Throwback Thursday: Domica Cathedral of Jerusalem

Sometimes a place or a building makes a big impact on you and lingers in your thoughts long afterwards. The Domica Cathedral and my experiences inside a couple of years ago is still with me even today.

The Cathedral is a  grand structure surrounded by narow alley ways.  The church is very impressive and looms over the alley that leads around the building. There were no clear markers to where you could find the entrance and it is built like a fortress.

Once inside my eyes were drawn to the painted ceiling, decorated walls and even the floor. All of these colourful surfaces formed a stark contrast with the bleak outside of the building. The floor is decorated with the symbols of the Zodiac, names of Prophets, and a verse from Proverbs (8, 23-25) written on its circumference. The Cathedral was quiet and warm inside with the faint smell of insence everywhere.

Walking down a spiral staircases down to the crypt under the church I heard sof voices rising from below. In the center of the crypt is a sculpture of Mary’s deathbed, made of ivory and cherry wood. On the ceiling of the crypt above Mary is a beautiful painting of Jesus surrounded by famous Biblical women figures: Eve, Esther, Ruth, Yael, Judith and Mary sister of Moses, all here to honor Mary. 

Domica Cathedral
Inside the Domica Cathedral. The only photo I took as I didnt want to intrude on people while praying

People were nlighting up candles before the sculpture and a priest was conducted a service or reciting scripture. Although I could not understand a word he was saying I sat down to listen and to embrace the peaceful atmosphere. Sitting here amidst all these people praying I closed my eyes and for the first time in a while said a prayer of my own.

Without knowing why ears sprung to eyes and I will always remember how peaceful and loved I felt at that moment. I bought myself a beautiful rosary before I left the Cathedral and every now and again when I need reassurance I will hold the rosary while saying silent prayer.

This was a first for me. Has a place or building ever affected you in such a way?

This beautiful gate is just opposite the Domica Cathedral
This beautiful gate is just opposite the Domica Cathedral

The cobbled streets of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is an amazing city filled with great people and extraordinary places to see. You can pick any street to wonder down and you will be surrounded by the most amazing architecture ever. Millions and millions of feet have walked across these same cobbled streets. Some in search of adventure and others on a pilgrimage through this historical city.

Early in the mornings the streets are quite deserted and you get to feel quite alone as you wonder through the city.  These are photos of some of the alleyways and lanes that I wondered through on my way from New Gate down to Zion’s Gate on the other sde of the Old city. After exciting through Zion’s Gate you nearly walk into  David’s Tomb and the room of the Last Supper.

King David’s Tomb is a site traditionally viewed as the burial place of David the King of Israel. It is located in a ground floor corner of the remains of the former Hagia Zion, a Byzantine church.

The Last Supper Room is arectangular room with gothic style pillars and a vaulted ceiling. This is said to be the room where Jesus and his deciples had their last supper together although it looks more like a small chapel to me.

Throwback Thursday: Sea of Galilee in Nazareth

I dont always plan out all my holidays in detail in advance and my Israel trip was one of these. I didn’t have any specific plan of action once I arrived in Nazareth so when two strangers at the hostel mentioned a road trip to the North of Israel all around the Sea of Galilee I couldn’t think of one reason not to go. Going on a road trip with two strangers has never been on my bucket list but this ended up being one of the most amazing trips I have ever gone on.

Pia and the Polish dude I road tripped with. ( I never could remember his name)
Pia and the Polish dude I road tripped with ( I never could remember his name)

Pia was the designated driver and I sat in the front with the job as map reader in our little yellow rented car.The polish guy that was traveling with us lives in Ireland at the moment. (Jaric) He has lived there for 9 years but his English is really not that good and he doesn’t always understand our questions or give us straight answers. Whenever someone asks him where he’s from he says Ireland, you can see how confused the people seem as he doesn’t look or sound Irish at all. I could never remember his name so ended up calling him Polish Dude the whole time. Getting to see the countryside covered in mist while driving along the windy roads was absolutely amazing. It was chilly at 16 degrees and very foggy so we couldn’t see too far ahead, it actually gave the area an eerie fairy-tale feeling. It felt like we were entering the unknown and didn’t know what’s waiting around the next corner.

It was amazing walking next to the Sea of Galilee with all those boble stories in the back of my mind
It was amazing walking next to the Sea of Galilee with all those Bible stories in the back of my mind

From Tiberias we headed up north all along the coast of the sea of Galilee to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes is situated right next to the Sea of Galilee. It is a cute little church, although its modern, it stands on the site of 4th and 5th-century churches, right where it is said that Jesus divided the fish and loaves to the multitudes of people. Inside it preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic of the loaves and fishes as well as the traditional stone on which the miraculous meal was laid. It is said that pilgrims are known to have commemorated this site since at least the 4th century.

Inside it preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic
Inside it preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic

My last look over the Sea of Galilee, before heading up North into the mountains.  

Christmas night in Bethlehem, Israel!!

 Saturday 24 December 2011

At 3o’clock the afternoon on my first day in Israel I joined the Abraham hostel tour to Bethlehem. Unfortunately the guide was absolutely useless, he didn’t give us any extra information about the area or even tell us where we were going or what we were going to see.

Shepherd’s Field He took us to the Shepherd’s Field first.

Shepherd’s Field“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:8-10)

The fertile fields of Beit Sahour are believed to be where this biblical scene took place, 2 km southeast of Bethlehem. The ruins at Al-Ruwat include a cave used as a church from the 4th century, of which the barrel-vaulted roof (5th century) still survives. It is approached by a flight of 21 steps and has three apses with traces of mosaic and old frescoes.

After this we went into Bethlehem and to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The structure is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus it is considered sacred by Christians.

Floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica.
Floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica.

It is designed like a typical Roman basilica, with five aisles formed by Corinthian columns. The columns are made of pink, polished limestone, most of them dating from the original 4th-century Constantinian basilica.  There is also a vault in the eastern end, where the sanctuary is. The church features golden mosaics covering the side walls, which are now largely decayed. Trap doors in the present floor reveal sections of floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica. The mosaics feature complex geometric designs with birds, flowers and vine patterns, making a rich and elaborate carpet for Constantine’s church.

We stood in line for 3hours to get into the Grotto.

Lanterns Inside the Church of the Nativity
Lanterns Inside the Church of the Nativity
Church of St. Catherine
Church of St. Catherine

Church of St. CatherineWhile standing in line I wandered away from the group and went into the adjoining Church of St. Catherine, the Roman Catholic Church. It was built in a more modern Gothic revival style. This is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Certain customs still observed in this Midnight Mass predate Vatican II, must be maintained because the “status quo” (the customs, rights and duties of the various church authorities that have custody of the Holy Places) was legally fixed in 1852, under the Ottoman Empire.

 

When I wanted to get back to the group the connecting door was locked seeing as they were busy closing and getting ready for midnight mass! Luckily I found a guard who then helped me get back in.

Inside the Church of the Nativity
Inside the Church of the Nativity

We entered through a very low door, called the “Door of Humility.” We then went down a Staircase on the side of the Sanctuary that leads down to the Grotto.

