The Venice of Belgium: Brugge &Ghent

I have never heard of Bruges  until I saw series of beautiful pictures on Facebook posted by my high school friend. I was planning the trip from Bergen, Norway to France at that time(August 2014).It looked like such a beautiful, cozy European medieval town.

Oh, actually, I had heard of Ghent at that time in Art History class in 2012 and the lecturer said Ghent altarpiece is one of the most famous altarpieces in the world and it has long history of losing its settled place. She also said that we should go to Ghent to see the altarpiece that the church in Ghent would hardly loan to other museums. At that time, I hardly imagined I would see the altarpiece in person but I made it ūüôā

For these reasons, I decided to visit both towns in one day. I also wanted to explore different parts of Belgium besides Brussels.


Bruges(Brugge in Dutch) is a small town located in west of Belgium. You can go there from Brussels central station and it’s one hour away from Brussels by train.

Bruges has most of its¬†medieval¬†architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The historic centre of Bruges has been a¬†UNESCO¬†World Heritage Site¬†since 2000. The history of this town goes back to the 9th century and it became one of the centers of trace since it’s the crossroad between northern Hanseatic League trade and the southern Hanseatic League trade from the 12th century to the 15th century.


These pictures are the beginning part of old Bruges. It’s so picturesque that I couldn’t stop taking photos on the way.




<Markt(Market Square) in Brugge>

Belgium has been historically and culturally influenced by France and Netherlands but it has distinct architecture. Markt(Market Square) is at the core of Old Bruges and the bell tower(Belfry) is the signiture medieval architecture in the square. The belfry was added to the market square around 1240, when Bruges was attending as an important centre of the Flemish cloth industry.




Canal is the main reason why this town attracts many visitors. Although it’s not famous as canal in Venice, it has its tranquil and Flemish charm. It’s what makes Bruges beautiful. Bruges‚Äô loveliest places ooze even¬†more charm when you admire them¬†travelling by boat.



Ghent is between Brussels and Bruges and it’s ¬†40 min drive from Brussels. While Bruges is more tranquil and touristy medieval town, Ghent is more vibrant, urban and less touristy city. I saw a lot of forums on the internet asking visiting either Bruges or Ghent and I personally recommend both for these different characteristics. And Ghent is also an university town so there are more young people relatively compared to Bruges.

There is a canal in Ghent as well but I think the canal in Bruges is more picturesque. Anyway, the main reason that I visited Ghent wasn’t for canal, it was for Ghent Altarpiece in St. Bavo’s Church.


When I was at the core of the Old Ghent, there was a performance where people dressing in traditional Flemish outfits doing historic roleplaying.



<Saint Bavo’s Cathedral>

Unlike dominant gray color in K√∂ln dom, this cathedral has bright color scheme with marbles.¬†The building is built on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction that was consecrated in 942 by¬†Transmarus,¬†Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral’s crypt.The chapel was subsequently expanded in the¬†Romanesque¬†style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt. In the subsequent period from the 14th through 16th centuries, nearly continuous expansion projects in the¬†Gothic style were executed on the structure. A new¬†choir,¬†radiating chapels, expansions of the¬†transepts, a¬†chapter house,¬†nave¬†aisles and a single tower western section were all added during this period. Construction was considered complete June 7, 1569.

Entering this cathedral is free, but if you want to see Altarpiece, you have to pay around five Euro including audioguide(I highly recommend audioguide). I’m sure there must be some people complaining it doesn’t worths that money. But considering that it has been the most stolen artwork, that’s the way compensating its rough history.

It’s almost been destroyed in a fire, was nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, it’s been forged, pillaged, dismembered, censored, stolen by Napoleon, hunted in the first world war, sold by a renegade cleric, then stolen repeatedly during the second world war, before being rescued by¬†The Monuments Men, miners and a team of commando double-agents. The fact that it was the artwork the Nazis were most desperate to steal ‚Äď G√∂ring wanted it for his private collection,¬†Hitler¬†as the centrepiece of his citywide super-museum ‚Äď has only increased its renown.




ghent altarpiece

<Ghent Altarpiece-picture:Wikipedia>

Ghent Altarpiece is the most stolen artwork in the world since it was painted by The Eyck brothers in 1432. ¬†It doesn’t look gigantic in the picture, but it is really huge if you get to see it. I was completely overwhelmed by the size at first. ¬†I wonder how people managed to steal this enormous altarpiece(11ft x 15ft (3.5m x 4.6m)). It is also amusing how symmetrical the altarpiece is.

Later, with listening to audioguide, I was marveled how complex and sophisticated the story presented in the altarpiece.  Van Eyck brothers really tried hard to contain all the details of the story in the altarpiece.  My memory on the story has been diminished but it worths reading it if you are a big fan of medieval art works.

