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Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of Providence City Hall, with the Biltmore in red brick next to it.

With the fabulous Providence Biltmore as a home base, it made sense that one day’s exploration should be just out the front door. As it had been all week, it was very cold and windy. Despite wind chills in the teens, we bundled up and left the hotel lobby to start walking and see where our feet would take us. They took us to some wonderful sights.

Right next door is the Providence City Hall, a beautiful building on the outside, and simply gorgeous on the inside. It was built in the 1870s, and continues in use today as the City Hall. The five-story building is built of iron and brick, and at the time of construction employed some fascinating technology. There was a water-powered elevator that could carry 50 people, but is no longer in operation. Prior to electricity, a central control clock was used, wound up each morning by the janitor like a grandfather clock. The clock sent a signal to all the other clocks in the building. The City Messenger’s office was equipped with bells and speaking tubes that connected to all the other offices in the building. Remnants of these features are still visible today.

Stairs from the main floor up into the heart of the building.

Beautiful at every level.

Clock on the fifth floor.

Old elevators still gorgeous, but no longer in use.

The Hiker

We crossed the street to gaze at a few monuments. The first was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, shown in the image at the top of this post. Dedicated in 1871, the 40-foot monument recognizes 1,727 Rhode Islanders that died during the Civil War. The figure at the top represents America, and the four smaller figures represent four branches of the military. The bronze reliefs are allegorical representations of War, Victory, Peace, and Freedom.

A short walk away is The Hiker,  installed in 1911 to commemorate those who fought in Spain, the Philippines, and China from 1898-1902. It is a replica of the original The Hiker, installed at the University of Minnesota in 1906. The name comes from a term soldiers in both the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War gave themselves.

Providence has a lot of hills, and since we began in a valley, it was inevitable that we would eventually hit an incline. We began walking uphill and a lovely white church caught our attention. It is the oldest Baptist church in America, aptly named the First Baptist Church, and holds a central role in the founding of the state of Rhode Island.

Plaque on the church wall

The church was founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The present building was erected in 1774-5. Roger Williams was a Puritan who left England to escape religious and political persecution. He did not come to America in the first wave however, but a few years later in 1631, and brought non-conformist ideas of what the colonies should be all about. Williams was adamant about separation of church and state, and insisted that the local church totally repudiate its ties with the Church of England. He also declared it a “solemn public lie” that the King of England had the right to grant land to colonizers without first buying it from the Indians. The ideas challenged the legality of land uses at that time and stirred up political and religious unrest, and threatened to upset the fragile economy. All this had been set up before Williams even got there, and his loudly proclaimed contrary ideas were a major disruption.

By 1635 the local authorities had had enough and tried and convicted Williams. As punishment he was to be banished to England. Instead, Williams hiked through the snow from Salem to Narragansett Bay and lived on the hospitality of the Wampanoag Indians. The following spring he purchased a piece of land from the Indians, and with some friends from Salem, started a community. He named it Providence, after the providence God had shown him. His community was based entirely on religious freedom, welcoming all to come and worship in their own way. Williams became a Baptist and began the Baptist Church in Providence, and was its first pastor.

First Baptist Church in Providence. The oldest Baptist Church in the country.

Eye-catching buildings line the street beside the First Baptist Church. That colourful one in the center is the Providence Art Club.

Interior of the church. There is stained glass behind that wall, only viewable from the outside. Not sure what that’s all about. Will guessed it could have been to maintain the humility and simplicity espoused by Roger Williams, who never would have approved an extravagance like coloured glass in his lifetime.

In the early days, patrons would rent their box, and would have a say regarding who was allowed to sit in it.

At the back of the church on the balcony, is an enormous organ. I don’t know if it still works, but the sound must be outstanding! {photo by Will}

We left the church and started uphill once more, coming across Brown University, another institution woven into the fabric of Providence’s early days. Dr. James Manning had been dispatched from Philadelphia to oversee some reforms in the Baptist church in the area, to include starting a Baptist college. (Dr. Manning was pastor when the church in the photos above was built) Originally called Rhode Island College, Manning was its first President. When the school charter was approved in 1764 it was the 7th college in America. Now called Brown University, it remains a premier American University.

