Hiroshima

While traveling with our children during our family sabbatical, we have combined fun and entertaining activities with enriching, educational opportunities. During our travel in Japan, we visited Hiroshima, the location of the first atomic bombing on 6 August 1945.  At that time, Hiroshima was a city of 350,000. 



After arriving, we made our way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We first went to the A-Bomb Dome, a concrete and metal building near the hypocenter that was severely damaged but still standing after the bombing. The building’s remains serve now as a silent memorial, and it is a gripping place to visit. 

Next, we walked through the park to the Peace Flame, which was lighted in 1964 and serves a double purpose. The flame is a memorial to bombing victims, and it will remain burning until nuclear weapons are eliminated from the earth. 



Near the flame is a saddle shaped monument that covers a cenotaph with the Register of Deceased A-bomb Victims.  It is estimated that as many as 140,000 people died from the bombing, subsequent fires, and radiation sickness. While the vast majority of victims were Japanese, people of other nationalities also died including international workers and prisoners of war. At the monument, a plaque reads:  “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”

The atmosphere is quiet and somber and provides a helpful space both to remember the devastation and to reflect on the decision to drop the bomb.  

After several minutes, we went inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  Much of the museum is undergoing renovations, and we were not able to see the portion covering history leading to the bombing. 

Our tour began with the bombing itself, and this was quite jarring. The room includes a scale model of Hiroshima showing the detonation point about 600 meters (about 1800 feet) above the ground and the destruction inflicted across the city. Exhibits include tattered and burned clothing, twisted metal, charred roof tiles, and photos of physical maladies endured by survivors. An audio guide (well worth renting) includes information on victims, including many children making their way to school at the time of the bombing, and survivors who searched for them during the days after the blast. 

The museum, like other memorials to victims of violence or suffering, is unsettling but helpful by contextualizing the era and encouraging visitors to consider lessons they may learn.  Our family left the memorial park in quiet and later discussed our reflections after some time had passed. 



Before departing Hiroshima, we rode a bus around the city (included as part of our Japan Rail pass), which allowed us to see gleaming buildings and a modern city rebuilt after the war. The juxtaposition of destruction at the memorial park and a modern city teeming with life was a helpful reminder of the human spirit. 

Snow skiing in Japan

Family in ski gear

Before our children, Jonathan and Rachel, were born, my wife, Lisa, and I loved to go snow skiing. One of the many joys of living in New England for a dozen years was easy access to the slopes of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. While Lisa was pregnant with our first child, we decided to skip a season of skiing, and before we knew it, fifteen years had passed since we hit the slopes.

Family Ski Lesson

Family Ski Lesson

While traveling around the world, we have tried to introduce new things to our children while also experiencing them ourselves. While in Japan, our family agreed that snow skiing should be added to our list of adventures. We traveled to the area around Nagano, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. We settled in Hakuba, which hosted the women’s and men’s downhill skiing championships during the Olympics. (This was more an interesting fact than anything affecting our lives because we never ventured near the Olympic ski trails!)

We rented a ski-in, ski-out apartment (a first for us, which was surprisingly affordable) at Hakuba Goryu Ski Area. We rented our equipment (which you don’t easily pack while travelling around the world), signed up for a family ski lesson on our first day, and began a wonderful time.

Jonathan on ski slopes

Jonathan on ski slopes

The conditions were incredible! Several feet of snow blanketed the ground when we arrived, about a foot of new snow fell during our first night, and powder was plentiful. We told our children not to expect such great skiing conditions every time they ski in the future.

Workers were wonderful with our children, public announcements were made in both Japanese and English, we had fun shopping in a Japanese market, and our time on the slopes went even better than we could have imagined. Both of our children learned something new, and they are now very good skiers. Rachel enjoyed an obstacle course on skis, and Jonathan ventured to the top of the mountain and skied all the way down! Lisa and I became reacquainted with skiing, and we realized that we still can do it — and we still love it.

Rachel and Lisa on the slopes

Rachel and Lisa on the slopes

And, most importantly, our family created memories that will last a lifetime.

Now, we are talking about plans for our next skiing adventure.

