Koyasan

I must admit sleeping on a thin futon wasn’t easy but it seemed like no time after I rested my weary head on the Japanese pillow that it was time to wake up and attend the morning ceremony at 6:00. We sat on a stool in the outer section of the temple while the monks knelt in the inner section. Starting with a traditional Om the chants continued with intermittent gongs, drums, bells for quite some time. At one point the group of visitors was welcomed into the inner sanctum for a couple of rituals. After seeing the fire ceremony we returned to our seats until the reading and chanting was finished. One of the priests came and explained a few things to us before we returned to our rooms to prepare for breakfast. This was served in a common dining area. The meal was presented in a similar fashion to the previous evening in a number of small bowls on a tray with legs. While we ate the priest explained¬†some more to us about the history of Buddhism in Koyasan and how he came to be in Koyasan after being born in the German speaking part of Switzerland. A few of the visitors asked questions which he answered in detail. After breakfast concluded we made our way out for the day. Green tea isn’t quite the same for Karen so she tried a dispensing machine tea in a can. To her surprise it still wasn’t what she was looking for. It was milky and tasted alright but was cold! Given it is still taking time to become used to some of foods also we headed to a small food store next and bought a few snacks to tide us over.

From there we walked to the eastern side of the town to Okunoin, an area of over 200000 graves and memorial pagodas, some belonging to feudal lords and others to everyday commoners. It is set in a beautiful, peaceful forest of cedars and other trees. The main path runs for about two kilometres from Ichinohashi Bridge

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to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi Kukai, a great Buddist monk. Kobo Daishi Kukai was the founder of Koyasan in the late 800s. The belief that he did not pass away but lies in eternal meditation has brought pilgrims here for 12 centuries and resulted in Koyasan being World Heritage listed by UNESCO in 2004. Even though it was a Saturday and many people were on the paths leading to his mausoleum it was a pleasant place to walk as you can see from these photos.

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Most of the gravestones are quite old

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but some were quite recent.

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Another thing we observed was that a number of the small statues had a red bib on them. This attracts Jizo to them and he is believed to watch over children in the afterlife as a surrogate parent.image

As we came to the mausoleum there was bridge.

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After that photography isn’t permitted.

After looking around the mausoleum we retraced our step back over the entry bridge. Here we noticed black Buddhas. Visitors can ritually splash water over them to show respect to their deceased relatives.

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Our return walk brought us past a number of temples and lodgings (Shukubo).

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By now it was after 13:00 so we started to look for somewhere to eat. We settled on a small restaurant with a window display of the meals which helped us see what was available.

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The English menus helped us to order. It was run entirely by two little old energetic women. The two were doing the cooking, waiting and serving, washing the dishes and taking payments. Amazing. After ordering our meals came quite quickly and were delicious. The presentation of the sushi was exquisite.

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When we came to pay the lady who took our payment was clearly rushed and overpaid change to us by ¥1000! She was quite relieved when Karen pointed this out and returned the overpayment to her.

Next we walked to the western side of the town and visited another temple complex named Kongobuji. It is the administrative temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism.

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We were especially taken with the 17th century building (above) used to store ancient manuscripts. Needless to say it was closed to travellers like us.

As we were just across the road from the Danjo Garan complex which we had enjoyed exploring the day before we went back to look around more. We were pleased we did as we came upon a lovely bridge, lake and shrine.

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On our return trip we also visited a small but lovely garden just opposite the Visitor Information Centre.

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Once back at our lodgings we rested and chatted with our room neighbour, Colin in the tranquil gardens of our temple lodgings.

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Dinner was again beautifully presented as you can see. This time we were able to eat more of the foods. Perhaps we are becoming more used to the new flavours we are experiencing.

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Tomorrow we travel to Kii-Tanabe by local bus and then train for the start of our trek the day after.

