A Travellerspoint blog

Back to Bruges

Where Bruges offers her own seduction

semi-overcast 15 °C

After going around Japan for a bit. This entry brings us back to Europe and once again, to the lovely little town of Bruges. Despite being vaulted into popularity by a Hollywood film and having the status as a good travel destination. The population of these towns continue to dwindle and Bruges was openly admitting it. Just step into this container after you exit from the train station and you will have a good idea of what it takes to become a citizen of Bruges.
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In Bruges, there's three popular method of getting around. I tried driving (the spinning bridge was an interesting experience) but it was quite a nightmare and sometimes, getting a proper parking places would end up being too far away from the popular destinations that a visitor would want to go anyway. Plus, the pedestrian and cyclists have the right of way. So there's really no bonuses of driving around the city.

For a good dose of medieval immersion, go with the horses.
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For a unique experience of munching waffles while cruising on water. Go with the small boats. There are some places where you can't reach by land transportation. If this is your first time to Bruges, I recommend this option. Plus, you will have a good dose of Bruges history fed to you by the tour guide.
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Or, since the elegant cobbled streets and every nook and cranny of this quaint city is worth exploring, might as well go on foot :)
The third option can look daunting at first and every place seems a bit far away.
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But one can stumble upon some gems along way. For instance, you can see residential area like this.
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Some corner of the town
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One can also wander into the wood-like trail
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Try to make friends with ducks
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Or just have a good walk around the beautiful park (sometimes the tourist crowd can be a bit vexing so walking to a more remote area is pretty nice)
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The obvious place to go while in Bruges is the center of the town, where you can see the Markt, the Belfry of Bruges and the Historic Center of Bruges. If you are lost while wandering around, just follow the nearest excited crowd and you will either end up there or back to the train station where you could get proper directions again. Back to the main square, if you walk up on some of the buildings, you will be able to take in a panoramic view of the architecture elegance of this town.
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This is the historic center of Bruges, there is an interactive tour and museum within and can help you to understand the rich history of the city.
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This is the Belfry of Bruges
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There are 366 steps to the top and the view is rewarding. The tower has a carillion, which allow the bells to be played by a hand keyboard. This city also employs a full time carilloneur who also gives out free concerts occasionally, if you are in luck, you'd be able to join that. There is also a major festival every year when it is the Day of Ascension. The crowd will join in with medieval dress ups and typically the procession is a mile long. The crown jewel of this procession is the relic of the Holy Blood of Christ, rumored to be brought to the city after the second crusade. You can see the relic in the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Bruges is also home to another treasure, the sculpture Madonna and Child, which is the only Michaelangelo's sculpture that left Italy during his lifetime. The sculpture can be seen in the Church of our lady. If you are fan of Christian relics and art, you will like these.

Besides these ancient items that I have mentioned, there are also some modern sculptures tucked away in the city. They are actually pretty detailed.
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Towards the evening, after the tourist crowd disperse, presumably heading back to Brussels. Bruges exhibit another kind of desolate beauty as if the city is turning into a ghost town.
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Activities typically dies down as the sun set. Fans of musical performance can check out the occasional performance in the concert hall. And as for me, I enjoyed the quiet walks around the town.

If you do happen to visit Bruges, don't forget to buy chocolates and enjoy waffles with whipped cream. In the next entry, I will write about another city, Until next time.

Posted by canglingy 05:37 Archived in Belgium Tagged churches buildings horses museum sightseeing travelling Comments (0)

Finding Fukuoka

Snapshots in the capital of Kyushu

sunny 16 °C

In this entry, the blog will cover a quick glimpse of the city of Fukuoka, located in the Kyushu region. I feel that the Kyushu region as a whole is not given too much attention/exposure among the international travel crowd. When asked, most would talk about their time in the Kanto region (Tokyo), the Kansai region (Osaka and Kyoto) and then Hokkaido. As a result of this, I observe that native Japanese in Kyushu seems to be affected the least by foreign influence and behavior. Fukuoka, being the capital of the region, still look every bit metropolitan as other major cities in Japan and you can also get your shopping fix in Hakata Canal City.

