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Kyoto, the capital city
Kyoto is possibly Japan’s most important city historically. It was not only the imperial capital of the country for over a thousand years, but also the birthplace of none other than Super Mario. And Nintendo. Yeah, I like Nintendo.
In 2011 I was in Japan shooting the FIFA World Cup of Clubs, which Barcelona F.C. eventually won. I was on my way from Tokyo to Toyota, where one of the matches took place, and stopped for a day trip on Kyoto.
Higashi Honganji Temple 東本願寺
After wandering a bit through the narrow streets in the old part of town, looking for something to shoot I walked into the cutest group of Japanese kids in recorded history. They were on a field trip to temple Higashi Honganji to run around and play with the pigeons.
Dragons in Japanese culture are somewhat of a water god. They are wingless and more like a huge serpent and are said to live in bodies of water close to temples. It very common to see statues of dragons inside temples used as water fountains. For those that like Nintendo, he’s exactly like Gyrados.
The Higashi Honganji temple is headquarters of the Jodo-Shin Sect of Buddhism, one of the biggest in the country. When I visited, they had just covered up two big pavilions for restoration. I heard they recently reopened them.
For lunch I had the famous okonomiyaki お好み焼き. I ordered the one with pork. They cook it right in front of you, so be careful if you're taking your bowl of fish for a walk not to put it on the hot plate on the table (right Commandand Lassard?).
The okonomiyaki was very good and tasty, just like most Japanese food I had. They added these fish flakes that were literally the thinnest slices of meat I have ever seen in my whole life. They were as thin as the skin you peel off your back after a sunburn. I kid you not. They place it on top and it just melts. Just for flavor.
Kosho-Ji Temple 本山興正寺
After filling my belly with delicious Japanese cuisine, I headed to this temple that was built in the late 19th century.
What temple is this?!
From the Kosho-Ji temple I walked south towards the Toji temple. This is before I had a GPS on my camera and I’ve combed through google street walk to find this place. I went through my pics to search for clubes but all I can say is that it was before the train tracks and I took a picture of a green dome that seems to be from some sort of mosque.
Toji Temple 東寺
In the afternoon I headed to the famous Toji Temple, which literally means East Temple. It was built in the late 700s, making it over 1300 years old.
By now the sun was already setting and I had to head back to station because I had a football match to shoot. There is still so much more in Kyoto to see. I didn’t have a chance to visit the royal palace or anything. I need to go back. Soon.
On my way back to the station I peeked in through a stone gate into this peaceful spot. Coincidentally, the character for peace 安 can be seen engraved in the stone block to the right of the frame.
A quick 8 hour visit
In between flights from Brazil to Spain I had 8 hours to spend in Lisbon and I wasn't going to spend it all in the airport. I had been to Portugal only once before when I was 5, so it doesn't really count.
From the airport there is a really nice bus that takes you downtown and back for a few euros. We left our luggage at a deposit at the airport and decided to explore my ancestor's country.
We took the bus directly to the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), on the margin of the rio Tejo (river Tagus). This place is commonly known as Terreiro do Paço, because it was the location of the Paços da Ribeira, the royal palace of Portugal, home to one of the largest libraries in the world and that burned down after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami. Most documents regarding the discovery of Brazil were lost, as were hundreds of paintings.
After a visit to the square we took a tram to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. It is a fantastic monastery built in the 16th century and final resting place to several kings, and most notably to Vasco da Gama, the first to sail from Europe to India, and Luís de Camões, father of the modern Portuguese language.
A short walk from the monastery is the famous Torre de Belém, probably the most famous landmark of Portugal. It was built as a defense tower to protect commerce from the east and Brazil.
On the foothills of the Himalayas there is this tiny Chinese village called Baisha. It is one of the oldest in the region, having its roots in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD) and home to the Naxi people. With its cobblestone streets, fresh air, and ancient constructions, you can almost feel as a fly on the wall watching this traditional Chinese town.
Although Baisha does retain it's small town features, it's barely off the beaten path, a mere 40 minute bike ride (8 Km) from the also ancient but immensely popular tourist destination of Lijiang. So every now and then there is a group of tourists that flock into town to buy stuff and take pictures, like myself.
I spent the night at a fairly decent place for 20 USD per room. There was no heating and at 2400m (7900ft) above sea level it does get pretty chilly at night. I'm used to it, feels like home. The only odd thing was that the bathroom had no door. The only thing diving the person inside from anyone else in the room was a big sheet slit in half hanging over the entrance that looked like a big pair of pants, which made no improvement to sound, visual or scent isolation. On the other hand, getting up at sunrise and being able to see first light shining on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is priceless.
At 7 am there are barely any tourists outside and to me that's when the city is truly alive. In the main square, the butcher drives up and sets ups shop with a freshly slaughtered pig in the back of his van and starts selling his meat. Little by little the locals come up to him buying what they can. First come, first serve. Beside him is a lady with some fruit and vegetables. On the other side, beneath the arch, is the competition, selling more fresh meat and vegetables.
Despite many local residents depending on tourists for their income by selling food and souvenirs, I still was able to see farmers, butchers and cattle herders that seem to live as they would without visits from outside.
In an hour or two, before any tourist arrives and almost as quick as they came, the vendors gather their things to give their place to the souvenir sellers.
Baisha, or 白沙古镇 in Mandarin, means White Sand Ancient Town. The name supposedly came from the color of the sand the village is built upon.
The Naxi people have their own language and even hieroglyph style writing system. In Baisha you can see an ancient temple and mural. This location is where most of the Chinese tour busses go. Usually the Chinese tourists just look at the murals and head back, with only a small portion of them venturing into town.
Unfortunately, this place as many others around the world is succumbing to tourism and losing its aura and authenticity. If you have the chance, visit before it becomes another Disney-like tourist attraction with replicas as so many in China.
Sihanoukville is a coastal city in Cambodia. It's the third largest after Siem Reap and the capital Phnom Penh. Just like so many other cities in the country, it is full of small villages where people live in wooden shacks. Just beside the road, only a few meters from the beach, I found this group of houses.