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From KIX to Koyasan

The worst part of travelling for us is now the long flights from Melbourne. After so many trips the excitement of the flight to wherever we are going has worn off. So after leaving Melbourne at 9:30 (a delay of 45 minutes) a nine hour flight to Hong Kong and then another three and a half to Osaka’s Kansai airport meant we were over it. However we followed that up with an hour in a limousine bus to reach Osaka railway station. Finally we were able to stretch our legs as we walked for about ten minutes to our hotel in Umeda, the Sunroute Hotel. Tired as we were it was a pleasure to be welcomed by the friendly reception staff. After checking in formalities were over we made our way up to our room, 522. The room and bed were indeed small but the bathroom was good and the hot shower very welcome before we crashed into bed for a wonderful sleep.

An excellent breakfast buffet kicked off day two. After checking out we walked down to the station. A quick visit to the helpful information centre provided us with two handy maps and a few clues as to how to head off to Koyasan. Thank goodness the ticket machines had an English option. After making our way to the platform it took us a while to work out where to line up ready to board a train and which train was going to take us to Shin-Mamiya station. Once there we took some time to find the correct ticket window for the Nankai trains as distinct from the JR ones but managed it in the end. We must have just missed a train as it was about a 45 minute wait which did give time to read our trip notes. Our 12:17 train was quite busy. Karen managed to get a seat straight away but it took a few stops before another became available for me. At Hashimoto the people in our carriage started to all move so we took the hint, just as the train staff came aboard our carriage to emphasise the need to move to one of the front three carriages. We chatted with a family group of Aussies as we headed up and into the mountains through beautiful green forests.

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At Gokurakubashi we exited the train and with about fifty others made our way onto the cable car carriage. It soon headed up the track to Koyasan station. There the very helpful staff gave us a map of Koyasan and showed us where to catch the bus down to the main town. You pay when you reach your stop. Ours was stop five just near our accommodation at the Muryoko Temple.

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We decided to leave our cases there which was fine by the head monk. He even gave us an information leaflet in English to help guide ourselves around. We walked back to the start of the town.

imageLots of temple complexes, many offering accommodation, could be seen from the main road.

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We stopped in a peaceful park and ate our lunch which we had fortuitously purchased back in Osaka. By then it was 15:00 so we walked back to our accommodation and checked in. A brief tour of the facilities preceded us being taken to our traditional room where we were served green tea as a welcome drink. After settling in we went back out to continue to explore the many sights of Koyasan. We passed one of the other temple complexes before coming to the World Heritage Danjo Garan area. We spent quite a while here looking around, reading the excellent information boards and taking lots of photos. Some of which I am including in this post.

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A number of the buildings dated back to the 800s but some were recent 20th century reconstructions due to fires caused by lightning strikes over the years.

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The main pagoda was a reconstruction dating back to 1937 and was the fifth built on the site since the late 800s.

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After about an hour we headed up the road to the Daimon Gate at the western end of the town.

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Even though it is reputed as a good spot for sunset photos sadly the clouds which had moved in made this a non event.

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After walking back down to Muryoko Temple we met another Aussie, Colin. He is also here for two nights before going on the Kumano Kodo walk too. Our vegetarian Buddhist meal was beautifully presented but some of the pickled vegetables were not really to our liking. However there were enough things to fill us up. Another different experience, that’s for sure.

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The young monk who had bought our dinner also came back and set up our futons and rice pillows and doonas for us in the inner part of our room.

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Next we spent some time reading up more about what to see in Koyasan tomorrow before heading to the bathing area. Traditional Japanese bathing is somewhat different we had discovered from our reading and talking with friends who have been to Japan. For a start it is communal and males and females bath separately. After stripping off you take a preliminary soaping up and shower before you enter the bathing pool. Personally it was almost too hot but I did manage to soak until my fingers became wrinkly and perspiration poured down my forehead. I had the bath to myself for most of the time until one of the young monks came in. A bit strange bathing with someone you have never met! After drying off and changing into a yukata robe I returned to our room to find Karen already back. We typed and read for a while before retiring reasonably early as we will be attending the early morning meditation ritual at 6:00 tomorrow.

