Budapest, Hungary ( anUNESCO Heritage Site)

Budapest,  the capital city of Hungary sits on the Danube with Buda part of the city on the west bank and the Pest part of the city on the east bank.  It is one of the large city in the European Union.  The Pest part of the city is on flat land but the Buda side is on the hills.  They are connected by the Chain Bridge and the White Bridge or Elizabeth Bridge and 5 other bridges.

Below is the night scene of the bridges.

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The White Bridge  and the Liberty Bridge over the Danube River

Budapest has 80 geothermal springs and the largest underground thermal water cave system.  This is why there are a lot of public bath houses here.

 

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One of the famous bathhouse in Budapest along the Danube on the Buda side of the Liberty Bridge.

Being a major city during the Roman Empire as well as the Ottoman Empire and then became the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  It was the center of cultural exchange since ancient time so one will find a blend of the finest of east and the west.  Especially in its architectural style.

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City Park

On Castle Hill of the Buda side is named Fisherman’s Bastion, due to the fact that this stretch of the Danube used to be protected by the fishermen’s guild in the Middle Ages.  The terrace on top of the Castle Hill has a panoramic view of the Danube River, Pest part of the city, Margaret Island, and Gellert Hill.

Here is the view from Castle Hill.

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The Great Market Hall built in 1896 at Fovam Square near Liberty Bridge.  It is the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest.

Scenes from the indoor market

 

 

I wonder if they sell horse meat here or Hungarian wine. Whatever the mural is interesting.

 

 

 

Too cold for ice bar but we had delicious hot apple cider here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The market leads to Vaci Street, the famous street for pedestrians.  It has a variety of shops and restaurants but walking in a -4 degree Centigrade temperature only resulted in 2 pictures, that was after I had a deliciously warm cup of apple cider.

Budapest is a beautiful city by day, but by night the banks of Danube becomes spectacular.

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Alishan National Forest in Taiwan (阿里山)

Alishan National Forest an area of approximately 415 square kilometers  is located in Chiayi County.  It is a resort and tourist area with good quality of mountain trail for hiking.  Excellent quality of fresh air with fragrance from the famous cypresses known for this area.  It is said that the fragrance has a calming effect on the nerves that it would settle the mind during the day and promote sleep during the night.  I think I can attest to that.

Alishan’s climate is versatile, it can change momentary so a light rain proof jacket is recommended.  It is because of this versatility, one can see a massive amount of drifting clouds, layer upon layer ever-changing making lots of wonderful picturesque scene of nature. 

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Dawn from Yushan, neighboring mountain which is also the highest mountain of Taiwan very good for professional mountain hikers.

In addition, there are a lot of beautiful rare birds acclimatized to this area which makes Alishan a good place for bird watching as well.

 

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I was told that this is one type of  song birds

In the summer, Alishan has cherry blossoms along with many wild beautiful flowers making Alishan one of the top choice for photographers.   But most people come here to be infused in the cypress forest air.

 

It was during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan that mass logging for the precious cypress in Alishan started.  The Japanese build a railway just for moving the logs down the mountain.  It was estimated 300,000 yellow cypress was cut down.  Therefore there is no yellow cypress in Alishan over 100 years old.

Any giant trees that are left are all of the red cypress variety.  The yellow cypress was chosen over the red cypress is because the yellow cypress is solid while the red cypress has cracks inside making it not as solid and prone for disease cause by bacteria and mold.  I guess sometimes imperfection is an advantage.  One can see a lot of cypress grew out of the dead cypress and they call these second generation cypress.  Each one of these second generation cypress has a unique form which is open for imaginations.

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This is actually a third generation cypress which is a new cypress took root on second generation cypress and in turn the second generation cypress took root on the first generation cypress.

The Alishan Forest train left by the Japanese would take you up the mountain to greet the sun in the morning.  If your lucky, you will be able to see the sunset from the top of your hotel.  They can be both exuberant and  beautiful.

We made a stop at Fenqihu (奮起湖) , an old town midway up Alishan where workers use to replenish their supplies.  Due to the destruction by typhoons, these days, this is the last stop for trains going up Alishan.  There is a museum of old trains for visitors in town.  However, we stopped for the famous old railroad lunch box.