Bethlehem candles

Candles at the entrance to the Grotto
Candles at the entrance to the Grotto

The Grotto of the Nativity is an underground cave located beneath the basilica, it enshrines the site where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed Silver Star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. This altar is denominationally neutral, although it features primarily Armenian Apostolic influences. Another altar in the Grotto, which is maintained by the Roman Catholics, marks the site where traditionally Mary laid the newborn Baby in the manger.

We were unfortunately rushed through a bit, and got held up because a very big lady bent down to kiss the Silver Star and then got stuck under the altar and it took two guards to pull her out of the little grotto again.

Unfortunately it started raining during dinner, it was pouring down and my shoes were not water proof. I bought a small umbrella but had to walk around with wet, cold feet the whole evening, my toes were freezing!

We walked down to see a part of the Israel Palestine wall with its graffiti; we only saw a small part of the wall as we couldn’t actually walk around much in the pouring rain. I got to see and photograph a Banksy original!!

Manger Square
Manger Square

I met 2 lovely Kiwi ladies who teach English in Cairo. I ended up chatting to them and spent the rest of the evening in their company. On our way back from the wall we sat down and had some mulled wine to warm up a bit. Luckily by then the rain had cleared up a bit so we headed down to Manger Square, a large paved courtyard in front of the Church. This is the site where crowds gather on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas carols in anticipation of the midnight services. We could watch the midnight service here on big screens, but unfortunately because of the rain there was no sound, a bit of a disappointment.

Standing right by the Barriers of Manger Square
Standing right by the Barriers of Manger Square

We were lucky enough to be right in the front when they set up the barriers in front of the church before the president arrived. I have never seen so many armed police and army guys standing around with their AK47’s.

When the president finally arrived it looked like chaos with all the police running around, but it was over quickly and the barriers were removed.

After midnight mass we all had some hot chocolate before heading back to the hostel.

This was definitely a very special and spiritual Christmas for me!

The remains of the Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian
This is all that remains of the Temple of Hadrian

Another treasure to be found at Ephesus is the remains of the Temple of Hadrian. It is quite spectacular that any of this beautiful temple has survived through the destructive history of what once was a magnificent city.

Temple of Hadrian
It is one of the best preserved and most beautiful structures on Curetes Street.
Temple of Hadrian
Temple of Hadrian

An inscription shows that the Temple of Hadrian  was erected around 118 AD but underwent repairs in the 4th century and has been re-erected from surviving fragments. The facade of the temple has four Corinthian square columns supporting a curved arch.  It was during the course of restorations that the four decorative reliefs were added to the lintels of the interior of the porch. In the arch over the main portalon the the keystone is a carving of a half-nude woman surrounded by acanthus leaves. Some identify the figure as Medusa, symbolically keeping evil spirits away others say it is Tyche, goddess of victory.

 

Tyche, goddess of victory
Tyche, goddess of victory

The name “Temple of Hadrian” is not really accurate: it is more a monument than a temple, and was dedicated not only to Hadrian but also Artemis and the people of Ephesus. The temple was depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 20 million lira banknote of 2001–2005 and of the 20 new lira banknote of 2005–2009.

Temple of Hadrian
The pillars of the Temple of Hadrian

The interior of the monument is decorated with panels of reliefs along the top. The reliefs in the upper sections are casts, the originals now being exhibited in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. A number of figures are depicted in the reliefs, including the emperor Theodosius I with his wife and eldest son.  It is said that Emperor Hadrian was one of the Five of Good Emperors. The Five Good Emperors is a term that refers to five consecutive emperors of the Roman Empire— Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

Temple of Hadrian
The interior reliefs of the Temple of Hadrian

Hadrian was active in the wars against the Dacians and reputedly won awards from Trajan for his successes. Due to an absence of military action in his reign, Hadrian’s military skill is not well attested, however his keen interest and knowledge of the army and his demonstrated skill of administration show possible strategic talent.

Hadrian appears to have been a man of mixed sexual interests. The Historia Augusta criticizes both his liking of goodlooking young men as well as his adulteries with married women.It is belived that he tried to poison his wife. When it comes to Hadrian’s homosexuality, then the accounts remain vague and unclear. Most of the attention centres on the young Antinous, whom Hadrian grew very fond of. Statues of Antinous have survived, showing that imperial patronage of this youth extended to having sculptures made of him. In AD 130 Antinous accompanied Hadrian to Egypt. It was on a trip on the Nile when Antinous met with an early and somewhat mysterious death. Officially, he fell from the boat and drowned.

Temple of Hadrian
Sad that this is all that is left of this temple

Hadrian died in 138 on the tenth day of July, in his villa at Baiae at age 62. However, the man who had spent so much of his life traveling had not yet reached his journey’s end. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate which had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon the completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. Sounds like he is spending eternity with the woman he tried to poison.

 

 

 

Visiting the House of the Virgin Mary

The exterior view of the restored house, now serving as a chapel.
The exterior view of the restored house, now serving as a chapel.

The best way to start your adventure in Ephesus is with a little history on the area and by visiting the Church or House of the Virgin Mary. It is not just a religious site but also a big part of the history of the area and a very interesting and beautiful place to visit. The House of Virgin Mary is located on the top of Mt. Koressos, “Mount Nightingale” in Turkish, about 9 km from Ephesus. It is hidden in a lush green forest at the top of the mountain and is said to be the place where Mary may have spent her last days. That she came to the area with Saint John, who spent several years in the area to spread Christianity.

House of the Virgin Mary
Standing in line to enter: you can not take photos inside though

It is a typical Roman house, entirely made of square stones. In the 4th century AD, a church, combining her house and grave, has been built. The shrine itself is not extensively large, but may rather be described as a modest chapel. As I entered the chapel I was met by one single large room holding an altar with a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On the right side, a smaller room lies, traditionally associated with the actual room where the Virgin Mary is believed to have slept. Today this bedroom and praying room  is known as the Christian church area and a room with a fireplace is now a chapel for Muslims. Unfortunately only the central part and a room on the right of the altar were open to visitors.

House of the Virgin Mary
Beautiful view from up here

Paul VI was the first pope to visit this place in the 1960’s. Later, in the 1980’s, during his visit, Pope John-Paul II declared the Shrine of Virgin Mary as a pilgrimage place for Christians. Catholic pilgrims also visit the house based on the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived there until her Assumption (according to Catholic doctrine) or Dormition (according to Orthodox belief). It is also visited by Muslims who recognize Mary as the mother of one of their prophets. Every year, on August 15th a ceremony is organized to commemorate Mary’s Assumption.

Another interesting place is the “Water of Mary”, a source to be found at the exit of the church area. This fountain has a rather salt water source and is said to hold curative properties. People stand in line to drink this water or to fill water bottles so that they can take this water home for friends or sick family members.  This water is also believed by some pilgrims to not only have miraculous powers of healing but also powers of fertility.

The wishing wall
The wishing wall, believed by some pilgrims to be miraculous.

Outside the shrine is a “wishing wall” which pilgrims have used by tying their personal intentions on paper or fabric. People add their wishes to this wall which is then believed to be blessed by the Virgin Mary. So remember to take a little piece of cloth or white paper along so that you can tie up your own wishes.

Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque

Hagia Sophia
The Beautiful Hagia Sophia

Turkey is one of those countries which has changed identity and cultures so many times that it has turned into a unique country with a unique culture. Exploring this culture rich country has been one of my most amazing adventures.

Hagia Sophia
What a striking sight

The beautiful Hagia Sophia, Turkeys’ Church-turned-Mosque served as the principal mosque of Istanbul, then Constantinople, for almost 500 years.

Hagia Sophia
One of the most striking churches / mosques I have ever been in

If you ever get to visit Istanbul you have to make a point of exploring Hagia Sofia, one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture in Turkey. It is one of those places you will have to visit more than once as it is so overwhelming that you cant take everything in during your first visit.

Hagia Sophia
Busy restoring the amazing Hagia Sophia

I have already posted about my visit to this amazing building but had a couple of Sepia Photos of the mosque I wanted to share with you all. The mosque looks like it is something from a fairytale when viewed in Sepia.

Although scaffolding cluttered a part of the interior the thrill of  experiencing the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque is hard to overstate.

Asia’s most Colourful and Gaudy Temple ever

I quite enjoyed my visit to this very colourful and very kitch temple. It doesn’t look so inviting from outside but once you are inside the colours and dragons and pink is definitely eye catching. I wonder who chose the colour scheme and decided that gaudy dragons is the perfect adornment for a collective religion. The colourful Cau Dai Temple is in Tay Ninh City, which is actually a small town just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

Cau Dai Temple
The entrance to the colourful Cau Dai Temple

Cau Dai Temple
Close up the entrance is quite colourful

This “Great” holy temple, built in 1926, is considered one of the most striking structures in all of Asia. I do think that they were talking about the interior of this temple and not the exterior which is not very striking.

The name Cau Dai means ‘the highest place in which God reigns’ and sources suggest that the religion has between 2-6 million followers. This was the first time that I had ever heard of this religion so it must not have a very wide spread following.

Cau Dai Temple
I caught some of the pilgrims before entering the temple

Cau Dai Temple
Looking down at the entrance of the temple

Cau Dai or Caodaism is a religion with a colourful mix of Buddhism, Christianity and Confucianism. I couldn’t find any set of “rules” for this religion but understand that it is very peaceful and they meditate a lot.

Pulling up to the temple we were greeted by this huge peach structure. Standing proudly in the middle of the countryside, it does stand out. From the look of this temple it is hard to believe that it boasts an array of stunning vibrant colours on the inside.

Cau Dai Temple
The temple just before the service

We had arrived just in time for the midday mass, one of 4 daily services taking place every 6 hours from noon. I wonder if you have to attend all 4 services or you can choose which ones to attend? I would definitely give the 6am service a skip if it was voluntary.

Cau Dai Temple
Getting ready for the service

Cau Dai Temple
A glimpse from the front

While the service was taking place we got to remain on the balcony and to watch quietly from above. We were told however not to use flashes when taking photos and to please be quiet and not disturb the service. I wouldn’t want to be praying while a bunch of tourist watch me and take pictures of me so it was quite difficult for me to get myself to take photos during the service but I am quite glad that I did take some. Taking photos inside churches or temples always make me uncomfortable, especially if they are working churches or temples and people are worshiping here.

Cau Dai Temple
Such a peaceful service

All the priests and pilgrims gather to pray and chant together at these services and I do wish that I could actually understand what they were saying. It sounded so peaceful. During the service the men and woman are separated with the men at the front and woman in the back. They all kneel down and sit in groups according to the coloured robes they are wearing. They would then bow as a group at certain parts of the service which looked quite spectacular from above. The pilgrims formed a sea of white while the priests stood out wearing either red, yellow or blue. These three colours are worn to symbolise the three principals of Cao Dai – red for Christianity, yellow for Buddhism or blue for Taoism. So I wonder if in essence they actually are still Christian or Buddhist and just pray and worship together?

Cau Dai Temple
A sea of worshippers

The Cau Dai symbol is an all-seeing eye that is seen all over the temple while the temple decor in general is colourfully garish and very interesting all at the same time. I always thought this all-seeing eye was part of the Egyptian culture. Cau Dai is definitely a mixture of so many beliefs it is quite confusing.

Cau Dai Temple
The all-seeing eye

Being able to attend this prayer session was a fabulous experience but it left me with so many questions about this colourful religion and its customs.

The Great Mosque of Xi’an is completely Chinese in style

Arriving at Xian's Muslim quarter
Arriving at Xian’s Muslim quarter
Having fun browsing through the shop filled alleyways
Having fun browsing through the shop filled alleyways

After spending the morning exploring the famous XianCity wall we all headed to the Muslim quarter of this beautiful city. Here we got to explore the huge market and shop filled streets. As the starting point of the famous Silk Road, Xi’an attracted traders from the West since the 1st century BC. During the 8th century AD, Xi’an was the largest city in the world with over one million inhabitants, among which one third of them were foreigners. Walking past all these crafts I had to remind myself that every little thing adds weight to my backpack, otherwise I would have ended up buying loads of stuff. I couldn’t resist buying myself a fire red Chinese umbrella though. After getting lost in the winding alleyways we eventually stumbled upon the Great Mosque of Xian.

My new red Chinese Umbrella!!
My new red Chinese Umbrella!!
Very weird silver head gear.....
Very weird silver head gear…..
Great Mosque of Xi'an
Entering the Great Mosque of Xi’an

It is the oldest and one of the most renowned Mosques in the country, founded in 742 AD. This Mosque was a result of Islam being introduced into Northwest China by Arab merchants and travelers from Persia and Afghanistan during the mid-7th century when some of them settled down in China and married women of Han Nationality.

Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, the Great Mosque of Xi’an is completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic lettering and decorations, for the mosque has neither domes nor traditional-style minarets. The mosque looked more like a temple or shrine than a traditional mosque but was very peaceful and we enjoyed exploring the grounds. Landscaped with gardens, the further we strolled into its interior, the more serene the place felt.

The Mosque garden is tranquil and filled with cobbled pathways
The Mosque garden is tranquil and filled with cobbled pathways

Walking through our first elaborate wooden arch....
Walking through our first elaborate wooden arch….

The first courtyard contains an elaborate wooden arch nine meters high covered with glazed tiles that dates back to the 17th century. In the center of the second courtyard, a stone arch stands with two steles on both sides.

elaborate wooden arch nine meters high
The elaborate wooden arch nine meters high
Mom and I in the middle of the Mosque courtyard
Mom and I in the middle of the Mosque courtyard

At the entrance to the third courtyard is a hall that contains many steles from ancient times. As we entered this courtyard, we saw the Xingxin Tower, a place where Muslims come to attend prayer services. A ‘Phoenix’ placed in the fourth courtyard, the principal pavilion here, contains the Prayer Hall, the surrounding walls of which are covered with colored designs.

Xingxin Tower
Xingxin Tower
the principal pavilion here, contains the Prayer Hall
The principal pavilion here, contains the Prayer Hall

In China, this Great Mosque is the only one open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Non-Muslims, however, are not admitted to the main prayer hall or during times of prayer.

