We arrived at Madaba by a morning bus from Amman. Madaba was a decent sized city during the Byzantine era. Today the town is frequented by tourists enroute to the Dead Sea. There are a number of archaeological sites still under excavation in Madaba. What makes tourists (including us) to stop by Madaba is a 6th century mosaic map depicting the Holy Land of Jerusalem at the Greek Orthodox Church Saint George. We stopped by the archaeological museum briefly to see other pieces of mosaic from the Byzantine era, before heading over to Saint George. The church was packed with tourists, all crowded around the mosaic map of the Biblical World. The mosaic map centered around Jerusalem, with other towns and geographical features such as River Nile, Mediterranean Sea, and Dead Sea, in the surrounding.
After checking out the mosaic map, it was time to get a dip in the salty water of the Dead Sea to get a taste of the floating experience. After some bargaining, we hopped onto a taxi for the Jordanian Dead Sea beaches. From Madaba, our taxi sped through the rough arid landscape towards the waterfront. Along the way, the driver pointed towards the Moses Spring at Mount Nebo and Moses Memorial Church as we passed by the holy sites. At the waterfront, we entered a whole new world of luxury resort hotels. The contrast to what we have seen in other parts of Jordan and Syria was phenomenal. We knew we had arrived at the touristy Dead Sea coast. Our driver dropped us off at Amman Beach Resort. We paid 4 Jordanian Dinar admission for entering the beach. We took our turns swimming in the water. Just for fun, we grabbed a bit of mud and apply it onto our skin, tried the unique floating experience, and took a few typical Dead Sea photos. It was hot and humid at the world’s lowest point 422m below sea level.
As many researchers point out, the Dead Sea is in deep trouble, as less water from Jordan River is feeding the salty inland lake every year. Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel all rely on the area’s limited water resources, such as the Jordan River, for their growing population and agriculture usage. In matter of decades the Dead Sea may disappear altogether. We heard that the Jordanian government is planning to divert the water from the Red Sea to feed the Dead Sea. At the beach, we could clearly see traces of the old water level. Just like seeing the retreating glacier on the Swiss Alps, witnessing the gradual death of the Dead Sea made a huge impact on me. People in the developed nations may never have to worry about their water supply, and understand the alarming situation of the Dead Sea. Sustainable water management in the Dead Sea area is crucial, not only to the survival of millions, but also to the political climate of the region. Successful cooperation of water management offers the basis of peaceful co-existence of the region’s major players. If that fails, dispute fighting over water supply may not be too far away.
The magnificent 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem is the biggest draw for tourists coming to Madaba. (Image: Public Domain)
It was hard to imagine where grazing of the sheep could take place in the arid landscape near the Dead Sea.
The arid landscape at Dead Sea is actually susceptible to flash floods.
The Jordan Rift Valley is a long depression between Israel, Jordan and Palestine. The valley’s lowest spot is the lowest point in the world, located in the Dead Sea at 790m below sea level.
Despite touristy, we amused ourselves in the salty water of the Dead Sea.
Day 8 (1/4).
Many people acknowledge the harmonic relationship between buildings and nature in Japanese architecture. Taking the site’s natural context as design inspirations and the dominating factor for spatial arrangement is popular among modern Japanese architecture, where buildings are sometimes configured according to the site terrain or to a unique relationship with a natural element such as a feature tree or a water body. This respect to nature is quite apparent in the works of Tadao Ando.
On our way to Furano, we tried visiting Ando’s Chapel on the Water but failed to get in because of a private wedding taking place. We decided to return once again when we left Furano. To ensure entry, we managed to arrive at the official time for visit: 06:30 to 07:15. Getting to the chapel in Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム) at 06:30 meaning we had to leave our hotel in Nakafurano at 5am.
We made it to Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム) on time for the 6:30 visiting time slot for Ando’s Chapel on the Water.
We were surprised to find that at least 30 people were already waiting for the staff in the waiting lobby. We were soon led out to a path leading to the concrete enclosure of the chapel.
We walked along the concrete wall of the chapel until reaching an opening into the inner court.
Once we got into the inner court, we finally had our first glimpse of the beautiful chapel architecture and its famous cross in the water.
The entry path continued to the back corner of the chapel, where a flight of stairs led us up to the small semi enclosed platform dominated by the cross concrete members.