Clock tower on a cold Winter’s day at Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

We stopped for lunch and I had Indian curry & Jasmine tea because isn’t that just the thing on a fiercely cold day? (This time I mean Asian Indian, not North American Indian. So confusing. Chris Columbus you goofball.) Then we walked uphill some more and I was excited when it began to snow! We came to a park very high up that Will calls “The other Roger Williams Park,” but it’s actually called Prospect Terrace Park. I didn’t get photos of it but there is a curious larger than life statue of Roger Williams looking out over the city. So we looked out over the city too:

The State House dominates the horizon here.

Downtown Providence

The State House looked so impressive from a distance that I really wanted to go there. Will double-checked with me about that, since it was so cold I could barely feel my face or hands. Like those early settlers here, I didn’t let a nasty winter day get me down. Onward ho! At the bottom of the hill we stopped in the beautiful train station to chat and get warm before continuing the long walk to the State House. As my reward for tenacity, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. It wasn’t any warmer, but it was prettier.

A lovely New England neighborhood on a hill.

The Independent Man atop the State House

Gettysburg Gun with charge in the muzzle.

Sun came out in time to illuminate the Rhode Island State House

Atop the State House stands the Independent Man, deemed to represent the character of a Rhode Islander. The statue of a muscular man clad in a loincloth and carrying a spear is made of gold and bronze, and was melted down from a donated statue. Previously a statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park that the city of New York considered an eyesore, the gift from Venezuela was sacrificed. The Independent Man was placed atop the cupola in 1899, and has survived lightning strikes and many many Rhode Island winter storms.

To get into the State House we had to have ID checked and pass through a metal detector. Once inside, I was doubly impressed by the grandeur here than I had been by City Hall. The foyer holds a Civil War gun that was last fired on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The gun was struck by a Confederate shell, damaging the muzzle of the gun and killing two soldiers. An attempt was made to reload the gun. Try as they might, members of the Rhode Island Light Artillery could not force the charge into the gun. When another shell hit and blew a wheel off, they gave up. The gun was allowed to cool, sealing the charge in place.

The House of Representatives were going into session soon, and the foyer was packed with people: participants, students, tourists, and the media with their cameras and lights. Will and I ducked the crowd into a quiet hallway and found the original Charter for the state of Rhode Island!

The original charter from the King of England granting religious and political rights to the people of Rhode Island.

In the Royal Charter Museum, three pages that make up the original document are held. In the 1663 document, King Charles II allowed settlers in Rhode Island to govern their own colony and guaranteed their individual freedom of religion. It was the kind of action Roger Williams dreamed of, and was in fact the first time in history that a monarch had agreed to this level of religious freedom. The event is remarkable, and the documents themselves were extraordinary works of art with such elaborate calligraphy that I could not read them.

The first page with calligraphy and illustration.

Close up of the magnificent ink work.

We then wandered the halls of the majestic building. We had been warned by the docent in the gift shop that we would hear bells notifying Representatives to take their seat. She told us the bells would continue till the gavel was sounded. When the bell rang as predicted, it was very loud and sounded like the ring in a high school to notify students to head to their next class. Unlike high school bells, this one continued to ring.

I thought the children we call politicians only pulled their stunts in Washington, D.C. Oh no, their lack of discipline, lack of respect for their office, lack of concern for the pressures that the rest of the world is forced to work under, became quickly evident here at the state level too. The bells rang and rang. Will and I sat in the gallery and watched. Hardly anyone acted as though they had noticed the incessant clanging. People chatted happily and unconcernedly. Pages were summoned and dispatched, returning with requested cans of soda. About 5% of Representatives took their seats, and I seriously wish I could name the ones who were seated, logged in to their desk computers, notes in a neat pile, and patiently waiting. Those people deserve your votes.

