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Archives for June 2013

Berlin, Germany: History Fun Facts

One of the first things I noticed in Berlin is most of the taxi cabs are Mercedes. To us from the states, this is pretty sweet. But, when I saw a garbage truck and its emblem was Mercedes, it’s just the standard here. After resting up for a few hours, we were off and ready to go on a private tour with Johann.

He explained as we were driving to our first destination that while most of the Berlin wall was taken down, there are dark stripes on the ground to indicate where the wall used to stand, which you can see here.

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We came to our first stop and Johann showed us these pipes above ground. The explanation? These are to move water through the city. It’s above ground because when Berlin experiences cold winters, the ground freezes and could cause the pipes to crack. Therefore, they hang out above ground. Added bonus? It’s pink =P

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Nearby this, we got to see for ourselves how Berlin is mixing the old and the new together with buildings. The old buildings (middle) is being flanked by newer buildings. Pretty neat.

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Back into the car again as we made our way over to the government buildings, we pass by some Christmas markets and also some original buildings that were part of East Berlin.

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Moving on to more government buildings, we drove around the Reichstag building and what I found most interesting is the dome above the building. You can have a 360 degree view of Berlin if you’re up there. That’s only available if parliament isn’t in session. Also, I think you need to be part of a tour group to visit/be on the visitor’s list.

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The following pictures are more government buildings. In the 2nd photo below, there’s a flag pole which showed that the prime minister of Great Britain was there.

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Another interesting fact is you can tell whether you’re in East or West Berlin by the train/tram lines. If you see them, you’re on the east side. The west side stopped using them in the 1960’s.

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Our guide showed us this beautiful piece of architecture, the Berlin Cathedral. Note: this is actually a Protestant church, but its facade is that of an ornate Catholic church.

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Beside the cathedral is the Atles Museum, which I wished we had more time to walk through. It houses the Prussian royal art collection. Art nerds – this is a total gem =)

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Moving away from that area, we came across Humboldt University, one of the oldest universities in Berlin.

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Going down the same street, you reach the Brandenburg Gate, which used to be the city gate and the area surrounding the gate was prominent in media coverage of when the wall came down.

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Alongside the history, we bypass the Tiergarten, which is now a public park. It used to be a hunting ground, likely for the royal family.

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To end on a positive note, we have here the victory column which represents unity throughout Germany.

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Happy travels friends

 

Tokyo, Japan: Around the Town

If you do have a chance to check out any local food markets or grocery stores when you’re visiting another place, I find it to be one of the best ways to immerse yourself into the culture – complete with food you’re familiar with in different packaging, labels you don’t understand, and likely some produce you’ve never really seen.

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This store also had a bakery and an over the counter hot/cold food section.

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Switching gears – the transportation system, particularly the trains, were simple to use and get around. At least the one we used to get to and from the airport made it seem like that. There were multiple monitors throughout each train car.

It flips through different maps showcasing information of the route the train is going. It’s really helpful for people visiting… like us! These pictures were taken when we just got to Tokyo, and took the train headed to Shibuya.

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This train was relatively clean too.

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When you return back to the airport, use the Narita Express and you’ll find you’re way back there. Once you get onto the airport grounds, just follow the signs (they’re in english) and navigate through the hallways, escalators/stairs, or elevators make your way to your airline departure area. Easy peasy.

Once you’re at the airport, check out the duty free shop or other stores to get your last fill of Japan… even if that just means Hello Kitty galore.

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Or take home some delicious goodness… like green tea Kit Kats… my fave! Though, I’m a little sad because I ate these way to fast when I got home. Only means I need to go back to get a refill =P

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Keep experiencing life! Happy travel friends =)

Toyko, Japan: The Oldest Temple in Tokyo

In Asakusa, we made our way to Sensō-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Throughout this district, there are still traditional homes, which is saying something considering the bombing of Japan during the war. Here we are at the entrance gate, also known as the “thunder gate”. On each side of the entrace sits the god of wind and god of thunder. These gods protect the temple grounds.

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On the way to the temple, we passed by rows of small shops and restaurants (about 75-100 in total on the temple grounds).

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Here is a view taken from the temple looking back at a few of the shops. 
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Standing before us is the oldest temple in Tokyo.

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There is a well-like structure in the middle of the “courtyard” before you reach the temple with smoke coming out. Our guide told us that people believe it to have healing power. For example, if you had an injured body part, you would fan the smoke over it to aid in its healing. There were quite a few people who were fanning this smoke on them.

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Inside the temple, there was a service going on, along with some drumming. Check out the video. It also helps to explain more of the Buddhist practice.

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The clinging sound you hear in the video are coins people are throwing into the “offer box”, which is the slotted box in the forefront of the video. After people toss their coins in, they take a step back from where they are standing and then bow. It is their way showing a sign of respect (within the religion itself) and to Kannon, the goddess of this temple. Here is a representation of the goddess in a painting on the ceiling.

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There is another practice of which I found interesting. You can receive a fortune. First you pay the amount into a seperate offer box. Then, there is a wooden box filled with sticks, each with a number on it. The stick that comes out after you shake it (it’s a small hole allowing only one stick to come out) is the number drawer you find on the wall and that has your fortune on it.

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If it is a good fortune, you hold on to it. If it is a bad fortune, you tie it on one of these strings (just as this woman is doing) and the wind will remove the bad luck.

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Soak in all the culture. Happy travels friends.