Scarecrows on the Mornington Peninsula

We live in the hills above Dromana beach. Higher up in the hills above where we live though is a beautiful hinterland area with lots of beautiful bush walks, many wineries, galleries and restaurants. During the September school holidays there is yet another attraction to be found up there. It’s the¬†Mornington Peninsula Hinterland Scarecrow Festival and Trail. Lots of different artists, schools and businesses create a scarecrow which is on display for visitors to see. A map is available from the Tourist Information Centre in Dromana or at various locations around the hinterland. When we had family visit this week we decided to take them up into the hinterland for a drive and a look at a number of the scarecrow creations.

The first one we saw was an outback vicar outside the Anglican church.

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The next one was Dame Edna Everage, one of iconic Australian actor and comedian Barry Humphries’ characters.

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I particularly liked Composto the scarecrow at Focus Support Services Centre with it’s compost bin and worms.

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At the Michael Leeworthy Gallery the scarecrow was having to contend with a crocodile.

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At Endota Spa local artist Lou Benetti had created Captain Jack from scrap metal. Not sure about his scarecrow status but it was scary enough and very well done.

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Also Borris the bull by artists Lawrence and Maureen Marshall wasn’t really a scarecrow but would certainly fit in well on a farm.

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Famous eye surgeon Fred Hollows could be seen at the Red Hill Op Shop.

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Ryan (the seagull) of Rye wasn’t scared by any of the scarecrows. In fact I was able to have a bit of fun with him whilst he ate the ‘chips’ I fed him.

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One of the better ones was the artistic scarecrow of Sir Arthur Streeton. Yes it is doubtful whether he painted cows up at Arthurs Seat, although he did create some lovely beach scenes down along the bay.

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The last one I’ll include is this Bulldog mascot flying high to take a mark.

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Again not really a scarecrow but dogs can certainly discourage birds. However it is topical as we are hoping the AFL Western Bulldogs are able to fly high and win their first premiership since 1954 when they meet the Sydney Swans at the MCG in Melbourne this afternoon. Go Bulldogs!

Extra note: Congratulations to the Western Bulldogs, 2016 Premiers after beating Sydney Swans by 22 points.

Fijian flashback – Another day in paradise in Fiji

Another lazy start to the day and another delicious buffet breakfast.

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Well that’s the way we started each day at the Shangri-La. As for what was next that was another thing altogether. We started with a walk down to the beach.

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That decided it. Karen was ready for a snorkel. So off we went to the dive shop to hire some gear. Pretty soon Karen was snorkelling.

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By this time I was warming up so decided to take a quick swim. When I came out I lay down to read a book. Not long after I was surprised by the arrival of an intruder on my towel.

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After finishing snorkelling Karen and I selected two vacant beach lounges and relaxed whilst reading and taking in the lovely view.

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Lunch of a club sandwich for me and a grilled vegetable platter for Karen followed. Later on we joined one of the resort rangers and did a garden walk. To us the gardens looked spectacular but apparently fruit bats can be a problem.

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This tree was one of the largest we saw. It’s girth was huge.

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One last spectacular sunset from our balcony capped off a lovely, relaxing time in tropical Fiji.

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The next day we checked out and headed to the Nadi airport for our flight back to a wintry Melbourne.

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Note: It is now almost 12 months since our trip to Fiji. However, because we headed off to France within a few days of returning home it is only now that I find I have time to write about the last few days of our time in Fiji. Hence the ‘Fijian Flashback’ idea.

Starting our Borneo trip on Mt Kinabalu

For many years Karen has wanted to go to Borneo to see orang utans in the wild. After a number of trips to Europe in recent years it was time to do a trip closer to home and fulfil her dream. We booked with local company Raw Wildlife Encounters for a trip in March with potentially lots of wildlife encounters. Our mid afternoon flight from Melbourne to Sabah in Borneo had one transit point. Flying with Royal Brunei was a new experience for us and after a comfortable seven hour journey from Melbourne we had a couple of hours wait in transit in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei, before a quick flight of 25 minutes to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. After collecting our luggage and clearing customs we were met by the friendly Oswell from Borneo Eco Tours. We drove into Kota Kinabalu and were soon at the Grandis Hotel at the end of the city. We checked into our room and then ate dinner in the restaurant on the first floor- just about the only ones there it was so late.