I visited Bruges and Ghent in a day but I would like to stay either city longer if I have next opportunity( I had to go to Paris on the next day).  I was in a rush so I felt I missed some nice other places to visit. So if you are reading this blog post, hope you have a chance to stay in those towns a little bit longer.



A Day trip to Danish castles near Copenhagen

I had stayed in Copenhagen for three nights and four days so I wanted to explore outside of Copenhagen for one day. My friend ,who once stayed in Copenhagen for one moth, recommended me to visit Frederiksborg castle.

Since Denmark is still a country with monarchy, there are already a lot of castles in Copenhagen. One might wonder if there is a reason to visit another castles outside of Copenhagen. But I would like to say Kronborg castle and Frederiksborg castle have distinctive appeal.

When I traveled to Europe in 2014, I have a jetlag that I woke up around 5:30 am and went to bed around 10:00pm. Don’t get me wrong as an early bird. I’m not an early bird in usual. This early bird schedule makes me have more free time in day time. I also found Kronborg castle on the internet saying it’s a nice medieval castle to visit and it’s one hour from Copenhagen and from Hiler√łd(where Frederiksborg castle is). So I made my mind to go to both castles on the same day. Thanks to my new sleeping schedule, I was able to start the trip around 7:00am when Copenhagen is more peaceful.

Kronborg Castle

It was quite cloudy and windy morning. It was 16C but I felt it’s much colder even if I was wearing leather jacket, scarf and conventional denim jean. Yeah, when you are in Scandinavian country, you really appreciate genuinely when the weather is very nice. When I was in Oslo before Copenhagen, my Norwegian friend often said how lucky I am to visit Oslo when the weather is the nicest and the warmest in that year.

Anyway, I got a train to¬†Helsing√łr¬†where Kornborg castle is located. After one hour in the train, I got to¬†Helsing√łr ¬†and it was much windier than Copenhagen.¬†Helsing√łr is 45 km north of Copenhagen and Helsingborg(Sweden) is just across narrow channel. When the weather is sunny, you can actually see Sweden from Kronborg castle. Kronborg castle is the most famous tourist spot in that small city so it was very easy to navigate the way from the station to the castle.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 2.59.47 PM

Sorry for the picture. The weather was so cloudy that it’s difficult to take fancy pictures. But as it’s famous for ¬†the setting of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Hamlet,¬†this weather was even more matching with the¬†most famous Shakespeare’s tragedy. I wouldn’t be so surprised if I run into Hamlet’s father ghost in the castle at night in this weather. For some avid Shakespeareans, the castle also has Hamlet performance in the castle.


<Aerial view of Kronborg castle, from Wikipedia>

As you can see in the picture, Kronborg castle has a moat. If you see the moat in person, it’s pretty large. This castle was originally built as a fortress in 1420s so there were some unused cannons near the castle wall.¬†From 1574 to 1585 Frederick II (there are many Frederik-s among Danish Kings)¬†¬†had the medieval fortress rebuilt into a magnificent Renaissance castle, unique in its appearance and size throughout Europe.As a consequence of developments in the military technique of the era and the improved striking power of the artillery, it became clear that it was necessary to modernize the fortifications of Krogen. After the conclusion of the Northern Seven Years’ War in 1570, King Frederick II initiated an extension of the advanced bastions to relieve the medieval curtain wall. Later, the castle played a role as a tollgate for neighboring country passing this castle and it contributed to Danish wealth.¬†Around 1.8 million ships passed through the Sound during this period and all of them had to pay a toll at Kronborg Castle. Of course, this tollgate was cumbersome to neighboring countries and Sweden was angry about it.

During the Dano-Swedish War of 1658-60, Kronborg was besieged, attacked and conquered by a Swedish army.


Even though the weather is not so sunny, I was able to see Sweden from this castle.


Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 2.59.35 PM

inside kronborg

<While traveling Denmark castles, you will see a lot of furnitures in the castle>


<The ballroom. There are many paintings and tapestries describing Denmark-Sweden war. It used to be the largest ballroom in Northern Europe.>



This is the statue of Holger the Dane. According to a legend linked to Arthurian myth, a Danish king known as Holger the Dane, was taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay. He returned to rescue France from danger, then traveled to Kronborg castle, where he sleeps until he is needed to save his homeland. His beard has grown to extend along the ground. A statue of the sleeping Holger has been placed in the castle.

Near the statue of the holy Danish king, one woman dressing in Danish armor approached me and asked to kill any Swedish people nearby. Still, Denmark and Sweden have interesting rivalry relationship.

The castle is not too big so it took somewhere between 1-2 hour to look around.