About to taste a weird looking dumpling
About to taste a weird looking dumpling

That evening we had a fabulous dumpling banquet where we got to taste loads of different dumplings. Dumplings are cooked balls of dough. They are based on flourpotatoes or bread, and may include meatfish, vegetables, or sweets. Some of our dumpling fillings included pork with Chinese cabbage, pork with garlic chives, pork and shrimp with vegetables and garlic chives with scrambled eggs.  Most were quite tasty but some were a bit weird and ended up half eaten on my plate. This was the perfect way to end our first day of exploring the ancient city of Xian.

Dumpling Buffet!!
Dumpling Buffet!!

The Old City of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is an amazing city filled with great people and extraordinary places to see. You can pick any street to wonder down and you will be surrounded by the most amazing architecture ever. Millions and millions of feet have walked across these same cobbled streets. Some in search of adventure and others on a pilgrimage through this historical city.

Early in the mornings the streets are quite deserted and you get to feel quite alone as you wonder through the city.  These are photos of some of the alleyways and lanes that I wondered through on my way from New Gate down to Zion’s Gate on the other sde of the Old city. After exciting through Zion’s Gate you nearly walk into  David’s Tomb and the room of the Last Supper.

Entrance to King David's Tomb
Entrance to King David’s Tomb

King David’s Tomb is a site traditionally viewed as the burial place of David the King of Israel. It is located in a ground floor corner of the remains of the former Hagia Zion, a Byzantine church.

Inside he Last Supper Room
Inside he Last Supper Room

The Last Supper Room is arectangular room with gothic style pillars and a vaulted ceiling. This is said to be the room where Jesus and his deciples had their last supper together although it looks more like a small chapel to me.

I ended up in the magnificent Domica Cathedral which is located on Mount Zion, southwest of the Old City and it immortalizes the deep sleep of Mary, mother of Jesus. “Dormitio” in Latin means “to sleep”.

This Cathedral commemorates the memory of Virgin Mary, in the traditional site of her death (the name means “Eternal sleep”).

Heading towards the Domica Cathedral
Heading towards the Domica Cathedral
Walls of the Domica Cathedral
Walls of the Domica Cathedral
Domica Cathedral
Domica Cathedral

The church was first built in the fourth century and called “Hagia Zion” (Holy Zion) but since then it has undergone many periods of destruction and renovation by the various rulers of Jerusalem. The church as it stands today was built in the neo-Romanesque style of the Middle Ages and was inaugurated in 1910.

It is maintained by the German Benedictine Order and is decorated in the style of many churches in the Christian world, with mosaics showing figures from the Old and New Testaments and paintings of a variety of saints.

The beauty and grand design of the church is very impressive as I approached it from the alley that leads from the Zion gate.

Domica Cathedral
Domica Cathedral
Up close to the Domica Cathedral
Up close to the Domica Cathedral
 Entering the Domica Cathedral
Entering the Domica Cathedral
The Domica Cathedral
The Domica Cathedral

Once inside my eyes were drawn to the painted ceiling, decorated walls and even the floor. The floor is decorated with the symbols of the Zodiac, names of Prophets, and a verse from Proverbs (8, 23-25) written on its circumference.

Inside the Domica Cathedral
Inside the Domica Cathedral

Inside the church are two spiral staircases that lead down to the crypt. The crypt is a round pillared room, which is located in a level under the church. In the center of the crypt, surrounded by six pillars, is a sculpture of Mary’s deathbed, made of ivory and cherry wood.  Visitors light up candles before the sculpture. While I was down there a priest conducted a service, it was beautiful to sit and listen to.

On the ceiling of the crypt above Mary are Jesus (in the center) surrounded by famous Biblical women figures: Eve, Esther, Ruth, Yael, Judith and Mary sister of Moses, they are here to honor Mary.

I bought myself a beautiful mother of pearl rosary here as it will have special memories attached with my visit to this extraordinary church.

The Bell Tower of the Domica Cathedral
The Bell Tower of the Domica Cathedral

The Bell tower of this church is crowned with a sign of the cock, similar to the Gallicantu church. The Biblical text (Mark 14: 26-72) describes the story of Peters’ triple denial of Christ and the cock crowing twice, which happened on Mount Zion.

  The story is as follows: Jesus was sitting with his disciples before his arrest, and doubted their loyalty.  Peter declared that he will not be among them, but Jesus predicted that within that night, even before the 2nd crow of the cock, Peter will deny him 3 times. This is exactly what has happened, as Peter found out himself.

This beautiful gate is just opposite the Domica Cathedral
This beautiful gate is just opposite the Domica Cathedral

Exploring the Beautiful old Churches of Santiago

Basilica de la Merced
The beautiful Basilica de la Merced
The main entrance to the Cathedral
The main entrance to the Cathedral

The city of Santiago has a couple of very old churches that are absolutely lovely to explore. Walking down Merced Street I stopped at the Basilica of Mercy a Catholic church located just before I reached Plaza de Armas. This Basilica was built in 1566 and established by the Order of the Blessed Mary of Mercy, who arrived with the first expedition to Chile.

During its early years it was one of the most important churches at the time, so a lot of wealthy families chose to be buried in it. The tombs of Rodrigo de Quiroga and his wife Ines Suarez  the first Spanish woman in Chile is among these.

The two towers were only added later
The two towers were only added later
Entering the Basilica of Mercy
Entering the Basilica of Mercy

In 1859 the first tower was built and in 1885 and second, the lower part is built with brick and the upper in timber. I love that the exterior of the Cathedral is painted a bright red and the inside a soft yellow.

I found out that most Cathedrals lock their doors after 3pm on weekdays so made sure that I started my church exploration early that Friday. The Cathedral has a little hidden side entrance through which I entered it. The Baroque interior features a hand carved pulpit and a Virgin la Merced from 1548. This Virgin is silver with blue drapes behind it and lit up so was definitely one of the first things I noticed when entering the Cathedral.

The nave has a vaulted ceiling with no natural light and is adorned with some beautiful chandeliers. Although they weren’t all lit up there were bright lights all along the side of the Cathedral. This put the yellow Cathedral in a very soft and peaceful light.

I love browsing through all the artifacts sold at churches
I love browsing through all the artifacts sold at churches
You can even buy some flowers to lay down in the small chapel inside the Cathedral
You can even buy some flowers to lay down in the small chapel inside the Cathedral

Exiting the Cathedral by the main doors I was greeted by a couple of religious artifact sellers. They are set up on the steps of the Cathedral and sell anything from votive candles to rosary beads.

Plaza de Armas which is the heart and soul of Santiago de Chile
Plaza de Armas which is the heart and soul of Santiago de Chile

Continuing down the street and onto Plaza de Armas which is the heart and soul of Santiago de Chile. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago, which has a square grid pattern. The Cathedral contrasts with the modern high-rise buildings right next to it in a very special harmony.

The Northern side of Plaza de Armas
The Northern side of Plaza de Armas

The post office and Museum at the Plaza
The Central Post office and Museum at the Plaza

Surrounding the square are some historical buildings including the Central Post Office Building. This building was initially the residence of the city’s founding father, Pedro de Valdivia. In 1908 they decided to beautify the building they renovated the façade in Renaissance style and added a third floor and a glass cupola. . It’s worth popping in for a look at the beautiful lobby with its checkered floor.