Early start next morning. Had a really good buffet breakfast and then met our guide, Adam and the same driver, Oswell, in the lobby at 8am. We started on a long, very windy drive up into the mountains. After a couple of hours we stopped at a small town for a break. The guides had a coffee while we checked out the scenery and recovered from almost being car sick the road had been so windy. We had an excellent view back to the road we had been driving on.

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The mountain scenery was marvellous although the humidity and clouds detracted from how spectacular it really was.

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After our break we continued on to Mt Kinabalu National Park. Our first activity was a guided tour through the natural history museum which was fascinating.

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Next we went for a guided walk in the beautiful Mt Kinabalu Botanical gardens.

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Our guide, Adam explained lots about the many beautiful and fascinating plants. The pitcher plants especially interested us. It seems they are carnivorous and as well as insects can even absorb small creatures.

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After completing the circuit in the gardens we drove to a busy restaurant contained within the Mt Kinabalu National Park. However it wasn’t long before a number of platters with a wide variety of delicious foods¬†were brought to our table. The battered fish was particularly good in my opinion. Karen appreciated the tofu and the vegetarian dishes more.

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Feeling completely full we drove further into the Mt Kinabalu National Park. After putting on our hiking boots and collecting our walking poles we left the car and our driver. Our guide, Adam led us on a hike on the Mempening Trail, one of many trails in the park.

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Adam was very knowledgable and more than happy to stop and look at the many amazing plants more closely.

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The orchids were plentiful and beautiful.

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I was particularly happy with this photo of a fern unfolding.

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At the end of the trail, our driver was waiting to collect us. By then we were quite hot and sweaty but had really enjoyed our short trek. From Mt Kinabalu National Park we drove for a while until we reached the well spread hill town of Kundasang. Here we would be staying overnight at the Zen Gardens. Once we checked in we had a drink and a rest in our room before exploring the lovely gardens. In the evening we ate in their restaurant. Again it was like a mini banquet. Another larger group from Sweden was also staying there but apart from a few others we had this peaceful place to ourselves.

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The next morning we loved the misty view of the hills outside our room.

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We also had a greeting party just outside our door.

Rhinoceros beetles
Rhinoceros beetles

But it wasn’t until we walked up to the restaurant for breakfast that we actually were able to see Mt Kinabalu from the restaurant¬†balcony.

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It was a lovely way to start our second day in Sabah, details of which are in the next post.

Villandry

Most of the ch√Ęteaux in the Loire et Cher are beautiful in their own right. And the one that we visited last was nice enough in its own right but the garden was the scene stealer. Where was this you ask? It was Ch√Ęteau Villandry. Words are not adequate to describe the care and precision in the initial design of these gardens many, many years ago and the continued commitment by the current team of gardeners is amazing. So I will let photos do most of the talking.

Continue reading Villandry

Le Moulin du Mesnil

Staying in the Loire et Cher area was wonderful because of all the lovely villages and beautiful ch√Ęteaux. However the best part was staying at Le Moulin du Mesnil with Yvonne and Jeff. Having met them whilst volunteering at the VIsitor¬†Information Centre at Dromana back during our summer it was lovely to stay at their place and to not only make their acquaintance again but to get to know them better. Yvonne’s breakfasts were sumptuous and she knowledgablely gave us advice regarding things to do, ch√Ęteaux to visit and restaurants to eat at.

Itinerary planning after breakfast with our hostess.
Itinerary planning after breakfast with our hostess.

Below are some photos of the property and our lovely room.

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imageimageExterior of our room.

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Interior of the room.

Our four days in the Loire et Cher just flew by. There were many highlights but the last night was particularly special. Yvonne and Jeff hosted us on their back patio area for drinks, hors d’oevres, cheeses and much conversation.

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Me with two other Aussie guests enjoying the quiet life in France!
Me with two other Aussie guests enjoying the quiet life in France!

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A wonderful end to our stay here. Looking forward to returning sometime.