Hiroshima: Heartbreaking and beautiful

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Hiroshima Peace Park

There wasn’t all that much on my must-see list in Hiroshima, but what there was meant a lot: the Peace Park and Peace Museum. I also wanted to see Hiroshima Castle, but it’s a simple fact that all pales beside the remembrances of the dropping of the A-bomb on this city.

The park is an easy walk from our hotel, the Japanese business hotel Daiwa Roynet Hiroshima which is part of the Daiwa Roynet chain. It was super-conveniently located to the #1 tram from the train station (a 1-minute walk from the nearest stop), and an easy walk to the Peace Park. It was also just what I had I mind to complement our other Japanese lodgings: We’d done an upscale American chain, a Japanese apartment…now it was time for a typical Japanese hotel.

The Daiwa Roynet Hiroshima did not disappoint: Our welcome could not have been friendlier, although English was minimal. Since the skies had opened up yet again just as we arrived, we were offered two small towels at check-in in addition to those in the room; very handy for drying off ourselves and our luggage. We were also give our choice from a box of amenities including bath salts, a body sponge and various hair bands and clips for women. More amenities awaited–of course–in the room: toothbrush and toothpaste, foldable brushes, pressed night shirts that reach demurely to mid-shins on me, but are much more interesting on David’s 6’3″ frame. Our room is a compact, but well-equipped double-bed space with a fridge and Japanese satellite t.v. (I’m despondent that the sumo tournament has just come to an end! I love following sumo when in Japan and had been watching avidly in Kyoto.)

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum spans the entrance to the Hiroshima Peace Park. It’s a simple, but deeply moving memorial to what the dropping of a nuclear weapon means in human terms. [The museum is 200 yen/adult (appx. $2). The park is free.] Viewing clothing and other personal effects of the victims, along with twisted metal girders and roof tiles; fused glass; preserved biological specimens of scarred tissue, hair and even the finger skin and fingernail of a boy saved by his mother to show his father who had been away; and photo after photo of destruction and horribly burned human bodies left me feeling sick to my stomach. As it should.

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Clock counting days since the A-Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the days since the last nuclear test (sadly, only 17 days)
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Girders warped by the bomb
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Fused Japanese roof tiles

When you buy your ticket to the museum, you’re given post cards made from recycled paper cranes that people gift to the museum. You can buy stamps at the museum shop and you’re encouraged to write and share your thoughts after visiting the museum.

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Mementos of Obama’s visit, the first sitting U.S. president to do so: a note wishing for peace and origami cranes folded by the president in memory of a girl who died of radiation-induced leukemia

Outside the museum, we wandered the park with its many memorials: to children, to Koreans pressed into service by the Japanese, to the tens and tens of thousands of victims. There’s the mound where bodies were cremated as they began to stink in that hot August, and the peace bell, and the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, popularly known as the A-Bomb Dome which was 600m below and 170m to the southeast of the detonation. Everyone inside died and the building is preserved just as it was immediately after the explosion.

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Memorial Cenotaph with the A-Bomb Dome visible beyond
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Childrens’ Memorial with girl on top holding a crane, representing Sadako, a girl exposed to the bomb at two who died 10 years later of leukemia (She folded 1000 origami cranes in the vain belief they would grant her wish to be cured.)

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Chains of origami cranes at the Childrens’ Memorial

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Memorial Mound where bodies of A-Bomb victims were cremated and ashes interred

There’s also a Memorial Hall to the dead on the park grounds. Entry is free and there are videos and photos to memorialize the dead. Fountains grace the inside and downstairs of the Hall because so many of the vicims plead for water before they died. Much of the park is intended to offer peace and rest to the souls of the dead.

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The A-Bomb Dome
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Close-up of the rubble of the A-Bomb Dome

After the Peace Park, we made our way to Hiroshima Castle. Destroyed in by the A-Bomb, of course, the medieval castle has been charmingly restored and was a fun break from the somberness of the morning. The long defensive building outside the inner moat is free to explore and offers models of the castle as well as photos depicting how a Japanese castle is built. It’s 360 yen to enter the castle itself, but the exhibits of samurai swords, videos, the tower view, and the opportunity to try on samurai armor are all fun and well worth it.

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Outer moat and defensive wing of Hiroshima Castle
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Koi in the castle oat with a eucalyptus tree that survived the A-Bomb
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View from the top of Hiroshima Castle of the green dome of the sports arena and the A-Bomb Dome to the left of the arena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip to Spectacular Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

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A beautiful day in Montenegro is a great time for another road trip! This time we had our sights set on the locally-renowned Ostrog Monastery, a 2+ hour drive away. Once again our AirBnB host, Bojan, proved worth his weight in gold. When I asked about possible road closures in light of all the road work we’d seen on the way to Albania, he called the local traffic authority and got back to me with invaluable information: a major bridge and sole access to the monastery from Kotor would be closed for two 2-hour stints, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The bridge was an hour and twenty minutes into our journey. Armed with that knowledge, we timed our drive to arrive a scant 5-10 minutes before the bridge reopened after the morning closure. Thank God we didn’t get up early just to sit in a line of cars and semi-trucks for two hours wondering what the heck was going on!