Tsukiji: Tokyo’s Fish Market

Tsukiji Sign

When the alarm sounded at 1:30 AM, the street outside our Tokyo apartment was quiet.  After having coffee and toast, my wife and I woke our children around 2:00 to get ready to travel to Tsukiji, the world-famous fish market.  We found a taxi around 2:30 and twenty minutes later, we met Mr. Naoto Nakamura, our excellent guide for a wonderful tour of Tsukiji.
Nic 2
 

If you consult lists of must-see things to do while in Tokyo, you will find “Tsukiji Tuna Auction” on nearly every list.  Tsukiji is said to be the world’s largest fish market, and 50,000 people come here six days a week to buy and sell seafood and produce.  And, eager tourists wander the market to glimpse the amazing spectacle.  Rather than wander, however, we were guided by a true expert.

 

A view of market from above

A view of market from above

Thanks to Mr. Nakamura (or Nick as he asked us to call him), who worked at the market for many years and now leads early-morning tours of Tsukiji, we saw amazing sights and learned previously unknown facts about seafood, auctions, and commerce in this part of Tokyo.  

The highlight of the market is the tuna auction, and we saw both fresh and frozen tuna ready for auction.  The largest tuna up for auction on the day of our visit weighed 164 kilograms (about 362 pounds).  Prior to the auctions, bidders inspect the fish to evaluate quality and determine the price they will pay as they seek to satisfy their customers.

Tuna on right weighs 164 kg

Tuna on right weighs 164 kg

 

Besides the tuna, there are all manner of seafood including umi (sea urchin, a particular delicacy in Japan), eels, flounder, squid, and many more.  Fugu or blowfish (the famous or infamous Japanese fish that can be deadly if you eat a toxic portion) is for sale, and Nick says it tastes like chicken.  Hundreds of kinds of seafood from all around the world are sold at Tsukiji.

Bidders inspecting Umi

Bidders inspecting Umi

Umi auction

Umi auction

Worker filleting swordfish

Worker filleting swordfish

Although our tour began at 3:00 AM, the market was abuzz with activity. Trucks were arriving with loads of fish, fork lifts were zipping around delivering seafood and produce, and workers prepared for auctions and filled orders for customers.  The activity occurs at such a fever pitch that, according to Nick, the market averages more than one traffic accident each day it is opened.

 

As we walked around the market between 3:00 and 5:00 AM with bleary eyes, some workers were pausing for their lunch, having already worked the bulk of their day.  Activity slows dramatically by 9:00 AM, and nearly everything is finished by 11:00.

 

Sushi for breakfast

Sushi for breakfast

After a wonderful tour, Nick provided suggestions for a sushi restaurant very close to the market.  He took us to the door, introduced us to the staff, and helped us order.  Then, he bade us farewell as we entered to have sushi for breakfast.  The fish was delicious, the green tea plentiful, the wasabi pungent, and the pickled ginger spicy.  It was a wonderful ending to a fantastic tour! Our family will long remember our sushi breakfast, our tour of Tsukiji, and our fantastic morning with Mr. Naoto Nakamura.

We returned to our apartment very, very glad we experienced Tsukiji.  And, after a nap, we were ready to explore more of Tokyo.

Was it early to rise?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely, yes!

New Zealand: A Post Card at Every Turn

NZ PicWhile we were preparing to travel to New Zealand, a friend said, “New Zealand is a post card at every turn.” She was correct. The country is beautiful with mountains, pastures, bays, volcanoes, and coastal areas. We spent a month on the north island about three hours’ drive north of Auckland.

The only thing better than the natural beauty was the friendliness of the people. Everyone we met in New Zealand was kind, happy, helpful, curious about our background, and welcoming. We house-sat for a wonderful family, we joined the congregation at Kerikeri Baptist Church for worship, and we enjoyed meeting friendly people throughout our days in New Zealand.

There were many highlights of our time, but a few include:
Beautiful walks to the beach at Opito Bay
Daily walks in the fields surrounding our home
Great hikes to Rainbow Falls
Walking along 90 Mile Beach
Seeing Tane Mahuta (“Lord of the Forest” in the Maori language), the oldest Kauri tree in New Zealand (believed to be about 2,500 years old)

Opito Bay

Opito Bay

One serendipitous joy during our stay in New Zealand was Waitangi Day, the day when New Zealanders celebrate the founding of their country. On 6 February 1840, more than 500 chiefs from the Maori (the native peoples of New Zealand) signed a treaty with representatives of the British crown outlining principles upon which the Maori and British crown would agree. There remain different understandings of the treaty and questions about whether it fairly treated all peoples, but New Zealanders often refer to the principles of the Waitangi Treaty as an important way in which peoples from different backgrounds can relate to one another.

