Today I woke up, and skipped the shower. I normally don't do that, but the lodge didn't have any warm water, except for the bath water from last night which, but that had long been drained.
I brushed up, did my hair and went down to the morning meditation service. During the service, each member of the group would ring an iron cauldron with a metal hammer. Then each person sprinkled some scented dust into the smoldering incense and asked Buddha for enlightenment.
After the service, we excited the lodge and walked a building down the street and participated in the fire ceremony. Unlike the calm chanting of the first service, this one involved an ever growing fire, with much louder chanting. But like the first service, we participated in this one as well. Each member of the group was given a piece of wood and we were to write one thing we wanted to improve on in our lives on it. We then handed it to the monks, and they burned them all together, sending our wishes into the universe.
Then, after a relaxing, body cleansing time at the lodge, we packed our bags and headed back to the bus, back down the mountain, through the two trains to Osaka and onto a third train to Himeji.
Himeji is the city our tour guide is from, and is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the beautiful Osaka Castle was a reproduction built out of concrete after the original burned down, the castle in Himeji was still authentic wood.
Arriving first in Himeji, the group stopped for lunch. Nobody could agree on what to eat, so some members of the group went to the Hello Kitty restaurant, while others went to a very questionable submarine sandwich store. Steve, Alison, the tour guide and myself went to our own Japanese restaurant and tried saki (rice wine) for the first time. Was it ever good!
After lunch headed to an observatory and saw the castle from a distance. While up there it began to rain, and it rained the rest of the time we were in the city. We went towards Himeji Castle and climbed the many stairs to the top. Because the castle is authentic, it is closed for repairs and is set to open within the next few years. Currently only the outside is open to the public. However, there are still plenty of interesting things on the grounds!
One unique thing on the castle grounds was an old well with an iron grate on the top of it. Our tour guide told us that unlike other wells, it's bad luck to throw coins down this one. That's because, she said, there's a ghost in it. The story goes that long ago, a king wanted peace in his kingdom and invited his enemy over for a feast in hopes they could find a truce. While the wife was putting out plates for the king and his guests to eat, the leader of the enemy group took and stole one of the plates of food. Because of this, there weren't enough plates to feed all the guests and peace could not be made. The king was so embarrassed by his wife not being able to count that he hung her above the well and dropped her body into it. From then on, if you listen carefully in the well you can hear a woman's voice counting the number of plates, wondering where the 10th plate went.
That is, until word got out about this poor woman and the horrible mistake that occurred. The community had so much sympathy for her that they created a monument out of the well, and the counting was silenced forever.
Another equally interesting part of the castle was the decoration on the roof. Being built in a predominately Buddhist part of the world, in the 14th Century, Christianity wasn't very common in the area. However a distinct cross is embossed into the word, making many wonder it's purpose, especially when it is nowhere else on the castle.
Due to the rain, the heat, and general weariness, the group decided we had had enough of Himeji and just wanted to go to Hiroshima. So, we turned and left the castle, got back on the train and left to finally go to Hiroshima, the city I was most excited for!
Tonight we have a group supper planned so we can get to know each other better. I'm just excited to be in Hiroshima. I can't wait for tomorrow to explore this city!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
Imagine the bustling streets of New York, then times it by ten. Add a dash of Chinese culture, a wallop of nature and half dozen fish balls that don’t actually contain any fish, and you have the beautiful city that is Hong Kong.
At 7.2 million people, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with an incredible history, towering skyscrapers and a unique mix of English and Chinese that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While Hong Kong has existed for a millennium, it was officially founded in 1842 to solidify a truce between Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China during the First Opium War. A decade after the British took control of Hong Kong, the Black Death swept into China, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It would remain part of Hong Kong’s life for a century.
During World War II, Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese. For three years and eight months the British-Chinese culture of the city was destroyed, replaced with Japanese text, language and art. The booming city of 1.6 million people was slashed to only 600,000. Japanese occupation was incredibly harsh for the Hongkongese, being the darkest part of their history. Japan ceased occupation on August 6th, 1945, in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For forty-two more years, Hong Kong was controlled by the British, with the reunification between Hong Kong and mainland China finally occurring in 1997.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.