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Construction near the Moštanica Bridge. Bojan’s data was right on.

We drove out of Kotor in the opposite direction from our previous trips to Lovcen Park and Albania, this time heading north and then west along the water through the beautiful little town of Perast with its two small islands sitting just off-shore. One with a church and the other with a monastery. We vowed to try to come back and take a boat out to the church. At the far reaches of the inner bay of Kotor, we turned north onto the P11 and into the mountains. The highway is new and in great shape, offering a beautiful look back at the bay:

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View from the P11

Soon, we were out of sight of water and speeding along the sparsely-trafficked highways through the mountains until we came to the road closure just before the bridge. With that minor delay behind us, we drove over the bridge being treated to the magnificent vista of Slansko Jezero (Slansko Lake) with snow-capped mountains beyond.

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Slansko Jezero

We arrived in the valley below the monastery pretty much in the time expected. Past a small village, we began yet another switchback road leading up to the monastery. The road was in good shape, but once again there were those intentional gaps with a sheer drop off just inches from the pavement. It wasn’t as much of a drop as on the Kotor-Cetinje road, but just as deadly. At least there weren’t any car-caused gaps.

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Starting up the road to the monastery

 

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An early glimpse of Ostrog Monastery built into the sheer wall of the mountain

We reached a larger, more touristy village as the road narrowed. There’s a church and parking there, but we continued up the mountain and were happy to find plenty of parking just outside the monastery. [There are also public toilets at the far end of the parking from the monastery entrance.]

Just to the left as we approached the arches leading to the monastery plaza, we saw Lourdes-like fountains of holy water where people filled flasks or dabbed themselves with healing waters.

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Fonts of holy water
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Mosaic-decorated interior of the entrance arch

Of course, we couldn’t visit the monk’s quarters, but we could visit the church and the balcony above it which boasts several beautiful mosaics as well as a grapevine said to have sprung from the spot where Sveti Vasilije (St. Basil) died in 1671. The grapevine is considered miraculous as appears to grow from stone devoid of any soil.

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View over the valley from the church balcony
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Miraculous grapevine at the place of St. Basil’s death

 

Several yards to the right of the doors of the church is the chapel housing the tomb of St. Basil. Goran, who drove us to Albania, was from Ostrog and had told us how the body of St. Basil is said to be perfectly preserved, that we could see his face, and that people came to his tomb to receive miraculous cures. A monk stands guard over the body of St. Basil, but we were disappointed to see that the saint’s face is covered with a cloth and his hands are encased in gloves. Hmm. Not to be disrespectful, but it’s hard to say whether St. Basil has escaped decomposition or not…or even whether that was his body or just an elaborately-dressed scarecrow.

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There’s a fair-sized gift shop off the main monastery plaza offering religious objects, books, jarred foods and beauty/health products. There’s also a ticket window for busier times, but we were blessed by few other tourists. In fact, the only “admission” was an honor-system minimal payment for small photo calendars set out on a table at the church entrance. There was no one to pay nor anyone to ask questions of, so I hope we did right there…but other visitors seemed to be doing the same thing.

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Monks on the monastery plaza with the entrance arches beyond leading to the parking area

A short way back down the mountain, we stopped to eat at Koliba, a restaurant recommended by Goran. Taking advantage of the glorious weather, we ate outside. The food was excellent and it was a perfect way to spend a little time while we waited for the afternoon bridge/road closing to end.

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Fresh fish, local cheese and grilled vegetables at Koliba (plus favorite local beer Nikšićki)
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Koliba terrace on a slow afternoon

Despite our lazy meal, we still had a little time to kill before the road reopened, so on whim we detoured through farmland at lambing season to follow a small sign indicating a roman bridge nearby. Fun!

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About halfway back to Kotor, an intriguing monument on a large mound near the highway enticed us into another detour to the near-deserted hamlet of Grahovo.

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The monument that lured us to Grahovo
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Abandoned buildings in Grahovo
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Untended memorial blocks on the approach to the monument

The memorial park and monument are/were beautiful, but they’ve fallen into such disrepair. Most of the buildings in town are derelict, but there were a few old men in a run-down café that seemed to be the only functioning business in town. A few older school children went into the park as we left although we did not see their school. It was an odd and moving place even though we could only guess as to what had happened there until we got back to our apartment and wi-fi.

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It turns out that although the town suffered much destruction during World War II, it did survive to create the once-lovely memorial park. Apparently, an earthquake in 1979 dealt the near-fatal blow to the town from which it has never recovered.