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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Most people know how to ride a bicycle. They learned sometime as a child and never forgot. I am not one of those people. I tried learning when I was a child, a teenager and an adult, and I have never mastered the two-wheel contraption. Whenever I see a child zip past me on a bike, I get a little jealous inside. I've always wanted to learn, but it's just something I've never been able to do.
On my recent trip to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta, I explored several of the many biking paths that wind through the area. The paths are also hikable, so I walked them instead. Although I've visited Cypress Hills several times, I never get used to the hills and lakes throughout the area. With dozens of kilometres of trails, you can spend a weekend there and never do the same thing twice. Although hiking around the park was incredible, I imagine it would be a lot more fun, and a lot easier, to bike it instead.
If you're visiting Alberta this summer, you probably have your heart set on visiting the mountains. After all, places like Lake Louise, Banff, Waterton and now Castle Provincial Park are some of the most beautiful sites in Canada, and they're always a hit on Instagram (if you're into that kind of thing). But, between Regina and the mountains is a whole province with plenty of sights to explore.
Last year I took more trips than I could count to southern Alberta, but most of them ended near Medicine Hat. Had I gone a bit further, I would have found myself in a myriad of attractions to see, from historical museums to sites of natural disasters and just about everything in-between.
For those looking to make a few stops on their way to the Rocky Mountains, or for those who are just looking for an Alberta road trip, here are six attractions you must visit while in southern Alberta.
They say hope was the last thing to die in Auschwitz.
It's been just over 70 years since the Allies liberated the death camp and the horrors of the "Final Solution" were revealed to the world. Prior to their arrival, Auschwitz was the most effective death camp ever created, having taken the lives of over 1.1 million Jews.
Block 4 of Auschwitz holds the museum, explaining the best it can about what happened seven decades past. The museum explains what Auschwitz was originally built for – a camp for Polish prisoners of war – and how it became key to the Nazi's "Final Solution". The museum goes over the construction of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the increased sizes and effectiveness of gas chambers and the factories of death that stood and smoked over the camp during its operation.