Today the Central post office has a small postal museum to memorialize the history of Correos de Chille. If you like old technology or antique machines there are some nice examples you shouldn’t miss.

The interior of the Post Office is quire beautiful
The interior of the Post Office is quire beautiful
Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago
The striking Metropolitan Cathedral sits on the western corner of Plaza de Armas
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago
The Bell tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago is located on the corner opposite the Central post office and has been a monument since 1951. It is one of the historical sites of Santiago I would definitely recommend for a visit.  This Cathedral was inaugurated in 1775 and is actually the 5th church built on this site since previous structures were destroyed in earthquakes.

Entering through the very imposing, hand carved cedar doors I left the hustle and bustle of the plaza behind and entered the quiet and peaceful interior. I love that people naturally fall silent as soon as they enter churches or Cathedrals. 

This Cathedral has beautiful hand carved cedar doors at the entrance
This Cathedral has beautiful hand carved cedar doors at the entrance
I sat down admiring the stunning painted ceiling of this Cathedral
I sat down admiring the stunning painted ceiling of this Cathedral

I found the patterned floor quite lovely
I found the patterned floor quite lovely

Admission is free and it is well worth going inside to take a look at the lavishly decorated nave and altar. It has a beautiful ornate baroque interior, great frescoes and paintings and is full of decorations all over. The central nave with its painted ceiling and rows of hand carved pews was a stunning sight indeed.

The Cathedral has a wonderful mixture of marble, lapis lazuli and bronze with beautiful chandeliers providing soft lighting.

To the left of the main entrance I stepped into the Cathedral’s Capilla del Centesimo Sacramento (the Hundredth Sacrament Chapel). It is a small side chapel covered in beautiful silver work crafted by Jesuits.

Cathedral’s Capilla del Centesimo Sacramento
Cathedral’s Capilla del Centesimo Sacramento
Iglesia de Santo Domingo,
Iglesia de Santo Domingo,

Not having got my fill of Cathedrals for this lovely peaceful day my next stop was the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, the Santo Domingo Church. It lies in the street just behind the Plaza de Armas.  It is a Dominican church built in ashlar masonry. The present day church is the 4th one built on this site and constructed in 1747. The Bavarian Baroque bell towers are constructed of clay brick masonry covered with stucco.

 Today, worshippers pray to the Virgin of Pompeii, whose illuminated statue occupies the central altar.

The church had a couple of religious artifact sellers at the entrance but was quite deserted and peaceful once inside. I enjoy the quiet that churches offer, they are definitely the best places to retreat to when you are in need of a break or need to think some things through.

Sitting down in the columned nave of this church to rest my tired feet was definitely the perfect way to end a day of church exploring.

Healing water and Lucky love rocks in shrine filled KYOTO

Michael buying our return bus tickets!!
Michael buying our return bus tickets!!

Kyoto is a city filled with countless temples, shrines and other historically significant buildings.

It was Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868. Over the centuries, many wars and fires destroyed Kyoto, but due to its historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and spared from air raids during World War II.

We didn't sleep much on the bus so arrived in Kyoto a bit tired
We didn’t sleep much on the bus so arrived in Kyoto a bit tired

I met up with my friend Michael in Shinjuku station in Tokyo where we boarded the night bus to Kyoto. Although it wasn’t the best way to travel it was cheap and you could at least sleep a bit.

We got to Kyoto early morning and locked our bags up at the station and

immediately started our exploration of the city.  We bought a local bus pass for the 4 days we planned on spending here. By taking buses rather than the tube we would definitely get to see a bit more of the city.

Entering Sanjusangendo temple
Entering Sanjusangendo temple
This shrine was very peaceful and tranquil.
This shrine was very peaceful and tranquil.

Our first stop was Sanjusangendo temple in eastern Kyoto, which is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It was breathtaking!!! The temple was founded in 1164 and its present structures date from 1266.

The main hall, which houses the statues, is over 100 meters long and in its centre sits one large Kannon, flanked on each side by 500 smaller statues. They stand in neat rows side by side, each as tall as a human being. The only let down was that we were not allowed to take any photographs inside the building.

Inari shrine inside the temple complex
Inari shrine inside the temple complex

Our next temple stop was Kiyomizu Temple situated in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto. Kiyomizudera (“Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan, it was founded in 780.

The huge entrance to Kiyomizudera ("Pure Water Temple")
The huge entrance to Kiyomizudera (“Pure Water Temple”)
The area is filled with ladies dressed in beautiful spring kimonos!!
The area is filled with ladies dressed in beautiful spring kimonos!!

Part of the fun of visiting Kiyomizudera was the approach to the temple along the steep and busy lanes of the atmospheric Higashiyama district. The lanes were filled with many shops and restaurants catering to tourists and pilgrims. Products on sale ranged from local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles to the standard set of souvenirs.

It was beautiful to see a temple hidden among trees and mountains.
It was beautiful to see a temple hidden among trees and mountains.
Sitting on the famous wooden terrace overlooking the forests and mountains
Sitting on the famous wooden terrace overlooking the forests and mountains

Kiyomizudera offers us a lovely view over the city from its famous wooden terrace. Below the terrace, I got to taste a bit of the spring water, which gives the temple its name and which is said to have healing power. I had to stand in line for this but wasn’t going to let the chance for good health this coming season slip through my fingers.

Everybody standing in line for the spring water meant to bring GOOD HEALTH
Everybody standing in line for the spring water meant to bring GOOD HEALTH
The water was cold and refreshing, lets hope it brings me GOOD HEALTH for the year to ahead
The water was cold and refreshing, lets hope it brings me GOOD HEALTH for the year to ahead
Jishu Shrine just behind the main temple
Jishu Shrine just behind the main temple
One of the LOVE ROCKS!!
One of the LOVE ROCKS!!

Behind Kyomizudera’s main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love. In front of the shrine are two rocks, placed several meters apart from each other. Successfully walking from one to the other rock with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in your love live. I don’t have much balance so needless to say I ended up walking a bit skew and missed the second rock. But on the second try I got it right, I figured you should have at least 3 chances to get it right.

 Ginkakuji temple Our last stop on our very long first day was Ginkakuji temple. It was a temple made completely out of silver but unfortunately we couldn’t see it as it was being renovated and was covered by scaffolding.

The beautiful zen garden of Ginkakuji temple
The beautiful zen garden of Ginkakuji temple
The gardens of the temple are magnificent
The gardens of the temple are magnificent

Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, is a Zen temple at the foot of Kyoto’s Higashiyama (“eastern mountains”). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple. A few years later, the Silver Pavilion, modeled after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), was constructed.

 

Tired and smelly we headed of to the hostel. K`s Hostel. Undoubtedly the best hostel I’ve been in so far. I had a lovely shower and then we headed into town for some good sushi!

Finding the phantom ghost jizo protector statue in Nikko


Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko was formed by an eruption of nearby Mount Nantai. This small gorge near central Nikko has a pleasant riverside walking trail which I followed to get to the protector statues of Jizo on the side of the hill.

Stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva in a row next to the stream
Stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva in a row next to the stream
Most of the Jizo statues are covered in moss and adorned with a red knitted cap or bib
Most of the Jizo statues are covered in moss and adorned with a red knitted cap or bib

Kanmangafuchi is famous for its row of about 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased. Each of these Jizou was carved by follower of Bishop Tenkai, but there were about 100 Jizous at that time. However, some of those were washed away by flooding in 1902. 

 Jizo is the embodiment of the Bodhisattva Vow, the aspiration to save all beings from suffering. He is the protector of women, children, and travelers in the six realms of existence. The function of this great Bodhisattva is to guide travelers in both the physical and spiritual realms. 

There are about 70 of these Jizo statues, you have to give room for the ghost Jizo in your count
There are about 70 of these Jizo statues, you have to give room for the ghost Jizo in your count

Some of the statues were adorned with knitted red hats and bibs, while others were crumbling with age.

In Japan, it is customary to place statues of Jizo at the intersections of roads and paths so the correct way will be chosen.
In Japan, it is customary to place statues of Jizo at the intersections of roads and paths so the correct way will be chosen.

Legend says that the statues change places from time to time and a visitor will never see them in the same order twice. It is also said that if you walk and count them you will find that on the way back there will be one more than when you went. They call this the phantom jizo that appears to taunt travelers.

They are more popularly known as "Bake Jizo", meaning Ghost Jizo.
They are more popularly known as “Bake Jizo”, meaning Ghost Jizo.

Slowly I counted all the statues as I walked along them and then again as I walked back, but I think I must have just lost count on my way back as I ended up with one more in my count than when I went.

Mist shrouded Nikko, shrines and hot springs.

On my way to Nikko!!
On my way to Nikko!!

Nikko is a small city situated about 135km North of Tokyo between picturesque mountains and waterfalls surrounded by lakes, wild monkeys, hot springs and hiking trails. It’s a 3-4 hour journey by train from Shinjuku station on the Tobu-Nikko line and cost me about ¥1320 one-way, ideal for a long weekend get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

I packed my bags and grabbed the first train of the morning out of Tokyo heading north. It was mid June and sweltering hot in Tokyo but the temperatures dropped the further North I travelled. By the time I arrived in Nikko it was drizzling and the whole city was covered in a layer of thick mist making it look enchanted.

Arriving in mist covered Nikko!
Arriving in mist covered Nikko!
Driving along tree covered lanes
Driving along tree covered lanes

I took a cab up to Nikko Park Lodge where I stayed for the long weekend. It was only a twenty minutes’ walk from the town centre but all uphill and not that easy to find for first timers.  Nikko Park Lodge was laid-back and run by a very friendly Buddhist gentleman who is fluent in English. The lounge had big comfortable sofas and a warm stove for the winter. And you could get a lovely vegan ‘zen’ dinner if you booked it in advance. Shortly after I arrived the owner sat down with me and marked out all the sites of interest and little hidden gems on a map.

Backpacker hostels have always been a great place to meet other travelers  and after chatting to my new roommate for a while, we decided to team up and explore the shrines and temples together.

Shinkyō Bridge the shoguns entrance to the temples.
Shinkyō Bridge the shoguns entrance to the temples.

On our way to the temples we were greeted by Shinkyō Bridge. This red bridge separates the shrines from the town of Nikko but pedestrians are barred from crossing this bridge as, in feudal times, only the shogun was permitted to cross the bridge. This red bridge spanning over the gorge is a stunning introduction to Nikko!

We bought a combination ticket for the shrines in the temple area, we were allowed to use these tickets over a period of 2 days so we didn’t have to rush and try and see everything on our first day.

Tosho-gu Shrine one of the National treasures of Japan
Tosho-gu Shrine one of the National treasures of Japan

Our first stop was the most famous temple in Nikko named Tosho-gu. It is Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and very famous for its detailed and colourfully painted wooden sculptures and gold leaf.

The 5 level pagoda at entrance to Tōshō-gū.
The 5 level pagoda at entrance to Tōshō-gū.
The shrine courtyard was quite peaceful
The shrine courtyard was quite peaceful

The first temple in Nikko was founded more than 1,200 years ago along the shores of the Daiya River. However, in 1616, the dying Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made it known that his final wish was for his successors to “Build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as the God. I will be the guardian of peace keeping in Japan.” As a result, Nikko became home of the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

One of the intricate carvings found in Tosho-gu shrine
One of the intricate carvings found in Tosho-gu shrine

Me with the Three Wise Monkeys
Me with the Three Wise Monkeys

 This shrine is most famous for its trio of small wooden carvings on a stable wall, the famous three wise monkeys, representing the Buddhist doctrine “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”, they have become a symbol of Nikko and famous through out Japan. In every souvenir shop I found something with these three monkeys, even a hello kitty version of them which I could not resist buying. This shrine was established in 782 by the Buddhist priest Shodo Shonin (735-817) and is dedicated to Nikko’s three sacred mounts: Nantai, Nyotai and Taro.

 

 After 2 flights of steps we reached Futarasan-jinja Shrine.

I love the colorfulness of the shrines
I love the colorfulness of the shrines
At the entrance to Futarasan-jinja Shrine.
At the entrance to Futarasan-jinja Shrine.

Walking trough the shrine I noticed a lot of paintings of Chinese sages, dragons and other mythical creatures more Chinese than Japanese. Inside the Hall of the Medicine Buddha (Yakushi-do Hall) the ceiling is covered with a painting of a dragon, of which unfortunately no flash photography is allowed.

The honden (main hall) lies within the enclosure.
The honden (main hall) lies within the enclosure.

Futarasan-jinja Shrine.
Futarasan-jinja Shrine.

There was a monk standing by who struck a special block whose sharp, piercing sound is said to be identical to the cry of a dragon. Not knowing what a dragon really sounded like we had to take his word for it. The walls outside are covered in relief carvings of elephants, but it looks as if the carver had never seen a real elephant before trying his hand at carving them.

Taiyuin-byo shrine
Taiyuin-byo shrine
I love the detailed carvings found in the shrine
I love the detailed carvings found in the shrine

A short walk from Toshogu shrine is a smaller version of this shrine named Taisyuinbyo. It was filled with Shinto, Buddhist and Chinese elements. Just before we reached the shrine it began to rain so we had to hurry to get inside and not get soaked. The rain accompanied by the mist gave this shrine a mystic feeling.

The mist started to thicken after the short drizzle
The mist started to thicken after the short drizzle
The garden of Rinno-ji Temple
The garden of Rinno-ji Temple

Rinno-ji Temple is a huge wooden Buddhist temple of the Tendai sect. It had impressive large gold-lacquered statues of Buddha, but the best thing about the temple wasthe Shoyo-en garden which was covered in pink blossoms.  Luckily for us it had stopped raining again so we could walk around the garden and enjoy the beauty it offered.