Fukuoka is well connected by railways and a regional airport. If you have time for slow travels, take the ferry from Busan instead. Better views along the way. Quick tip: if you ever wanted to try the shinkansen but was turned off by the high price, you can try the Hakata Minami Line from Hakata Station, the end to end ride only takes 10 minutes and is a mere 290 yen which is a steal just for the experience. For public transport, get the Yokanet card because it allow one to ride on both Nishitetsu buses and the subway. Again, if you are not pressed for time, just take the bus for better sightseeing experience.

People watching can be very interesting in a city that doesn't have too many tourists. This old man in the picture is an inspiration because he still reads at an advance age. A lifelong learner indeed.large_CIMG5896.jpg

I like to see how family units just hang out together in the park, taking casual strolls together. As the mall culture slowly dominates the lives of city dwellers in Asia, this is a really refreshing scene to see friends and family just bonding directly and playing together.
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Fukuoka can be a very beautiful city during cherry blossom season. A pity that I have never gotten the chance to bear witness to the natural beauty. Here's a picture on an information board on what the city looks like in full bloom. The best view for cherry blossom viewing is in Nishi Park, which is a ten minutes walk to a small hilltop.
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Pedestrians are well taken care of with wide and clean walking paths (even beside busy roads). Downtown is small and compact, it is perfectly walkable. large_C705EB029EB83E2A12E583B80B3692C5.jpg

Depending on your interest, there's plenty to see for everyone from shrines/temples to castles, from canals to museums and the food in the region is generally much cheaper than the bigger towns as well. Pop by a random shop and chances are you'd be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food too. I am not going to cover all of the tourist attractions as they are readily available online and people have vastly different tastes. As usual, this blog will just highlight my own personal experience.

One of things I admire about the Japanese is their ability to find solitude and separate themselves from the general buzz of the moment to just contemplate and reflect. It is the ability of allowing the world rushes past you and yet one retain awareness through it all. To discover a quiet place right in the middle of a hectic city is rather nice and I think this set up is unique to Japan.
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The blend between old wodden structure and modern tall building is supposed to be such a contrasting view and yet here they are, starkly different but in harmony with each other. Walking and observing around in Japan has taught me to slow down and catch transient beautiful moments that this world has to offer, to be more aware of my surroundings and not just be swept away by the whirlwind of events around me.

Speaking of buildings, the ACROS Fukuoka Building leaves a particularly strong impression because of its uniqueness. Have a look at this interesting building. It looks like a building abandoned by civilization and then reclaimed by the trees.
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Despite the "wild" look, ACROS is actually a center of international, cultural and information exchange and underneath the building is over one million square feet of multipurpose space. ACROS is an acronym for "Asian Crossroads Over the Sea,There is a permanent art exhibition and is the home for Fukuoka Symphony Orchestra. This building is a really good modern innovative example of an agro-urban model, besides being aesthetically pleasing, the rooftop gardens has proven effective to combat the urban heat island effect in the city. You can learn more about the building (and see better pictures) here: https://www.acros.or.jp/english/about/03.html

For the history buffs, the old castles are worth a visit. They might lack the granduer of European castles but there are plenty of stories hidden within these stones.
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I personally enjoyed the walks along the stream as well. These paths are just slightly outside the city and is easily reachable with public transport. These paths will lead to the gardens or castles. If you go in blind, the destination at the end can be quite a pleasant surprise.
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The spotlight will be on another city in the next entry. As Japan is one of my favored retreats, you may expect to read more of it in the future. Until next time

Posted by canglingy 17:07 Archived in Japan Tagged people children gardens parks sightseeing Comments (0)

Flowers in Spring and the Glover Garden

Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers as you wander through life

sunny 16 °C

Travelling in spring has consistently been one of the more visually appealing experience for myself. Though I am more a late autumn/winter lover, seeing flowers blooming and new blades of grass growing again after a long harsh winter makes me happy. Generally, people's mood are better in spring so you'd get to see more smiles on the streets as well.

I enjoyed walking randomly in smaller cities just to enjoy an occasional moments of serendipity. For these moments, I allowed myself to get lost and then tried to navigate myself again. Locals in small towns will sometimes be very helpful and tried to offer to walk me home or just asked me to join them for a meal if I am in a more rural area.