And rang. And rang. Every few minutes, another elected official wandered in, chatted awhile, set down some papers and wandered off. The bells kept ringing. I timed them: for TWELVE MINUTES before finally the Speaker banged the gavel. It was ridiculous. These people are treating the job with the gravity of preschoolers who have been told it’s time to move from story mats to the play bins. It felt even more insulting since the federal government is shut down. If this is how they do it in D.C., well no wonder nothing gets done.

Entrance into the State House (I took this photo as we were leaving, when everyone was seated quietly in the House).

Sunlight adds depth and warmth to the arches and domes.

Looking directly up into the dome.

The much smaller Senate room was quiet.

We sat in the gallery and listened to the bell calling Representatives to work for a full 12 minutes.

…and FINALLY they went to work.

Please please do not infer that I mean to disparage only Rhode Island politicians. What I believe we witnessed is a culture that must certainly have its roots in D.C. My best guess is that every single state in the Union takes the job of politician equally (un)seriously. I was disgusted.

But it had been a beautiful day and I anticipated more! Outside the sun was dropping and we saw a pretty sunset.

Sunset over Providence.

I charged Will with finding cake. The day before had been my birthday and I had not eaten any cake for my birthday, which was a grave oversight. I demanded cupcakes. Will said he knew the perfect place.

We walked back to the Biltmore to get the car and went off to have many many cupcakes at Duck & Bunny. This restaurant calls itself “a snuggery,” which their website insists is a word. It is delightful inside, and the tables are scattered throughout the rooms of the former house. We sat next to the fireplace, that was filled with burning candles instead of of logs.

It was an incredibly fun day, the birthday cupcakes were extraordinary, and it still wasn’t over! Next we walked to The Trinity Repertory Company to see a play, which was so good I already did a blog post on it because I was excited to tell you!

Three of the six cupcakes I ate from their filled pastry case.

Entrance of Duck & Bunny is very New England

Inside this classy restaurant is artwork that seems familiar at first, but is distinctly rabbit- and duck- themed.

The view out the apartment window of Cerro San Cristobal.

The view out the apartment window of Cerro San Cristobal.

I woke at 6:18 am refreshed after a great sleep. Soon Margaret was up too and we were out the door around 8:30 and headed for Cerro San Cristóbal, or hill of St. Christopher. It would be quite a hike and we wanted to hike in the early morning coolness. And…can I say…after the heat of the day yesterday, it cooled down overnight and was deliciously pleasant sleeping weather. The morning was cool and breezy and perfect.

Street art on the way to the hill of St. Christopher.

Street art on the way to the hill of St. Christopher.

Empty streets in the morning.

Empty streets in the morning.

More art. I can't help myself.

More art. I can’t help myself.

We walked a few blocks north, a few blocks west, and there we were at the bottom of the hill. Rather than go up, we backtracked a little through the tree-lined empty streets in search of coffee and sustenance. I am impressed by so much street art here, and stopped so often to remark and take photos that Margaret began to point murals out to me!

We found the perfect cafe, some sandwiches to go, and off we went on our trek uphill. It was a slog, but with plenty of shade, continuing morning breezes, and fabulous views of a hazy city, it was really no chore. At the top we found the beautiful white statue of the Virgin Mary. Surrounding it at the top of the hill were a lovely garden area with many benches in the shade, and a small and lovely stone church called the Motherhood of Mary Chapel. To save our feet, we rode the funicular (a….train?) back down.

The Virgin Mary, surrounded by admirers.

The Virgin Mary, surrounded by admirers.

Holy water in Mary's Church.

Holy water in Mary’s Church.

I am standing just below Mary, getting a sunbun as we speak.

I am standing just below Mary, getting a sunbun as we speak.

Our car is passing another as we ride the funicular down the hillside.

Our car is passing another as we ride the funicular down the hillside.

View of Santiago from the funicular.

View of Santiago from the funicular.

Bridge at the bottom of the hill covered in locks of love.

Bridge at the bottom of the hill covered in locks of love.