 Hippari Dako
Hippari Dako

After spending some time at the shrine hunger overwhelmed us and we headed off to Hippari Dako (on main street just before the shrines). This quaint little restaurant was enshrined in Lonely Planet, and highly recommended by the owner of the lodge. Every other foreign tourist to Nikko seems to stop here for yakitori (Japanese chicken kebabs) and noodles (¥500), and leave evidence of their visit by sticking their business card or a note on to the wall. Every available space is plastered with business cards and scribbled recommendations from visitors. The owner is a very friendly lady and wouldn’t let us leave before we tried her plum sake. Not a big fan of sake I was a bit skeptical at first but will admit plum sake now officially my new favourite drink.

The two of us relaxing after a full day of shrine exploring
The two of us relaxing after a full day of shrine exploring

To end our first night in Nikko the two of us went to a lovely little out door hot spring just up the road from the lodge. It was the first time for me in a hot spring and I must admit I was a little scared to try out the whole naked in a spring with other people thing. It was surprisingly not as uncomfortable as I thought it would have been. Nobody stares at you and everybody acts as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. You get undressed and have a wash before you get into the spring, some people even wash their hair before getting in. The outside spring was the best because whenever you got to hot in the water you could always just sit on the side and cool off in the breeze. We spent most of the evening lounging in the hot spring covered in mist with a light drizzle around us.

My first Hot spring - Onsen experience
My first Hot spring – Onsen experience

It was a perfect start for a relaxing weekend in Nikko.

Shrines, good fortune and happiness in Kamakura!

Kamakura is a great destination for a day-trip from Tokyo.  It was less than one hour south of where I lived. The most attractive feature of Kamakura is that there are numerous temples and shrines which gives it an atmosphere of old Japan. Kamakura was Japan’s capital for more than 100 years beginning in 1192 when the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo established Bakufu Samurai government. Kamakura is surrounded by mountains and beaches, and there are many hiking trails.

Walking to the shrine from the train station along a 1km long tree lane that is covered in cherry blossoms come spring time.
Walking to the shrine from the train station along a 1km long tree lane.

First glimpse of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine
First glimpse of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine

My first shrine for the day was Tsurugaoka Shinto shrine. It is the most important Shinto shrine in the city of Kamakura.  I approached the shrine from the train station along a 1km long tree lane that is covered in cherry blossoms come spring time.

This is the most famous shrine in Kamakura. Minamoto Yoritomo founded it by dedicating it to the war god Hachiman and transferring it to the present location. This shrine was also a Buddhist temple and played a central role in Japanese Buddhism during the Kamakura era. The walk to the shrine took me about 10 minutes. I passed three big red Torii gates on the road leading to the shrine.

The arched bridge the Shogun crossed to enter the shrine complex.
The arched bridge the Shogun crossed to enter the shrine complex.

After passing through the last Torii gate I crossed a small arched bridge to enter the shrine grounds. In the days of the shogun would leave his retinue there and proceed alone on foot to the shrine.The arched bridge was called Akabashi (Red Bridge), and was reserved to him: common people had to use the flat bridge to the side.

Barrels of sake (nihonshu) which are donated to the Shrine by its patrons
Barrels of sake (nihonshu) which are donated to the Shrine by its patrons

Before I reached the Shrine I passed these barrels of sake (nihonshu) which are donated to the Shrine by its patrons. They are each elaborately decorated and are quite a feature before you reach the steps leading up to the shrine.

The steep steps that lead to the shrine
The steep steps that lead to the shrine

I climbed the long row of steps to the top of the shrine and had a lovely view down over the park. The present Senior Shrine building was constructed in 1828 by Tokugawa Ienari, the 11th Tokugawa. I loved the intricate paintwork of the shrine and stood around gawking at it for a while. The shrine still receives a lot of visitors each day and I enjoyed watching them perform their rituals while praying. It was a very peaceful experience being among so many people but having total silence surround them.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū includes several sub-shrines of which the Senior Shrine was another 61 steps above the main structure.

Maruyama Inari Shrine with its many torii
Maruyama Inari Shrine with its many torii
Maruyama Inari Shrine with its lane of red torii.
Maruyama Inari Shrine with its lane of red torii.

To the left of the Senior Shrine lies Maruyama Inari Shrine with its many torii. I love walking through the lane of Torii, it was such a wonderful experience.

Path leading through the forest connected to other shrines in the area
Path leading through the forest connected to other shrines in the area

I walked along the path through the surrounding forests to reach the next temple, Kenchoji, down the road. On my map Kenchoji temple looked quite close to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine and I thought it would be a quick walk there. Unfortunately it was nearly 1 km away and mostly uphill. I was in need of a little rest by the time I reached the temple.

Kenchoji temple was very busy even on a weekday
Kenchoji temple was very busy even on a weekday
The main shrine building
The main shrine building

 The temple ranks first among Kamakura’s so-called Five Great Zen Temples and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. The temple was constructed on the orders of Emperor Go-Fukakusa and completed in 1253, fifth year of the Kenchō era, from which it takes its name.

The Zen Garden behind the Hōjō
The Zen Garden behind the Hōjō

After walking through the shrine I reached the Zen Garden behind the Hōjō with its pond. It was a very peaceful place and I couldn’t resisit the urge to sit down for a while and appreciate the silence and beauty that surrounded me here.

 The statues on the stairs leading to the shrine represent Tengu, entities similar to goblins
The statues on the stairs leading to the shrine represent Tengu, entities similar to goblins
Path leading through the forest and up the hill
Path leading through the forest and up the hill

Near the end of the temple’s garden, I walked through the forest along its statue covered paths, over a hill to the Hansōbō, the temple’s large tutelary Shinto shrine. The enshrined spirit is the Hansōbō Dai gongen which was originally the tutelary spirit of Hōkō-ji in Shizuoka. The statues on the stairs leading to the shrine represent Tengu, entities similar to goblins which accompany the gongen. It felt quite earie walking along this path with all these goblin looking statues next to me. It did not feel as if I was walking towards a shrine but more towards a cemetery.

Karasu-tengu (crow tengu)
Karasu-tengu (crow tengu)

Some of the creatures have wings and a beak: they are a type of tengu called Karasu-tengu (crow tengu) because of the way they look. There was a whole group of these statues covering the rocks against the hill. They look like evil warriors or protectors to me. 

Steps leading to the lookout
Steps leading to the lookout

On a clear day, from the shrine one can see Mount Fuji to the west, and Sagami bay and Izu Ōshima to the south.I had to climb nearly a 1000 steep steps to get to the view spot up in the hills and then it ended up being too foggy to see anything!!!

They say that you should wash your money in the stream up here and according to myth it would then double!! I washed the money I had in my pockets and hoped for the best.

At the top of the hill there is a garden filled with stones full of names. These names are of the faithful who donated to the temple, and which belong to over 100 different religious organizations. This area used to be the temple’s Inner Sanctuary, which still stands among the trees at the very top of the hill.

Hansōbō,a remote temple at the top of the hill, built in 1334.
Hansōbō,a remote temple at the top of the hill, built in 1334.
As is custom you have to wash your hands before entering the shrine
As is custom you have to wash your hands before entering the shrine

At the very end of the garden, next to the Hansōbō, on a small hill overlooking a lake stands the Kaishun-in. This remote temple was built in 1334 and enshrines a statue of Monju Bosatsu.