Some people have led protests about their treatment at Waitangi Day, and while these protests overwhelmingly have been peaceful, some people fear that Waitangi Day is marked by confrontation or even violence. Thankfully, our hosts dispelled this notion, and we enjoyed two excellent days at the 175th Waitangi Day festivities. On the first day, we enjoyed a ceremony led by the Royal Navy. We even sat four rows behind New Zealand’s Prime Minister at this event. And on the second day, performers and food stalls created a festive atmosphere.Waitangi Day

If you have an opportunity to visit New Zealand, take it. And, if you can be present for Waitangi Day, go! Share in the spirit of this treaty that seeks to guide positive relations between different peoples.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls


Tane Mahuta, "Lord of the Forest"

Tane Mahuta, “Lord of the Forest”

British and German Cemeteries in Normandy

In my last blog post, I wrote about our visit to the American cemetery near Omaha Beach, Normandy. We also visited British and German cemeteries in Normandy. The cemeteries are different in important ways that helped me realize the losses experienced by people from different sides of the conflict in World War II.

German Cemetery, La Cambe, France

German Cemetery, La Cambe, France

At the German cemetery at La Cambe, the remains of 21,000 German personnel are interred. The American cemetery at Omaha Beach is visited by more than one million people each year, and there were scores of people there during our visit. People walked among the American graves, filled the visitors center, and took part in organized tours. During our time at the German cemetery, however, there were only two other people present, and quiet filled the air.

As you enter the German cemetery, you can leaf through a book of names of those buried on the grounds. Near the end of the book are printed words that could apply to Germans, Americans, Brits, or nearly any other people:

Darkly rises the mound over the grave of the soldiers.
Darkly stands God’s command over the dead of the war.
Yet brightly glows the sky above the towering crosses,
More brightly still shines their comfort: The final word is God’s.

British Cemetery

British Cemetery

The British cemeteries around Normandy differ from the American cemetery in two significant ways. First, British cemeteries include remains of soldiers from different countries. We visited British cemeteries in Bayeaux and Ryes. At the Ryes cemetery, 335 Germans are buried along with the Allied dead.

Second, while grave markers in the American cemetery all are white and include minimal embellishment, tombstones in British cemeteries include individual epitaphs chosen by surviving family members. Walking through the graves, I read many moving testimonies. One marker says, “You were only one to all the world but all the world to us. Mam, Dad, Sister, Brother.”

Serjeant S. Barber, Royal Artillery. Died 2nd August 1944, Age 30.

Serjeant S. Barber, Royal Artillery. Died 2nd August 1944, Age 30.

Another grave marker was especially poignant. The tombstone for Serjeant S. Barber, Royal Artillery, who died on August 2, 1944, at age 30, includes words from his mother. It says,
Dear Son of Ann Barber. His father killed in action 1918 is buried at Conde. Remembered.

American Cemetery in Normandy

During our time in Normandy, we planned to visit the American cemetery to remember the soldiers who died there. What we did not expect, however, were deeply meaningful visits to British and German cemeteries. In this post, I will reflect on our visit to the American cemetery, and in the next post, I’ll write about our time at the German and British cemeteries.

Looking toward Omaha Beach

Looking toward Omaha Beach

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial sits high above Omaha Beach near the towns of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and Colleville-sur-Mer. The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains the cemetery, which is picturesque with white grave markers in neat rows. The grounds are immaculately kept, and the serenity that fills the place is a fitting memorial to the brave service members who died in Normandy. Much like Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC, the setting is moving and inspiring.

The American cemetery contains the graves of 9,387 service members, and the names of 1,557 service members are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing.

In addition to the grounds, there is an excellent visitors center, which opened in 2007. You can learn the larger story of Operation Overlord and hear stories of individual men and women whose lives were altered in Normandy. Some of them died there, some were injured, and others lost their sons, husbands, fathers, or brothers.