I stopped and admire many of this little flowers by side of the road in Nagasaki.
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Walking up on staircases like these always made my day
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In spring, one of the best places to go in Nagasaki is the Glover garden. This estate is the only surviving western style mansion in Japan and has been designated as an important cultural asset. The owner of the house is a Scottish merchant who has literally helped the modernization in shipbuilding, coal mining and other industrial improvements. He grew to be so influential that he treats with rebel samurai and play a strong part in local development. Sounds like an epic 7th sea story where a merchant grew to become someone so much more than just a merchant. Today, we get to see the evidence of an exceptional life well lived etched in the very stones and gardens of this area.

Looking out from the veranda of the mansion, you will see a nice koi pond and another good vantage point of the city.
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Here's a shot of the main house while standing near the pond
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As one can see from the designs, western influence is indeed strong
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There is also a statue of a famous opera singer Miura Tamaki in the garden. She was famous for her role as Cio-cio san in Puccini's Madame Butterfly. This shows that other than being an engine in economic development, Glover was also a strong patron of the arts.
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Glover Garden is beautiful in spring, full of well placed blooming flowers. One can see them in carts, or planted in well curated gardens. Can you spot Puccini's statue?
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If you really enjoy flowers and have the budget for such a visit, I recommend the Keukenhof in Lisse, Netherlands. This garden is normally open in late March and close by Mid May.

Back to Glover garden, besides the main exhibit, there are also a few others building scattered in the area for you to explore. Each room is rather unique and has a plaque to explain the content of the room and the artifacts found within. On top of the opportunity to admire nature, one also gets the chance to learn a bit more about history which is excellent I think.
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The coffee and tea offered here is surprisingly better than most offered in your regular tourist traps around the world.
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I will end this week's entry with one more picture that resonates with me.
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Notice that the flowers grow out from seemingly dead and dry branches. This is a reminder that regardless of how harsh the present reality is, perseverance through the winter, clinging on to hope will allow me to one day see beauty restored to a desolate scene. This hope might just be the lifeline, the light at the end of the tunnel in this increasingly chaotic world.

In the next entry, this blog will move out of Nagasaki and focus on another city in East Asia. See you next time.

Posted by canglingy 19:21 Archived in Japan Tagged gardens flowers museum sightseeing Comments (0)

From Nagasaki to The Hague

The pursuit of peace: A glimpse into living monuments dedicated to peace in the east and the west

sunny 18 °C

Most of the time after violent man-made disaster strikes, that particular generation afflicted by it will learn that issues can always be resolved in other ways than violent means. And then, we lapsed into another hateful cycle, be it being driven by greed by constantly gaining advantages over the vulnerable or just being apathetic as one watches the world outside of his or her own bubble burns, unfeeling and uncaring of the fate of their fellow human brethren. We seemed to be prone of forgetting the horrors that the previous generation had endured and painful process of civilization reconstruction. The pursuit of peace in this generation has never been more important or viable now that the means to communicate messages of peace is made easier with the proliferation of the internet.

I am also grateful for all the monuments, facilities and museums that have been erected in the memory of man’s horrific moment so that people like me can have a glimpse to a world that has its peace forcibly stripped away. Through these introspective moments, my own resolve to pursue the path of conflict resolution via peaceful means is further galvanized. In this week’s entry will offer a glimpse to the two different, perhaps contrasting fundamental approach to peace building in the East and the West. For the East, I will focus on the Peace Park in Nagasaki and for the West, I will write about the Peace Palace at The Hague. The East starts this approach by internalizing grief, meditate on it, and from there gave birth to an entire community committed on this path. The West takes a more active role, works on arbitration and attempt to seek justice in a conflict. The development of different school of thoughts came later. I acknowledged that this is an overly simplistic observation, but I see the east tempered more by compassion, internal deliberation and the west is shaped by the need of taking active action, driven by justice.

