the price of admission alone!

If you want to ride the trains the best time to visit is in the summer for summer time brings wildflower train rides and steam train excursions. From April to October, trains operate every Saturday and Sunday, departing from the Railtown Depot at 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Excursion tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth 6-17 and children 5 and under ride for free.

For further information go to:

http://www.parks.ca.gov/railtown

You are going to love this place!

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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.

Beijing Street Food

I love street food. Just smelling it, looking at it and tasting it makes me giddy with anticipation and pleasure. I just know my taste buds are going to rejoice and do the “happy dance” as these flavors hit my tongue. From the hot red bean cakes found in Seoul to the jack fruit I tasted in Chiang Mai; there is something exciting about supporting vendors who have found their niche in the world of food.

One of the best places I have ever found for street food is in Beijing. Rows and rows of vendors some selling directly from their carts along with the lucky few who have a few tables for their best customers; this is a place where just about any food can be found. This is a place where food is plentiful and cheap…very cheap. If you are on a budget, street food should be your culinary horn of plenty.

But any words I could possibly say about this experience would be bland, like food without spice, wine or salt. So instead I leave you with these pictures of Beijing street food so you can “taste” them yourself.

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The most flavorful dates I have ever eaten

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Corn anyway you like it

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And they say the Iowa State Fair has everything on a stick…I beg to differ!

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