From the platform we followed a spiral staircase descending down to the main chapel space.
Used for wedding ceremonies, the chapel is simple and elegant. The prime focus for all visitors is the view of the cross and water pond, which takes the place of the traditional altar piece.
The enormous opening can be shut with the hydraulic powered sliding door.
Once the door is shut, the sound of the moving water would be shut off from the interior.
The staff demonstrated the closing and opening of the sliding door for us.
Once the door was opened, the interior was filled with the sound of moving water again.
The exterior scenery was peaceful and calming. The boundary between the interior and exterior didn’t seem to exist.
We could sit there for a long time just to take in the peaceful scenery and calming sound of water and birds. We could imagine how the scenery might change in different seasons.
To exit, we followed the spiral staircase to the lower level, passed through a circular space and left the building from its side.
Outside the building, we could see the frame structure housing the track for the sliding door.
Just like the Church of Light, visiting an early work of Tadao Ando is always touching and inspiring. Taking the effects of light, reflections, sounds and water to formulate the spatial qualities of the architecture, seeing his buildings has always been a spiritual experience for us.
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HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)
Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)
Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)
Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)
Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)
Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)
Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)
DAY 4 (2/3): RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.28
After two days of hiking in Kamikochi (上高地), it was time for us to take a dip into one of the famous onsens of the Japanese Alps. Out of the many hotsprings in the region, we picked Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉) because of its unique milky water. “Shirahone” literally means “white bone”, referring to the milky colour of the calcium carbonate rich hot spring water that resembles white bone soup. Shirahone Onsen is located at the eastern side of Mount Norikura (乗鞍岳) in the Northern Japanese Alps, in a secluded resort village tucked away from the country road between Matsumoto and Takayama. Public transportation to Shirahone Onsen remains scarce throughout the day, as most local visitors would go by their own cars.
We took a 8:25am bus from Kamikochi to Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal and National Park Gate, where we switched bus for Shirahone Onsen.
The Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal and National Park Gate serve as an access hub for Kamikochi visitors. Due to the restrictions on private cars and tour buses, many would park their car in Sawando and hop on a shuttle bus for Kamikochi.
From Sawando (沢渡) Bus Terminal, our local bus drove along a river gorge and through a series of tunnels before reaching Shirahone Onsen. We get off at right at the village entrance. Time was still too early to check in at our ryokan. We dropped down our backpacks at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館) and ventured outside hoping to tour around the village and grab a bite.
Looking down to the gorge from the main village road, we were disappointed to discover the damaged public onsen bath. Probably damaged by local flooding, it seemed the public bath would be out of service in the near future.
It was a Monday morning and Shirahone village was extremely quiet. Other than a souvenir shop, almost everything was closed including the tourist office and the main restaurant. We were fortunate to stumble upon Baikoan (煤香庵), a traditional restaurant/ hot spring facility owned by Yumoto Saito Ryokan (湯元齋藤旅館), the oldest ryokan in the village.
The restaurant at Baikoan was not open, though the staff kindly made us coffee and chatted with us for a bit. He told us that outside of summer holidays, most restaurants would be closed on weekdays. All shops and restaurants were having difficulties to find helpers.
The dining hall was filled with interesting objects from the area, including a small “bear”.
Fire pit and hanging iron pot are common household features in the Japanese Alps.
Suggested by the staff, we each rented a towel and tried out their outdoor onsen.
At Baikoan (煤香庵), we each had our first dip into the milky water of Shirahone Onsen, the famous hot spring water with minerals that were said to work wonderful things to the body.
After the hot spring bath, we spent some time wandering in the village, checking out each of the buildings, small shrines, wild flowers, etc.
Near the village entrance, we found a long row of small stone kannons lined along a lush green wall.
The 33 kannons were donated by visitors in the Edo Period who came to Shirahone Onsen for curing their illness.
Right by the main road Route 300, a series of small waterfalls known as Ryujin Falls (竜神の滝) was a little surprise.
Down from Route 300, we descended into a densely vegetated gorge.
At the bottom of the gorge, we walked onto a wooden bridge to photograph a water cascade.
The wooden bridge was quite wet and covered with green moss.
The water cascaded out from a cavern about two hundred meters from the bridge.
Back to the main road, we climbed up a small berm to check out a small Shinto shrine.
Before checking in at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), we stopped by the main village shop to get some snacks and drinks.
* * *
CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)