After I left Kenchoji temple I actually missed the turn off to the shrine I wanted to see and ended up at Jochiji shrine.

Jochiji shrine
Jochiji shrine
The path leading to the caves behind the shrine
The path leading to the caves behind the shrine

It was quaint and had a Zen like feel to the gardens and the shrine. Kinpōzan Jōchi-ji is a Buddhist Zen temple and belongs to the Engaku-ji school of the Rinzai sect.

Behind the main hall are the graveyard, some bamboo groves, numerous cave graves (the so-called yagura), and the statue of Hotei, the god of good fortune or happiness.

 

 Hotei, the god of good fortune or happiness.
Hotei, the god of good fortune or happiness.
Lets hope some of the happiness rubs off!!
Lets hope some of the happiness rubs off!!

I went into this cave of the god of happiness and also rubbed his belly and dropped a coin in: the basket hoping for the best. After having been touched by generations of Japanese wishing to improve their luck, his belly, his left earlobe and his index finger have been worn smooth.

 Ending my day with good fortune and happiness!!

Road trip in the Gholan Heights of Israel part 1

In Nazareth I stayed at Fauzi Azar Inn and there I met Pia a German girl looking for someone to rent a car with and drive up north in to the Golan Heights. I haven’t actually made any solid plans on what I wanted to do yet and a road trip in Israel sounded like loads of fun. We also met a polish guy at reception who wanted to join us so we decided it was a go!

It was Saturday 31 December, Day 8 of my Israel adventure

I woke up early and as I got out of the shower it was raining quite hard outside. I met up with the 2 people I met last nights and thought that maybe a road trip in the rain would be a bad idea. Luckily it stopped raining just before 9am and we headed out to the car rental place.

Pia and the Polish dude I road tripped with
Pia and the Polish dude I road tripped with

Pia was the designated driver and I sat in the front with the job as map reader in our little yellow rented car.

Getting to see the countryside covered in mist while driving along the windy roads was absolutely amazing. It was chilly at 16 degrees and very foggy so you couldn’t see too far ahead, it actually gave the area an eerie fairy-tale feeling, that you were entering the unknown and don’t know what’s waiting around the next bend.

Sitting on the shore of the sea of Galilee
Sitting on the shore of the sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee with a layer of mist covering it
The Sea of Galilee with a layer of mist covering it
It was amazing walking next to the Sea of Galilee with all those boble stories in the back of my mind
It was amazing walking next to the Sea of Galilee with all those boble stories in the back of my mind

 We headed towards Tiberias and from there up north all along the coast of the sea of Galilee to Nimrod Castle. Back down again and around the other side of the sea of Galilee.

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
This pond was right at the entrance!
This pond was right at the entrance!
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.

Our first stop was on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee in Tabgha at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.  A sweet little church, although its modern it stands on the site of 4th and 5th-century churches, right on the shore of the sea of Galilee. Inside it preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic of the loaves and fishes as well as the traditional stone on which the miraculous meal was laid.

Inside it preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic
Inside it preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic
 Church of the Primacy of St. Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
Church of the Primacy of St. Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
The entrance of the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
The entrance of the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
Beautiful stain-glass window of the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
Beautiful stain-glass window of the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter

The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter was our next stop. This church is right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  According to tradition this is the spot where Jesus is said to have laid out a breakfast of bread and fish for the Apostles, and told Peter to “Feed my sheep” after the miraculous catch, the third time he appeared to them after his resurrection. 

The Church of the Beatitudes
The Church of the Beatitudes

The Church of the Beatitudes, a Roman Catholic Church was our last stop. It is located on a small hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and actually overlooks the small loaves and fishes church.  It was built on the traditional site of Jesus’ delivery of the Sermon on the Mountpilgrims are known to have commemorated this site since at least the 4th century.

Looking out over the Sea of Galilee from the Church of the Beatitudes
Looking out over the Sea of Galilee from the Church of the Beatitudes

Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside but walked around the church an got to look out over the valley and the sea down below.

Last look at the mist covered Sea of Galilee before we head North
Last look at the mist covered Sea of Galilee before we head North

The polish guy that was traveling with us lives in Ireland at the moment. (Jaric) He has lived there for 9 years but his English is really not that good and he doesn’t always understand our questions or give us straight answers. Whenever someone asks him where he’s from he says Ireland, you can see how confused the people seem as he doesn’t look or sound Irish at all. I could never remember his name so ended up calling him Polish Dude the whole time.

Oskar Schindler, Mary Magdalene and hot Sahlab in Jerusalem

The entrance to the small graveyard where Oskar Schindler  lies buried
The entrance to the small graveyard where Oskar Schindler lies buried
Tombs inside the small graveyard
Tombs inside the small graveyard

After lunch on Tuesday 27 December, I walked down to a small cemetery just outside the Old City. It was one of the most peaceful cemeteries that I have ever been in, it overlooks a valley and is filled with shady trees.  There after walking around a bit I found Oskar Schindler’s Tomb. It was totally covered in stones as the Jews don’t put leave flowers at a grave; they put a small stone on top of it. It was a beautiful graveyard and very peaceful.

The small graveyard overlooking the valley
The small graveyard overlooking the valley
Schindler's grave
Schindler’s grave

Steven Spielberg ionized Oskar Schindler in “Schindler’s List”. After the war, Oskar Schindler moved to Argentina with his wife and tried his hand at farming. Having failed, he returned to Germany on his own and lived out his life alone and in poverty punctuated by annual visits to Israel, where he was treated like royalty.

Schindler's grave
Schindler’s grave
I love the fact that the grave is practically covered in small stones
I love the fact that the grave is practically covered in small stones

I had a lovely Arabic coffee just outside the Church of the Redeemer, which was unfortunately closed for the week so couldn’t go up the bell tower. I walked down Via Delarosa towards Lions Gate. While walking I passed most of the Stations of the Cross, the places where Jesus stopped with his cross on his way to be crucified.

 

I went into the Church of the Flagellation, the first station where he was whipped and also found the place he was locked up. According to tradition the church enshrines the spot where Jesus Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers before his journey down the Via Dolorosa to Calvary.

 

Church of the Flagellation, the first station where he was whipped and also found the place he was locked up.
Church of the Flagellation, the first station where he was whipped and also found the place he was locked up.
Church of the Flagellation prison, the first station where he was  locked up.
Church of the Flagellation prison, the first station where he was locked up.

 

The birth place of the Virgin Mary
The birth place of the Virgin Mary

The next little gem that I stumbled upon was the house of Mary’s parents, where I went in for a look and I descended down a very narrow staircase. The ceiling is very low and you stand bent and cramped inside this small house. Was very interesting to see where and how they lived.

Church of the Flagellation
Church of the Flagellation
Church of the Flagellation while walking to the city gates
Church of the Flagellation while walking to the city gates

I eventually headed out of the Old City through Lions Gate to Mary Magdalene’s tomb.

Mary Magdalene’s tomb
Mary Magdalene’s tomb

Walking into this grotto the whole ceiling is covered in hanging candles and chandeliers. It is beautiful inside and definitely worth seeing the inside of.