Along the way down Alishan, another good place to stretch your legs is Chukou Village.  You will appreciate the stop due to the winding road of the mountain which was finished in 1980

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A mountain view of the  winding Alishan highway with it’s open tunnel finished in 1980.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yungang Grottoes (雲岡石窟)

On the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain of Datong is Yungang Grottoes.  For 1 kilometer along the mountain were 53 caves and about 51,000 sandstone statues.  The Grottoes were started around 450 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-354).  The sculptures were heavily influenced by the Indian Buddhist art incorporated with the Chinese culture and the social features of that time. Not all caves were open to the public.  While we were there, a number of caves were closed for restorations.

The entrance park designed in accordance to the artwork found on the cave walls of Yungang Grottoes.

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A typical architect of the Wei Dynasty

 

 

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Sandstone caves.  These are either windows or entrance way.  Many served as temples for cultivation.

This is cave #20.  Although this giant Sakyamuni Buddha is exposed outside for all to see, it was once inside a cave when it was first built like the other caves with windows and entrance way.   Due to the window opening damaged the structure’s support stone over the doorway, the front of the cave collapsed shortly after it was built.  But, there is always a silver lining to this calamity, this Giant White Buddha exposed became the main feature of Yungang Grottoes.

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The big Sakyamuni Buddha, a perfect person.  One can see the influence of Indian Buddhist art here. Notice the intricate carvings behind the Buddha.

Cave 1 and 2, which are dual caves in stupa form.  In the middle of the Cave #1 is the stupa like column of 5.75 meters in height.

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square stupa like a pillar of cave #1

 

Around the cave were more carvings depicting the Buddha stories and other Buddhas.

Interconnected cave #2 also has a square stupa like column support of approximately 6 meters high.

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square stupa like a pillar in cave #2

Surrounding it were also more Buddha stories and Buddha carvings.

One can see these art relics are heavily eroded by nature.  Yungang Grottoes are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.

Cave #3 is the largest cave of Yungang Grottoes.  It is an unfinished cave which is lucky for us because it left indications of how they were made from the top first then continue down the cave.

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Main Buddha,  Amitabha Buddha

Cave #5  and #6  are another dual cave and are one of the richest.  The cave entrance is covered with eaves which made it look like a temple from the outside.  We were told that originally, every cave entrance has these eaves built extended from the cave.  This one was reconstructed during the Qing Dynasty.

 

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Temple-like eaves extended from the front of the Dual Cave #5 and #6

Inside the cave are covered with painted carvings.  In the center is a large column reaching 15 meters high into the ceiling.  Top of the caves were carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and celestial beings.  On the column were carved with stories of the life of Buddha Sakyamuni.  Around the bottom portion of the wall were carved with stories from the scriptures.  The painting was done many times over by each Dynasty so it would be hard to identify the original color scheme.

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The upper level of the center column against the backdrop of the walls of carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and celestial beings.

The lower level of the column depicting the life of Buddha Sakyamuni.

One needs to spend a lot more time to study these cave carvings.  These are only a minute few just to tickle your interest.

We can see from the outside through the window of Cave #18

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Outside of Cave #19

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You can see what a herculean effort would be required to maintain and restore these treasured relics.

The Wood Pagoda of Ying County, Shanxi

The  Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple (佛宮寺釋迦塔)

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Observe the 2nd level.  It is a little tilted, but still standing strong

This wooden pagoda was built by Liao Emperor Daozong(遼道宗耶律洪基)  in around 1056 at his grandmother’s home town.  The pagoda sits on stone platform of 13 ft. and the pagoda itself is 207 ft tall.  Add together is 220 ft tall.  It is the oldest completely wooden pagoda in China, without even a nail, standing on its own for million years.  It has survived at least 7 earthquakes.  This octagonal pagoda appears to have 5 levels but it actually have 9 levels because hidden from outside view are four mezzanine levels.   Its structure is an architecture wonder worth further studies.

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A closer look at the eaves shows how it spread the weight of the beams.
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This plaque on the third level, carved “The Pagoda of Sakyamuni” was carved in Jin Dynasty (1194) to date about 800 years old.

Many Buddha statues are in each level of the pagoda.  On the first floor, of course, is Buddha Sakyamuni sitting of the lotus.  The statue is 11 meters tall.

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Legend has it that there used to be 8 local devils who caused havoc here.  Buddha Sakyamuni transformed himself into a handsome scholar who bet the 8 devils that they could not lift him up.  The devils tried but was forever stranded under his lotus pedestal.