When you step into the Peace Park, you’d notice a big statue in the middle.
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The right hand points to sky, signifying the threat of nuclear weapons. The extended left hand symbolizes eternal peace. The folded right leg and extended left leg signify both meditation and the initiative to stand up and rescue the people of the world. The plaque reads
After experiencing that nightmarish war,
that blood-curdling carnage,
that unendurable horror,
Who could walk away without praying for peace?
This statue was created as a signpost in the struggle for global harmony.
Standing ten meters tall,
it conveys the profundity of knowledge and
the beauty of health and virility.
The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of Buddha and Go,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and the highest hope of all mankind

The statue on the left is from Netherlands, the plaque reads: "The statue shows a mother protecting her infant child from danger, representing that we must protect not only the present generation but also the coming generation as well so that the people of the world can live in peace together."
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The statue on the right is from Italy, the plaque reads: "The statue, which depicts a mother holding her baby high in the air with both hands, is an expression of love and peace."

This is a picture of the hypocenter, where bomb dropped on that fateful day.
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There is also another plaque next it to it that gave an account on happens on that day and it reads, At 11:02 A.M., August 9, 1945 an atomic bomb exploded 500 meters above this spot. The black stone monolith marks the hypocenter.
The fierce blast wind, heat rays reaching several thousand degrees and deadly radiation generated by the explosion crushed, burned, and killed everything in sight and reduced this entire area to a barren field of rubble.
About one-third of Nagasaki City was destroyed and 150,000 people killed or injured and it was said at the time that this area would be devoid of vegetation for 75 years. Now, the hypocenter remains as an international peace park and a symbol of the aspiration for world harmony.

This is a picture of the peace fountain.
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The fountain is a prayer for the repose of the souls of the many atomic bomb victims who died searching for water. Carved on the plaque in front of the fountain, were lines from a poem by a girl named Sachiko Yamaguchi, who was nine at the time of the bombing. It reads: "I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was."

Emerging from the chaotic aftermath was a community united by faith and inspired a bright light, Dr Takashi Nagai. His life story and his “Nyokodo” concept (literally means as yourself modelling after Christ’s commandment) marks him as a modern Job and it shows me that even in extreme pain devoid of meaning, there is still faith, hope and love to be found. I will not write in depth about his life because that would at least warrant a few entries but I will leave one of his sayings here. “Unless you have suffered and wept, you really don't understand what compassion is, nor can you give comfort to someone who is suffering. If you haven't cried, you can't dry another's eyes. Unless you've walked in darkness, you can't help wanderers find the way. Unless you've looked into the eyes of menacing death and felt its hot breath, you can't help another rise from the dead and taste anew the joy of being alive.”

The beauty of God’s creation is found in his life and his life became a gift to the city, help them to come to terms and to stand up once more. Unlike Hiroshima where there’s still deep seething anger at the events, you will only find peaceful understanding in Nagasaki. I think, this is where the people of God rediscover the gift of faith, hope and love. There is beauty and gratitude even in the horrors of war. Takashi Nagai’s journey and writings is a direct reflection of this. A raised fist in Hiroshima will pass down hatred where folded hands in Nagasaki are the beginning of reconciliation. Today, peace messages and flower offerings remains a visual reminder on beauty blossoming from horror.
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Japan has unknowingly taken too much blogging time. I will just do a briefer overview of the Peace Palace at The Hague.

This is a picture of the peace palace.
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And another picture at night.
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The Peace Palace is more majestic because it is the seat of international law. It houses the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice. This is where conflicts are resolved when countries got into a fight, extremely important to prevent all out wars like the previous world wars. Some of the sessions are open to the public. (It can be very boring if you go in without understanding the case) If you want a tour of the place, advance reservation is extremely important. I was unlucky when I missed out a tour but my subsequent visits to The Hague have always been rather fruitful.

As you can see from the pictures, there are not much massive statues with symbolism like the peace park in Nagasaki. The funder, Andrew Carnegie was a much more practical man that wanted a functional building. Thanks to his vision and generosity, Arguments between nations can be resolved with a pen (most of the time) and not swords.

There is however, some neat addition to the park such as the multilingual words for peace etched in stones.
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And I enjoyed this collection of rocks from every country in the world, it conveys a sense of solidarity of every citizen of the world and a reminder that the soil we step on is not that much different from each other after all.
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An eternal peace has also been burning here since 1999.
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To sum up today's entry, I think an integrated philosophy of both the east and west is necessary on the pursuit of peace. It is important to execute peace keeping mechanism and also retain a solid core of conviction to keep one’s resolve which achieved not only by books, but also meditations and internalizing the griefs of the past.