<Saying goodbye to Kronborg castle>


Frederiksborg Castle 

Then, I took train from Helsing√łr to Hiler√łd to visit Frederiksborg castle. Now it started raining. I do like rain but it’s not a pleasurable moment when you are traveling. Frederiksborg is more known as a castle with beautiful exterior than Kronborg castle.


On the way from Hiler√łd station to the castle, it was quite residential and there was even a street with some shopping malls. This scenery actually reminds me of the time when I had a day trip in Cambridge. Raining + this kind of street with some shopping malls.


After about 20 minutes walk, I finally got to the castle and indeed it was a beautiful red brick castle with a lot of delicate stone works. Actually, the castle has a nickname, “Scandinavian Versailles”. It was a royal residence during the reign of the King¬†Christian IV. The King¬†Christian IV used¬†this castle while his father Frederik¬†II built Kronborg castle and this one(you might have already guessed that from the name of this castle) .¬†Christian IV is known as “cultural king” so his name is frequently mentioned during the castles tour in Denmark with his dad’s name.


This fountain is “Neptune Fountain”. Neptune is the god of sea and it symbolizes the Danish King.¬†It was created from 1620 to 1622 to stand on the castle’s forecourt symbolizing Denmark’s position as a leading Nordic power in the early 17th century. It is a reminiscence of the heyday when Denmark was the strongest country among its neighbors.


The castle has a famous chapel and it was quite beautiful. The chapel takes big parts of the inside of the castle. It is the best preserved part of the Renaissance complex, having largely escaped damage in the 1859 fire.And look at the gorgeous organ! The organ is the oldest organ in Denmark. I really would love to listen to the sound from the organ music.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 3.59.47 PM

Frederiksborg castle also has a beautiful garden. Of course, Versailles garden is much larger but this garden is also worth a visit.


Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 3.59.39 PM

The castle is also next to the lake. This scenery with a lake has inspired many painters. It would have been great if I can see a sunset sitting along the lake in sunnier weather. Hopefully, if I happened to visit this place next time, I wish Denmark treat me with nicer weather. But it was a good idea to go outside Copenhagen and explore these castles.

[Book Review] Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

Rating:¬†‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ(maybe around 4.5)

Whoah! I just finished to read this 1100-page-book. Reading a thick book is like a journey that you travel all the 50 US states but is still counted as one-country visit.

After the trip to Croatia in last July, I learned Croatia and other former Yugoslavian countries have entangled and interesting history. People are usually familiar with history of Western European countries(UK, France) or US history  but the history in Balkan peninsula would be less familiar to many people. The trip to Croatia encouraged me to learn deeper about its cultural background and history. Before the trip, I never imagined that Croatia history would go back to very first century AD.

At first, it was quite challenging to search. You can much more easily find history books about Henry the 8th and his six wives rather than this part of history, to be honest. While searching, I encountered this book in one of travel blogs(I think it might be Rick Steves) and decided to give it a try. Then, I went to my school’s library. After half an hour, I found it and my very first impression was “daunting”. ‘How can I carry the book?’ That was my first concern. But luckily, I have a kindle so I didn’t have to suffer from the weight of the physical book.

Rebecca West and her husband traveled to Balkan peninsula from Croatia to Albania. This book was written on the brink of the World War 2, so it might have been different from current situation in that area. But a magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon probes the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships among its ethnic groups. This book is much beyond Lonely Planet. 

The cover of the book is the famous bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. There was a terrible genocide in 1993 in Mostar. It was a cruel conflict between Croatian(catholic) and Bosnian(Muslim). Eventually, they ended the siege and the bridge (Stari Mostar),connecting Muslim area and Catholic area, now symbolizes as peace resolution between them. Rebecca West might have foreseen this tragedy.

The landscape and the people of Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as West untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life. Rebecca West not only has vast knowledge on politics and history but also she had a lot of good and thought provoking conversations with local people. ¬†On the sentence-by-sentence level, her writing is exceptional in its clarity and its striking imagery, by turns witty and beautiful. ‚ÄėShe was one of those widows whose majesty makes their husbands seem specially dead‚Äô, she says of one woman; and of another, ‚ÄėIt is true that she was plump as an elephant, but she was so beautiful that the resemblance only served to explain what it is that male elephants feel about female elephants.‚Äô On another occasion, after a long description of Orthodox priests chanting hymns, she concludes with extraordinary sensitivity:

If there be a God who is fount of all goodness, this is the tribute that should logically be paid to Him; if there be only goodness, it is still a logical tribute.

It is rare to find a travel book that builds a cumulative argument, let alone an argument that can be sustained over more than a thousand pages. Ultimately what makes Black Lamb so astonishing for me is that Rebecca West uses the gifts I outlined above to probe the depths of the human condition in a very clear-sighted way. As West travels, Europe is on the edge of war: as she publishes, the killing is well underway. What makes humans behave like this?