Lovers names inked onto them.

Lovers names inked onto them.

Our host Angelo had raved about Valparaiso and Viña del Mar (vineyard of the sea) the previous day, enough that we were convinced, and made on-the-spot plans to catch a bus there after our hike up the cerro. And that’s exactly what we did: back to the room, freshened up a bit, and headed for the metro. We took the metro to the bus station, and then we asked enough people in broken Spanish to express our need. (bless the patient Chileans) Tickets in hand, we jumped on a bus for the nearly 2 hour ride to Viña del Mar.

Views of the Andes from the bus.

Views of the Andes from the bus.

We saw multiple wineries from the tour bus.

We saw multiple wineries from the bus.

Our plan had been to explore both cities, but we stumbled serendipitously upon a Chilean-born Canadian, who was working for the Viña del Mar tourist office. She easily explained why we couldn’t do both cities – not enough time. And since we were walking, she quickly mapped out the best walking route through her fair city, so that we would return before the last bus of the evening.

We were so impressed we followed her suggestion exactly. First through the Parque Quinta Vergara, a lovely park but not especially remarkable. Margaret pointed out that the tourist lady was very proud of the place and eager to send us there, and for that reason, we were happy to go see it for her. There was renovation underway at the park, of the old Governor’s mansion. Restoration is something we have seen regularly here, and I think that’s a good sign of how well a city is doing.

A tree at the park. The fruit is bright orange/red as you can see, and are dropping to the ground.

A tree at the park. The fruit is bright orange/red as you can see, and dropping to the ground as it ripens.

Fabulous houses in Viña del Mar

There are fabulous houses in Viña del Mar.

I get happy in water.

I get happy in water.

We continued walking toward the beach, and enjoyed the small landscaped flower garden pointed out to us by the tourist guide. Almost as soon as we reached the sand, one of the many women selling things offered us something we actually wanted: a flaky sugary pastry and we scarfed it down, only after a very long discussion about how much it should cost. We began the conversation at something that sounded a lot like $5,000 pesos for a single pastry (close to $8). When it was clear that we were shocked and walking away, the women quickly explained that we didn’t understand. After much talking and confusion, many prices being discussed, always with the woman saying we weren’t understanding her. Finally we paid $1,000 pesos for two pastries, which is more like 75 cents each. Now THAT I can understand just fine. 😉

We ate our pastries on the beach and I was not able to resist the water. I stripped off my shoes and socks and splashed in the sea. Imagine! Swimming in the ocean in December.

Lovely views of the seashore are found in Vina del Mar.

Lovely views of the seashore are found in Viña del Mar. Wulff Castle is in the center, on a rock outcrop in the sea.

Pelicans groomed themselves into awkwar poses, though I begged them to raise their heads for a more flattering photo.

Pelicans groomed themselves into awkward poses, though I begged them to raise their heads for a more flattering photo.

We find the cities in Chile to be tastefully lovely and very clean.

We find the cities in Chile to be tastefully lovely and very clean.

This tree has seen better days.

This tree has seen better days.

Castle Wulff

Castle Wulff

Pisco Sours

Pisco Sours

We were able to walk inside Castillo Wulff (you can barely make it out in the shore photo above). It was purchased in 1906 and transformed into a castle in 1916 by Gustavo Adolfo Wulff. Inside was empty but for an art show of local bird photography. We crossed the mouth of a river and continued on along the playa, past a splendid casino in a huge building with classic architecture. There were horses with carriages out front, but that was too touristy for our mood just then.

Finally, tummies rumbling, we went in search of a place to eat. Margaret has been pining for local seafood, possibly a Chilean seafood soup, so we walked past the Peruvian Thai restaurant (Er?), the many pizza places, the Italian restaurant. We skipped a few that looked promising because they were closed. Finally we stepped a place advertised as a pasta restaurant, because we spotted fish on the menu. The beach here is touristy, and thus the waiters brought us menus in English. Sure enough, seafood was on the menu, so I ordered Chilean Pot (mussels, squid, and shrimp sauteed in garlic butter) and Margaret ordered white fish ceviche. We sipped Chilean Pisco Sours, an alcoholic drink made of egg white, Pisco (a brandy made of grape wine), syrup, lemon juice and bitters, and found that our luck remained with us because the generously-sized dishes came out made to order and scrumptious.