For the 20 centuries the Pagoda stands, it only required 10 minor repairs, but the last repair done in 1974 was more extensive than the previous due to the 200  more rounds of ammunition fired by the Japanese soldiers into the pagoda during the second Sino-Japanese War.  However, during this repair, ancient Liao’s Tripitaka, block printing and hand written scripts were found along with a Buddha tooth and other ancient relics.

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Block printing of the Liao Dynasty  in the year 1003

 

A Section of the Great Wall in Guangwu(廣武)

The Ruins of the Great Wall

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A panoramic view from the foot of the Great Wall looking down the north side towards the nomads territory in ancient times

The Great Wall scatters in the northern region of Shanxi.  They were built as an important military outpost to prevent the nomads from the north from invading China in the south.  During the Waring States (475-221 BC), each kingdom built its own section of the wall until Qin Dynasty, it gets connected as a single  Great Wall.  further constructions and restorations made to the Great Wall were by all the subsequent dynasties that follows til finally its use became obsolete during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  Due to its disuse, its been neglected.  The Wall has fallen by natural erosion and from World War II during the Japanese invasion.  The province of Shanxi is trying to preserve parts that is still relative standing but the project is massive.  We visited the Guangwu section of the Great Wall which showed the part of the wall that has not been recently repaired, revealing how it was originally built.

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the foot of the wall at Guangwu Section
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The view from below .  One can see far away above the mountain a section of the Great Wall
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looking down from the foot of the Great Wall at Guangwu Section.

One can see the original building materials of the time.  It does not consist any metals, steels or any cement.  Only the local yellow mud grass and grains for the inner wall which they said were first steamed so it won’t decay or invade by insects.   The it was sealed with outer wall of stone and mud bricks also steamed before applied.  This section of the Great Wall is not far from Yanmenguan (雁門關).  Guangwu section is where the once famous Moon Gate stands but unfortunately it collapsed on the night of  Oct. 3rd, 2016.

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This wall will reach ultimately to Beijing and each post would send fire message if an invasion occurred.

Luyashan (芦芽山) Mountain Ningwu ice cave of Shanxi

Million Years Ice Cave

Entrance to the ice cave. The trees were green

This ice cave is on Lu-ya Mountain. It’s entrance is located at an altitude of 2300 above sea level.  This ice cave is naturally maintained at a temperature of -4 degree centigrade.  The temperature is not affected by the temperature outside.  In fact the ice cave is open to the public only from May to October.  The cave estimated to be formed 3 million years ago and because of it’s bowling pin shape kept the outside air out.  The cave is 278 ft. deep and the width is between 32 ft. to 65 ft.  This wondrous ice cave believe it or not actually has an inactive volcano not far behind it.  Inside the cave is a sight to behold.

 

GuanYin Tang in JianJie, Shanxi

GuanYin Tang of JianJie

There is a little temple rarely known in rural JianJie, Shanxi Province of China.  This little temple is only 350 square meters but contains a huge amount of statuettes, carvings of the Ming Dynasty.  Presently, the temple is under the protection of Shanxi Province Arts and Culture Heritage.  Therefore, cameras were prohibited inside.  The temple is locked up majority of the time.  If you knock, the doorman would open for you to visit.

The entrance to the temple grounds which is approximately 7500 sq. meters

The main temple, GuanYin Tang was build from 1581 to 1583 during the Ming Dynasty.

The name plaque is a work of Gao Qin, Assistant minster of Ministry of War in Ming Dynasty
The right cypress

The two, thousand year-old cypress guarding the GuanYin Temple.  Inside the temple contains carving and statuettes hanging from the ceilings.  The three main Statues facing the door is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Manjshri Bodhisattva and Samanabhadra Bodhisattva.  Covering the walls from top to bottom are carvings including 18 Arhats, 24 levels of heavens, 12 Prayekabuddha.  One can also find statuette of immortals of Taoism and 72 virtuous individuals.  Above the entrance, one can see three statues of Laozi, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Confucius.

Confucious, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Laozi

There are a total of 500 statuette ranging from 2 meters to 2 millimeters plus intricate carvings are truly a treasure trove.

This village temple, although small but still made room for different religions, shown that even during Ming Dynasty, people respect different religious beliefs and teachings.