It’s the sort of grandiose question that usually gets grandiose, evasive answers. But not here. West thinks long and hard about it and she is characteristically blunt in her conclusions. For her there is a systemic problem with the Christianity that underpins western culture, simply because it’s built on the idea of a human sacrifice, and that leaves us fundamentally unsure about right and wrong.

We are continually told to range ourselves with the crucified and the crucifiers, with innocence and guilt, with kind love and cruel hate. Our breasts echo for ever with the cries ‚ÄėIn murdering goodness we sinned‚Äô and ‚ÄėBy murdering goodness we were saved.‚Äô ‚ÄėThe lamb is innocent and must not be killed,‚Äô ‚ÄėThe dead lamb brings us salvation,‚Äô so we live in chaos.

She goes further than this, though. (She always goes further.) When, in Macedonia, West witnesses a lamb being sacrificed in real life, she grasps that this internal chaos mentioned above has very dark consequences for human society and conflict; indeed, for civilised nations this is a paradox that can make us want to be defeated, even when ‚Äď especially when ‚Äď fighting for a good cause.

We believed in our heart of hearts that life was simply this and nothing more, a man cutting the throat of a lamb on a rock to please God and obtain happiness; and when our intelligence told us that the man was performing a disgusting and meaningless act, our response was not to dismiss the idea as a nightmare, but to say, ‚ÄėSince it is wrong to be the priest and sacrifice the lamb, I will be the lamb and be sacrificed by the priest.‚Äô We thereby set up a principle that doom was honourable for innocent things, and conceded that if we spoke of kindliness and recommended peace it was fitting that afterwards the knife should be passed across our throats. Therefore it happened again and again that when we fought well for a reasonable cause and were in sight of victory, we were filled with a sense that we were not acting in accordance with divine protocol, and turned away and sought defeat, thus betraying those who had trusted us to win them kindliness and peace.

The implications of this extraordinary passage, when it comes to war, are fully explored. West hates war, but she also hates ‚Äėthe fatuousness of such pacifism as points out the unpleasantness of war as if people had never noticed it before‚Äô.

That non-resistance paralyses the aggressor is a lie: otherwise the Jews of Germany would all be very well today.

Some causes are worth fighting for, even though doing so feels abhorrent. As far as I’m concerned, this insight has never been better expressed:

I had to be willing to fight for it even though my own cause could not fail to be repulsive to me, since the essence of civilization was disinclination to violence, and when I defended it habit would make me fear that I was betraying it.

This is the meaning of the book’s title, drawn from a Serbian fable about religious sacrifice. In the global conflict erupting around her, Rebecca West could see emerging the same impulses and psychological currents that she had been studying and thinking about for years, ebbing and flowing throughout history and crystallised in the story of Yugoslavia: because human beings are a species that have evolved just enough intelligence to know that what we do is terrible, but not enough to go beyond it; and that leaves us unable to fight for our better nature with conviction.

For we have developed enough sensibility to know that to be cruel is vile, and therefore we would not wish to be the priest whose knife made the blood spurt from the black lamb’s throat; and since we still believed the blood sacrifice to be necessary we were left with no choice, if we desired a part in the service of the good, but to be the black lamb.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon finishes with bombs falling on London. The author reflects Often, when I have thought of invasion, or a bomb has dropped nearby, I have prayed, ‚ÄėLet me behave like a Serb.‚Äô Amen. How extraordinary these people are and how extraordinary it is that we have understood them so little. How extraordinary this book is, a true masterpiece.



St. Malo,Bretagne-the port city of pirates

My mom and I traveled to France in late August, 2014 together. We went to Paris for several days, then went to Tours and old castles, Mont Saint Michel and then Saint Malo. My mom already visited Paris before so she suggested to go outside of Paris for a couple of days and it was indeed a nice break from cosmopolitan Paris.

Many of you would have heard Mont Saint Michel but Saint Malo might be new. Saint Malo is one hour drive from Mont Saint Michel. If you have enough time before or after going to Mont Saint Michel, it would be a great small city to stop by and enjoy the view.

If you are riding public transit, you can take a bus from Renne for one hour to get to Saint Malo. But as far as I know, there was not a bus going from Mont Saint Michel to Saint Malo or vice versa. So, if you want to go both places by bus or train, you should go back to Renne and take the bus to the other one. In this way, we arrived Saint Malo when there was sunset going on.