We have been admiring so much of Chile’s architecture. The lovely folks at Castle Wulff had provided us a walking map of some of the more remarkable homes in the city, so after we ate we headed for the bus station via these homes. We spotted a couple, but even more fun was that in front of one such gorgeous mansions was an event of some kind. At Palacio Carrasco we stood with the crowd and watched schoolkids take the stage and sing songs – one song for each school – and watched the parents and grandparents cheering and smiling and holding up their phones to get videos.

Schoolkids singing

Schoolkids singing

At the bus station.

At the bus station.

Subway entertainment.

Subway entertainment.

We left for the bus station and settled in for our 2-hour ride back. After that long long day, and after two days together, Margaret and I had finally exhausted our supply of things that needed to be talked about in order to catch each other up on our lives, and our trip home was somewhat more subdued than the one earlier. We caught the metro back to downtown Santiago and were surprised (shocked actually because of the deafening volume) when a man came up and played his boom box, then accompanied the song with his saxophone and pipe. He had a woman in tow, who was asking for money. Eventually they moved off. Soon they were replaced with two teenage boys who looked like they were having a blast earning their coins. They also played boom boxes, but brought mics and began rapping about the passengers on the subway. Smiles all around showed that their show was much more appreciated than the first one. But it was our stop and we hopped off and easily made our way in the dark to our apartment. It was about 11 pm as we sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of wine to get ready for bed (me to begin my blog post), and M figured we had spent $40 each today for all those adventures. Wonderful!

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Thursday we were able to spend the whole day in Vancouver, and that was a boon, because this huge fabulous city deserves as much time as you can give her.

One of the first things that struck me was the number of apartment high-rises sprouting like shiny stalks from a garden. On both sides of the highway bridge, grey and glossy in the daylight, home to how many tens of thousands of apartment-dwellers, I don’t know. Right away M and I could see that people want to live in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

We agreed that it would be a good idea to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour, to get a sense of the place. I think those tours are a great idea for your first time in a big city: get off and look around at the interesting places, and then get on the next bus when you’re satiated. We took the trolley tour so we could push back the windows and take lots of photos.

I was struck by the creative architecture in Vancouver. I’m not used to so many modern skyscrapers in a single city reflecting so many elegant, sweeping curves. No fish-eye lenses used in the photos below: those are curved buildings. Seems like I’ll spot one stunning example in any given city, but here, there were many. Too many to catch them all from the window of the trolley.

One nice stop was the lookout over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park. This is a 1000 acre forested city park on a high hill overlooking First Narrows, separating North Vancouver from Vancouver. The huge park holds gardens, biking and running along the seawall, memorials, wildlife, and some really old Western Red cedar trees.

We were hungry by the time we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville Island, and it was the perfect place to be hungry. M was fascinated by the large open-air market, and commented how it was similar to the one he had seen in Arcata, California. I am used to these markets, so it was fun to be amazed again, through his eyes. We stopped at the butcher to ask for a recommendation on where to get a good steak. M owed me a steak from a little mishap on day one (someone forgot their camera battery charger and we had to turn around and go back). This resulted in our finest meal of the trip: steak and lobster perfection. The flavour was not better, but equal to the oysters earlier, but the presentation was fine dining this time.

We took the last trolley out of there, and the driver was hilarious and gregarious. Since it was the last trip, he delivered each person on board exactly to their final destination, even if it wasn’t part of the tour route. Score!