As spring is now in full bloom, next entry will have a lighter tone. Once again, the blog will go back to Nagasaki and attempt to wrap things up. Until next time.

Posted by canglingy 19:29 Archived in Japan Tagged churches museum sightseeing travelling peace Comments (0)

Springtime in Nagasaki

Discover more with slower travels

sunny 16 °C

Most of the time, this blog tend to veer away from more popular touristic destination and it is no different this week. This entry will move the spotlight from the West all the way to a small town in Japan, Nagasaki. I recommend taking the longer, more scenic route and start your journey in Busan, South Korea instead of flying in one of the major airports in Japan and take the fast train to your destination. This way, you will have the opportunity to go slower and see more scenery along the way. Let’s veer off course a little and talk about one of the Korean food I enjoyed since this entry starts from Korea. I am quite sure that visitors to Korea have tried this on different occasion and for me, the samgyeopsal is such a guilty pleasure. This dish is simply thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat and is cooked on a grill at a diner’s table. The meat is neither marinated nor seasoned so it retains a solid meaty taste. One would commonly eat the meat with accompaniments such as rice, lettuce, aged kimchi, sliced garlic or as creative as you can get.

A typical dining place will look like this
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Now back to the journey, from Busan, take the ferry to Fukuoka. There are two options, one will take you to Fukuoka in a little under 3 hours and the other is an overnight option that takes 11 hours. Go with the latter if you have time and you will see beautiful sunsets, sunrise and might even spot some marine life too.

Here are some views from the boat, much better than just jetting off, yes?
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I took this ferry route twice so far and both times I was the only non-local on the boat and simple people watching was another interesting way for me to past time on the long journey. Upon arrival to Fukuoka, do note that the customs is going to inspect you more thorough on the chance that you are the only foreigner. (I think they might be bored since foreign traffic is not much at the pier) Again, there are two options for land transport; one is the slow train that will give an opportunity for the traveler to look closer at the serene Japanese countryside or the traveler can just take the express train.

The train chugs along different small towns and I like to see how the landscape varies slightly in each area.
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This is another side of Japan that is not always featured in international news or magazines. Besides high tech metropolis crawling with rushing albeit polite citizens, there is also another facet of desolate beauty in the rural area where houses are scattered further apart and fields dominates the landscape instead of endless buildings.
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Nagasaki lies at the head of a long bay which makes it a good natural harbor and because of this characteristic; Nagasaki holds special influence in the history of Japanese contact and influence with foreign cultures. When one sees how monoculture Japan is today, Nagasaki is a remarkable city. Portuguese explorers first came in the 16th century, followed by the Jesuits, and then the Dutch and the British. Christianity was the spark for many bloody conflicts and in a few points of history; it was completely outlawed with the followers persecuted mercilessly. The city thrives during the Meiji Restoration, survived an atomic attack and set a strong example of being a city of peace and perseverance today. The Christians too, survived, endured in the midst of all these hardship and today they are still a visible presence in the city. Their faith is a visible testament on how God could make things beautiful again in His own time. Nagasaki has a right to seek retribution for the wrong being done to them and yet today, they preached the path of peace.

Today, the faithful remains
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The easiest way to explore the city is to hop on the trams and identify your own places of interest. The tourist center is loaded with helpful information for foreigners. There are plenty of museums, parks, churches, shrines, historical building and an aquarium waiting to be explored. After exploring those, I wandered into the neighborhood, played with school children, explored shops at the outskirts and hiked up Mount Inasa to get a good panoramic view of the city.

Here are some shots taken during spontaneous wanderings in the city. Do note that if you are only doing a day trip, you have to prioritize a few areas and you won't be able to explore in depth.
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Dropped by a primary school
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It is nice to see that young children are given the responsibility and opportunity to grow their flowers in spring
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I slowly made my way uphill, occasionally stopping and attempting to chat with older people and children who thought I could converse in Japanese.
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The panoramic view is ultimately rewarding after the long walk.
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I stayed on until the sun begin to set before I start my descend.
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In the next entry, the spotlight will still be on this city and I will talk more about its pursuit of peace. Until next time.

Posted by canglingy 18:22 Archived in Japan Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises churches sightseeing travelling Comments (0)

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