<Saint Malo aerial View from ThinkLink>

Saint Malo is a port city with long and interesting history and it’s famous for its surrounding wall. The history of this city actually goes back to 1st century BC and the city was founded by Gauls. This city has quite interesting relationship with France monarchy and Bretagne government. In the 11th century, the city had a tradition of asserting its autonomy in dealings with the French authorities and even with the local Breton authorities. From 1590 to 1593, Saint-Malo declared itself to be an independent republic, taking the motto “not French, not Breton, but Malouin.” Saint-Malo became notorious as the home of the corsairs, French privateers and sometimes pirates. ¬†During the 17th and 18th centuries, under letters of marque from the king of France (who shared their booty), the corsairs of St Malo roved the seas taking whatever they wanted from English, Dutch and Portuguese ships unfortunate enough to encounter them.

So, Saint Malo is known as “Bretagne’s pirate heaven.”

My mom and I walked about 20 minutes from the station to the main part of Saint Malo(inside of the wall). Inside of the wall looks like Mont Saint Michel without hill and it was much less touristy than Mont Saint Michel.


french marketing

<One of the restaurants in Saint Malo- that’s how French people do marketing. Who doesn’t love French sound?>


<Streets in Saint Malo in the afternoon>



<A giant old ship in front of the wall>

Unluckily, I don’t have pictures of Saint Malo during the night but it has certainly different vibe¬†from walking in the morning and afternoon. With some street musicians playing music at night, it is even more romantic. In the afternoon, the city is quite and pleasant with fresh breeze from the ocean.

There are not many historical or touristic monument in Saint Malo. However, it’s definitely a highlight to walk around the wall. In French, it’s¬†Les remparts de Saint-Malo.¬†


<Pictures: View from Les remparts>

In World War II, during fighting in late August and early September 1944, the historic walled city of Saint-Malo was almost totally destroyed by American shelling and bombing as well as British naval gunfire.Saint-Malo was rebuilt over a 12-year period from 1948‚Äď60. Now we should appreciate to those people in the past who put effort to rebuild this city. Thanks to them, many visitors can enjoy a nice stroll around the wall with gorgeous views.


In this picture, you can see a small island and it’s Grand B√© island. It is famous for Chateaubriand’s tomb, the famous and influential Romantic writer. You can get to the island only when the tide is out. When I saw this island, it was totally inaccessible. Chateaubriand was born in Saint Malo and ¬†he wanted to stay in Saint Malo after his death since he was young. In his epitaph, he wrote “Un grand √©crivain fran√ßais a voulu reposer ici pour n‚Äôy entendre que la mer et le vent. Passant, respecte sa derni√®re volont√©‚ÄĚ meaning that he( a great French writer) just wanted to stay here to hear nothing else besides the sound from the sea and wind. It seems like a great way to enjoy the solitude with fresh air and sound from the sea.

After one night trip in Saint Malo, my mom and I had to get back to Paris. It was August 31st and the train was so packed with people going back to the reality from long vacance. Although it was very short trip, my mom and I talked about this trip and remind the time that we spent together in beautiful Saint Malo.

<Recommended Book>

Even if you didn’t read this book, you might have seen it in the bookstore. After reading this blog, you will be able to recognize that the book cover is the picture of Saint Malo. Indeed, Anthony Doerr, the author of this book, was inspired by the trip to Saint Malo and its history and started to write this novel. The novel takes place in Paris, Saint Malo and Germany during the WW2. Marie Laure, a blind girl living in Paris before the war flee to Saint Malo to escape from Nazi. Meanwhile, Werner, an orphan boy from a mining town in Germany, joined Hitler Youth and tracked the resistance.¬†More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure‚Äôs converge.

Day trip to Kyoto(2)-Ginjkaku-Ji and Kinkaku-ji(+a bit of Fushimi Inari)

Before I talk about those two confusing name temples, I want to talk about one of the most special and unique foods in Kyoto.

After my sister and I finished touring Kiyomizu-dera, we headed to Gion to look for lunch place. Then, we found a restaurant with people queuing outside of the restaurant. We thought it would be a good place since there were some locals taking out their foods from the restaurant. The name of the restaurant is Izuju and this place is famous for mackerel sushi(Saba sushi), one of the special dishes in Kyoto. Izuju is one of the oldest sushi places in Kyoto. After half an hour waiting, we finally got inside of the restaurant.

You know, when you think of mackerel, it’s kind of a fish that has likes and dislikes especially in Western countries. It smells stronger than many fishes.We were thinking it’s quite adventurous to try it at first so we ordered mixture boxed sushi(hako sushi), Inari sushi(Fried tofu sushi) and Saba sushi.


sushiSaba sushi has a think layer of mackerel on top rolled with kelp to keep it fresh. When it comes to eating mackerel, I always grilled or steamed mackerel and it’s really the first time to try¬†raw mackerel. ¬†When I tried it, I regretted that I should have ordered more of it. Mackerel sushi has a rich and unique flavor that I’ve never experienced before. The think texture accentuated this unique flavor.