By then it was evening and we had to blast on out of town. Before we knew it, we were going through the border crossing. The man at the gate headed directly for the back of the Jeep, pulled out the luggage, and lifted the storage lid in the back, like he knew exactly what he was doing. The only thing we had hidden back there were nearly six pounds of Tillamook cheese! It had been my idea to keep it in the back, likely the coolest place in the car. For 10 minutes we had been grilled with pretty official questions, and then we were asked, “Why do you have so much cheese?!” M and I burst out laughing. “It’s Tillamook!” I answered. “Have you tasted it?”

As we made our way south in m.p.h. rather than kilometers, we debated whether to bang out the last few hundred miles and go all the way to Portland that night. M asked if he would miss anything by skipping Seattle. I said, “Well, it’s a city on the water. It’s beautiful, eclectic, West-coast laid back, diverse, and energized. The architecture is awesome. The food is outstanding. And since you like outdoor markets so much, Seattle has one of the best.”

I texted my brother about recommendations for places to stay, and – as I suspected would happen – got an invitation to stay at their place! Woo hoo! Their place is a treasure. They rent a three-bedroom home (we won’t disclose the amount, but the owner has neglected to increase the price for years) with a full yard and fruit trees and a garden only blocks from the Space Needle. It is surrounded on all side by apartment buildings, and the entrance to the house drops down a hill, so you can’t even see it from the street. As we were chatting before bed, we found out we were walking distance to Kerry Park – a famous overlook spot for the city – so M and I went for some spectacular nighttime views.

One Wall Centre

One Wall Centre

Carina

Carina

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Couldn't find the name of this one - love the bronze colour.

Couldn’t find the name of this one – love the bronze colour.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. "Not to the kid who owns it," quipped M. And he's right.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. “Not to the kid who owns it,” quipped M. And he’s right.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

The Lion's Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

The Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

Steam-powered clock

Steam-powered clock

Vancouver's Chinatown

Vancouver’s Chinatown

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

My brother and his girlfriend's oasis in Seattle.

My brother’s and his girlfriend’s oasis in Seattle.

Rivendell in Legos

Rivendell (from Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit) in Legos. Please click the image for a larger version.

Over the weekend, I agreed to meet the boys at Bricks Cascade 2014 Public Expo at the Convention Center in Portland. Legos are not a big deal to me, but I was not about to admit that outloud. The convention center hall was filled with people who love Legos. These were geeks with a capital G.

We mainly walked around and looked at what the inspired Lego Geeks had built. There was a superhero section, an insect section, and a train section. There were space ships and imagined planets. There was a whole section dedicated to Old School Lego (I’ll put that photo in for you to see). I am going to post some of what we saw.  Look how super fun and amazing these creations are!

close-up of a portion of Rivendell

close-up of a portion of Rivendell

close-up of a portion of Rivendell

close-up of a portion of Rivendell

The Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

The Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Close-up of the spectators and players

Close-up of the spectators and players

Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery in Bhutan. The builder was kind enough to pose for me.

Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery in Bhutan. The builder was kind enough to pose for me.

One of my favourites: Downtown Portland

One of my favourites: Downtown Portland

Another fave: surfin' Lego Dude

Another fave: surfin’ Lego Dude

One of several battle scenes. Check out the exploding dirt.

One of several battle scenes. Check out the exploding dirt.

Battle scene.

Battle scene in the jungle, on the edge of a sea. (That’s an entire enormous ship down at the other end.)

A different battle scene.

close-up of the battle scene above. I like the 3D trenches.

Plenty of happy scenes were interspersed to cheer us up after the war scenes.

Plenty of happy scenes were interspersed to cheer us up after the war scenes.

If your Lego creation is really awesome and you get an award... what do you guess it's made of?

If your Lego creation is really awesome and you get an award… what do you guess it’s made of?

Notre Dame cathedral. I like the idea of overlapping architecture: How Legos are used to recreate a cathedral that is remarkable for its construction.

Notre Dame cathedral. I like the idea of overlapping architecture: How Legos are used to recreate a cathedral that is remarkable for its construction.

There were a couple of movie theatres. This one has famous patrons.There were a couple of movie theatres. This one has famous patrons.

A temple surrounded by cherry trees.

A temple surrounded by cherry trees.