We walked along Gion street for a while and then we took a bus to go Ginkakuji-temple.


The path on the way to the temple is called “Philosopher’s path”.¬†philisopher

Since it’s January, only barren trees welcomed visitors. It was one of the moments that we thought it would be really beautiful when cherry blossoms bloom in spring.

I found this photo from Japan Guide website. Isn’t this beautiful!

The route is so-named because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for daily meditation. It was more quite than Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka with less souvenir stores. Although it became a bit more touristy than the time when prof. Kitaro enjoying taking walk along this way, I would love to take a walk at least several times a week around here.

After half an hour walk along this path, we got to Ginkakuji-temple



japanese garden



Entering the temple, the quintessential ¬†Japanese Garden was waiting for visitors. I thought it was more like Buddhist temple but I felt it would be a good place to meditate walking through this garden. ¬†In fact, Ginkakuji-temple(“Temple of the Silver Pavilion”) is more Zen temple.¬†Ginkaku-ji was originally built to serve as a place of rest and solitude for the Shogun. During his reign as Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa inspired a new outpouring of traditional culture, which came to be known as Higashiyama Bunka (the Culture of the Eastern Mountain). Having retired to the villa, it is said Yoshimasa sat in the pavilion, contemplating the calm and beauty of the gardens.



Even these simple strokes depicting a mountain is quintessentially Eastern.


Behind the garden, there is a small hill. On the way to the top of the hill, you can see this cute waterfall in a pond. Japanese garden often describes the miniature of nature and it’s the perfect example.


There were a lot of tall bamboo tress as well. My sister and I were thinking “well, maybe we can skip Arashi-yama” after watching this.

ginkakuji view

It’s the view from the top of the hill. As you can see, Kyoto is surrounded with layers of mountain and it’s hard to spot tall buildings. As Kyoto is symbol of traditional city in Japan, Japanese people don’t build skyscrapers in this city.


Actually, these trees are relatively short ones. Using different angles, it looks like bushy forest with full of moss. Moss is usually overlooked grass for most of the people, but I think Japanese people know how to appreciate the small beauty of moss that they smartly used moss to decorate as a background.

After looking around, we checked the time. It was around 3:45. Most of famous spots closes around 5 and we wanted to see one more in Kyoto. We heard Kinkaju doesn’t take a long time to look around and it’s not very far from where we were so our next destination was Kinkaku- ji.


I know it sounds really similar with Ginkaku-ji but it means different. Ginkaku-ji means “Temple of the Silver¬†Pavilion” and Kinkaku-ji is “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”. When I was in high school, one of my classmates told me “Kinkaku-ki” is kind of so-so and not many things to look around. As some Japanese novelists appreciate the beauty of Kinkaku-ji, I was curious and wanted to see it in person. Unlike Ginkaku-ji, the way to the temple wasn’t really long at all. The photos of Kinkaku-ji often have more reputation as Japanese architects than other temples so it was quite crowded with people from many parts of the world.

Kikaku ji

Yup, this is it! When we got there, the weather became cloudy but you can see the golden temple is quite shiny. Like Ginkaku-ji, Kinkaku-ji was also¬†the retirement villa of the shogun in 1397. It’s different shoguns, by the way. But Ashikaga family must have loved retirement villa with trees. Plus, it’s interesting to see personal taste of the villa.


Fushimi Inari Shrine


Unlike many destinations in Kyoto, the shrine is located the south of Kyoto central station. We headed back to Kyoto station from Kinkaku-ji and the bus was completely packed. It was lucky for us to get seats in the bus for 30 minutes. It is very similar what I saw in Seoul during rush hour.

Anyway, in order to go to the shrine, you should take the Nara line toward Joyo and took off at Fushimi Inari station. It only takes two stations.

From our plan, we left this place as the last destinations in Kyoto as it opens 24 hour. But it wasn’t crowded as it’s very dark outside.

fushimi inari

<Small temple near the entrance of the shrine> 

When you get there, you will see many fox statues. In Japanese indigenous religion, fox is a messenger.

fushimi inari night

<The shrine at night>

Plus, it was really scary for me that my phone suddenly turned off because of the low battery and my sister’s phone was running out of battery as well so¬†we didn’t spend here for a long time. This red structure(torii) continues to the top of the mountain and it takes two hours to the mountain according to the information from the shrine. Family name and the time they built torii are carved for each torii.

There only a few people on the way in the dark and this place gave atmosphere as if there are many spirits wandering around.It was a little scary reminding of haunting Japanese movie but it was also a good chance to enjoy this place without surrounding with other tourists.  I imagined it would be perfect when we visit here during sunset. After walking a little bit, we went down to go back to Kyoto station.