Old School Legos! I looked at this and all the Legos of my past came back to me.

Old School Legos! I looked at this and all the Legos of my past came back to me.

Rainy paths through the grounds of Kiyomizu Temple

Me posing at the base of the West gate, below the three-storied pagoda.

I pity Yuji, our poor tour guide who tries to keep us collected in a group. In particular, Yuji must deal with me always turning up late for his scheduled deaprtures. It’s not my fault: Japan is too beautiful and amazing to take a quick look then scurry back to the bus.

This morning we loaded all our luggage onto the bus because after touring we would be heading back to Iwakuni. We had escaped the rain the first two days, but today it poured. I bought an umbrella for 300 yen (about $3.75) and was good to go.

The famous Kiyomizu stage (balcony), atop 40-foot pillars assembled without nails.

Our first stop was the Kiyomizu Temple, set in an indescribable magical atmosphere in the rain. The temple is perched in the mountains around Kyoto. Rain pulled shreds of grey stratofractus down into the valleys, while the tops of the mountains remained obscured. Since Kuomizu Temple perches above treetops, and the horizons disappeared into clouds, it looked as though the temple was floating over the forest.

Ancient, massive cypress columns crowned with stained glass and metal lanterns.

Wood and metal are found throughout the temple

iron sandals

Kiyomizu, founded in 778, is yet another UNESCO world heritage site in Kyoto. This famous Japanese temple is dedicated to the 11-headed and thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy. It is well known for its impressive wooden structure and for its waterfalls. Coming here from the Pacific Northwest, even I was struck by the *huge*

dragon fountain

wooden columns and *huge* wooden timbers making up the temple’s architecture. During our visit, we were not able to go in, but we walked on the balconies surrounding it, and were able to look in and absorb its rich interior design and adornments.

Built on Otawa Mountain, Otawa falls is incorporated into the temple site, and split into three different streams. Drinking from a stream will give you luck in school, in love, or in long life, depending upon which stream you choose.

Tourists queue at the Otawa Waterfall. With long-handled cups, they collect water to sip for luck.

It was easy to see that this is a famous Japanese site because even on such a wet day, there were throngs of people. I am not a fan of crowds, so my eye is usually drawn to things off the beaten path. Wandering alone past stone lanterns on cobbled, mossy paths, and crossing trickling streams through luxurious dripping forests is a very good way to lose track of time and forget there is a bus waiting.

Toro (lanterns) beside a twisting path through the forest

I looked over the edge of a bamboo fence and saw this path. Resistance was futile.

Eventually I tore myself away from the temple and back down the long narrow streets of vendors. I tried some cinnamon bean paste sweets – yum! – and bought grilled sweet potato on a stick, simply because I couldn’t resist the golden buttery smells. At the bottom of a long flight of stone steps I saw an historic street with more thatched roofs, but I had no time to investigate. Alas! The Bus Awaits.

Next we saw the most amazing sight! In the Sanjusangen-do Temple are 1000 life-sized golden statues, and one waaay larger-than-life statue of Kannon! They are all made of cypress, and date to the 12th and 13th centuries. In addition, there are 28 life-sized statues of guardian deities, plus the Thunder god and Wind god placed all around the Kannon statues.

Some of the 1031 statues inside Sanjusangen-do. Please click image for source.

The experience was enough to make me speechless. I cannot even explain how tremendous it is to see 1001 huge golden buddhist statues all housed together. We were cautioned many times not to take a photo, and were told that if caught, security would make us erase our images to their satisfaction. So I did not succumb to temptation, but provided you with someone else’s image.

Our last stop was Kyoto Station and mall, across from the Kyoto Tower. We were there to eat lunch. I was tempted by the 11th floor, which was entirely ramen noodle restaurants! But instead, I followed a tip from women at an information booth, who said I could get Internet at the Starbucks at the base of the Tower. I ran (safely) across the intersection and sent virtual kisses and hugs to my family, who had not heard from me in 3 days. Then we all settled in for the long journey back to base.

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