It’s dinner time and we were hungry after walking whole day. It’s time to say good bye to Kyoto. Kyoto for day trip was short but we are happy that we managed to see almost all the tourist attraction that we wanted to go. Besides going to the sightseeing place, Kyoto is a place where walking random streets are another joy.

Day trip in Kyoto(1)-Kiyomizu-dera

If you want to experience Old Japan atmosphere, Kyoto is the best fit for you! My sister and I went to Osaka & Kyoto from January 6th and January 10th this year. As my sister wants to see more cosmopolitan atmosphere in Japan, she wasn’t interested in visiting Kyoto as much as I was. However, after this day trip, she also fell in love with Kyoto.

I recommend to spend at least one night. There are many attractions that Kyoto offers! Kyoto would be beautiful in any season but I wish I could visit there again in Spring when there are a lot of cherry blossoms.

As we planned a day trip, we had to be efficient as possible. So we left our airbnb place in Osaka around 7am. We took the train from Shin Osaka station for about one hour. It was not bullet train so it was a good chance to see suburban area around Osaka and Kyoto. After arriving at Kyoto Central station, we got Kyoto bus pass for one day and it costs¬†Y500.¬†In Kyoto, although there’s a subway, the most convenient way to explore is taking bus. Our first destination is Kiyoumizu-dera and the bus heading there was really crowded with tourists.


We took the bus for 15 minutes and got to the street heading to the destination. You have to walk a bit to go to the Kiyomizu-dera temple. The old streets to Kiyomizudera are called Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. 


<Sannen-zaka-there are a lot of souvenir shops and snack bars>


<Random streets along the way>

Sannen-zaka and ninnen-zaka are full of shops with pretty Japanese souvenirs and snacks and it was so tempting that we wanted to get all the stuffs!

Then, we got to Kiyomizu-dera!


This would be one of the first buildings that you will encounter after you passed the entrance. It’s quite interesting to see the way they painted the temple buildings. Usually,¬†Koreans don’t paint wooden part of the building in buddiest temple in this orage-ish color. It was a little strange for me but it also very distinctive, or different from other countries in East Asia.


On the side part of the temple, you can also see there are some indigenous Japanese culture ingrained with Buddhist culture. In the first picture,  you can see traditional Japanese shrine entrance. In the second picture, there is a small spot that you can pray for your well-being and there are two foxes instead of buddism statue.

kiyo3This is inside of the main hall in the temple. It might be the oldest architect in the temple. So, I was curious how old Kiyomizu-dera is. What I found about it is that Kiyomizu-dera is about 1,200 years old! According to what I googled, Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the early Heian period in 778 and its present buildings were constructed in 1633, ordered bythe third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. Believe it or not,there is not a single nail used in the entire structure. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water.

In Kiyomizu-dera, there were a lot of young Japanese people wearing Kimono,traditional Japanese garment. I used to have Korean traditional outfit when I was really young but now I don’t have it. Someday, I would wanna walk around old part of Seoul wearing the traditional outfit.


This is how main building looks like. There is an interesting story about this building.¬†The popular expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression “to take the plunge”.This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one’s wish would be granted. 234 jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. I was a little bit tempted to try to make my wishes come true but the practice is now prohibited.



And here is the picture taken in November from Wikipedia. Maple trees really go well with this building! Unluckily, this perfect spot is now under construction so I had to take the picture of it in different angle.


from below

On the way down back to Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka, you can see how building were able to be constructed without single nails.



Along the way down, there was a water fountain. A lot of people from many parts of the world were queuing to drink some sips of this water. ¬†You know, who doesn’t want to be lucky? I guess that is one of the most universal aspects.



Then, my sister and I met these three cute stone family with cute red aprons. And the middle one got a red hat,too! What a fashionista ūüôā

We arrived back to Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka and we had some souvenir shopping time. Afterward, we headed to Gion street for lunch.


[To be continued]

[Travel]Afternoon walk in Seoul, Gangbuk

Every city has its competing districts, whether it’s East and West London, Brooklyn and Manhattan, or Left Bank and Right Bank. Seoul is divided along the Hangang River, which splits the city into Gangnam, south of the river, and Gangbuk, north of the river. If you like skyscrapers, hustle-and-bustle of the city, modern buildings with young people, Gangnam is good(yeah, Gangnam of Gangnam style). But if you want to escape from those loudness and explore more old side of Seoul, Gangbuk has advantage over Gangnam. I personally prefer Gangbuk when I get older.

In Gangbuk, the most popular part would be Gwanghwamun, where has been the center of big people gathering like the most recent protests against the former Korean president.¬†Gwanghwamun was first constructed in 1395 as the main gate to Gyeongbok Palace, the main and most important royal palace during the Joseon Dynasty. So behind Gwanghwamun, you can visit Gyeongbok Palace which was the main palace for Chosun dynasty lasting for 500 years. You can also see the mountain in the picture and it’s¬†Bukak-san(san means mountain).¬†The reason why the palace is located¬†at this spot is because of Feng-shui and the best place for King is where there’s a river in front of the palace and the mountain behind the palace.And actually, the US embassy is right across from Gwanghwamun.


One of the most popular tourist attractions near Gwanghwa-mun is watching Royal Guard Changing performance. It’s not real royal guard like the UK Buckingham palace but it’s an interesting thing to watch and observe how Korean tradional outfits look like.

In front of Gwanghwamun, there is a big square and you can see bronze status sitting on the chair and he is “King Sejong”. He ¬†invented modern Korean characters ‘Han Gul’ when most Koreans were illiterate and only elite can write Chinese old characters. Now modern Koreans appreciate his effort and decision to create our own unique characters and he is the most admired figure in Korea. Then, there is another statue standing watching all the busy traffics in Seoul nowadays and he was a naval commander who defeats Japanese army invading Korea, Yi Sun Shin. He is also one of the most respected figures in Korea as well. ¬†Erecting two most respected figures in Gwanghwamun shows how this place has been symbolic to Koreans. FYI,you can see King Sejong in 10,000 Won paper bill and Yi sun Shin in 100 Won coin.



When you are meandering around Gwanghwamun, you can also find these cute and picturesque buildings. It’s not drawing of the stair, it’s a real stair. Looks like something you’ll see in Alice in Wonderland.

There are also a lot of decent art museums and galleries around this area. Here are some of my recommendations.

  1. Sejong Center Chamber Hall
    Address: 175 Sejong-daero, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
    It’s very close to Gwanghwa mun. It’s one of the biggest chamber halls in Korea and there are decent quality of music performances and art exhibitions.
    Sejong stairs
  2. Seoul Museum of Art
    Address:61 Deoksugung-gil, Seosomun-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
    I didn’t talk about this area in this blog post but the street around this area is really pretty. It’s quite close to Duk-su gung which is another palace. (I should’ve taken more photos). It mainly exhibits Western art.
  3. Daelim Museum
    Address:21 Jahamun-ro 4-gil, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
    It’s not widely popular but it has some avid fans. It mostly exhibits modern fashion and photographys. It’s a tiny building for museum and will take 1-2 hours to see all the paintings or photographs.

<Daelim Art Museum>

4. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea

Address: 30 Samcheong-ro, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

It’s a good place to enjoy contemporary Korean artists’ artworks.


One of the most fun things to do when it comes to explore cities is exploring side streets. When you go to side streets near Gwanghwa-mun(walking to west direction) , you will be able to find these old style houses that are hard to find in Gangnam area.


Then, I happened to find this place after 20-30 minutes walk from Gwanghwa-mun: Suseong dong Valley at the foot of Inwang mountain.



During the rapid growth and industrialization of the area, the scene on the side of the mountain had been covered over with an apartment building in 1971 and wasn‚Äôt viewed again for more than 30 years. Upon razing the¬†building a stone bridge was uncovered and the city, which had bought the land back for reclamation, decided to turn the area back into the beautiful natural scene that Gyeomjae Jeong Seon had first painted in the early 18th century(the last picture). There are not many foreign tourists coming here but there are more locals taking walk around the loop of the valley. I think it’s hidden spot that might get popular in future.

I visited here in summer before and I have only one photo at the same spot I took in winter. Much more green!


I was tired of walking so I decided to take small bus going around this area. So, I headed to Samchung-dong where there are a lot of cute cafes and vintage stores.  There are a lot of pretty murals in Samchung dong.


cafegrow deepsamchungdong

samchung skirt

samchung olaf

<And Olaf with Cabernet Sauvignon>

While walking along the street in Samchung dong, you can see stairs and that’s the way you can go to Bukchon.¬†Bukchon Hanok Village is a Korean traditional village¬†in Seoul¬†with a long history located among palace areas.¬†The traditional village is composed of lots of tradional Korean houses,Hanok ¬†and is preserved to show a 600-year-old urban environment. Now it is used as a traditional culture center and hanok restaurant allowing visitors to experience the¬†old atmosphere. There are some guest houses so it’s a good opportunity to experience the life of people in older era but more convenient manner.

old house2old househills hanokhanik

hanok door


There are some local people living in those houses so be careful not to be loud.

After a walk, I hang out with my old friend living around this area and had dinner together. It was winter so sunset was quite early so we also got to enjoy night view in Samchung-dong. Nice couple picture.


Night at samchung dong