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, bronze statue at American cemetery

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, bronze statue at American cemetery

One particularly moving experience is the movie, Letters, which focuses on letters written by service men who died in Normandy. While hearing their letters to loved ones and seeing pictures of these young men before and during their military service, I realized the depth of the loss when they died in Normandy.

Visiting the cemetery is well worth the time and effort involved. It is indeed a fitting memorial to the American service members who died on D-Day and in the Battle of Normandy.

A Hymn of Peace

As our family prepared to depart from France, we arrived in Paris on 7 January. As we checked into our hotel, we saw a television monitor with scenes from the attack at Charlie Hebdo. At that moment, the gunmen were still at large and believed to be northeast of Paris in the direction where we were staying. Police presence was heavy that day and again at the airport as we departed the next day. This was a chilling reminder that hostility still permeates much of our world.

British Cemetery, Ryes, France

British Cemetery, Ryes, France

Just a few days before, while in Normandy, our family visited the American, German, and British cemeteries. (I will post about our experiences there in the coming days.)

While at the cemeteries, I reflected on one of my favorite hymns, “This Is My Song, A Hymn of Peace.” While serving as a pastor in the United States, I often included this hymn in our worship on the Sunday closest to July 4, when Americans celebrate the founding of the country.

The hymn reminds me that many people from many countries love their homelands, and it calls people to peace that transcends national borders.

Some stanzas were written by Lloyd Stone in the years between World Wars I and II. Other words were written by Georgia Harkness, a United Methodist theologian and, like me, a graduate of Boston University. The hymn, which is set to the tune Finlandia, says:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Given the recent events in France, the prayer of this song is especially fitting. May it be so.

American cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

American cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

Normandy Beaches

Omaha Beach looking toward Pointe du Hoc

Omaha Beach looking toward Pointe du Hoc

One of the highlights of our time in Normandy was visiting the beaches where the D-Day invasion began on June 6, 1944. While walking on Omaha Beach, the scene of so many American casualties, I was struck by the incongruity of what I saw there seventy years later. The beach was calm, with a few clouds in the sky, and people enjoying their time on the shore flying kites, walking dogs, and playing with children.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

A dear family friend, Zedekiah Cassel, had been a young American soldier landing on the beach at Normandy. Zeddie told a few stories about his time in Normandy, and I wondered what he would have thought to see people frolicking on the same beach where he nearly lost his life. Would he be pleased or upset, concerned or happy?

To enhance my experience in Normandy, I read Stephen Ambrose’s book, D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. Near the end of his book, Ambrose quotes General Eisenhower who visited Omaha Beach on June 6, 1964, to mark D-Day plus twenty years. Speaking with Walter Cronkite, Eisenhower looked over the scene and said,

You see these people out here swimming and sailing their little pleasure boats and taking advantage of the nice weather and the lovely beach, Walter, and it is almost unreal to look at it today and remember what it was. But it’s a wonderful thing to remember what those fellows twenty years ago were fighting for and sacrificing for, what they did to preserve our way of life. Not to conquer any territory, not for any ambitions of their own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy freedom in the world.

Looking down at Omaha Beach from American Cemetery

Looking down at Omaha Beach from American Cemetery

I suppose the setting in Normandy today, with its calm beaches and tranquility, is what the soldiers would have hoped for. Standing there on the quiet beach and later looking down from the cliffs, I was struck deeply by what they must have faced that day — and how fortunate I am today.

House Sitting around the World

We have included house-sitting as part of our round-the-world family adventure. We have used a couple of online sites — MindMyHouse.com and HouseCarers.com — that match homeowners who will be away with people willing to care for their home and pets.

Our furry friends in South Africa

Our furry friends in South Africa

Initially we were motivated to house-sit because it saves on the cost of housing. Generally, in exchange for caring for the owner’s home and pets, you are provided a nice play to stay (thus saving the cost you would have paid for a hostel, hotel, or short-term rental.) We quickly learned other, far more important benefits of house-sitting. Rather than staying in a hotel separated from local people and habits, living in someone’s home provides you a close experience of regular, day-to-day life in the community. We have been invited to use fully stocked homes. We have learned about local markets and shops. We have received information from trusted local sources about places to visit and experiences to include in our travels. We have met caring neighbors who invited us to their home for dinner. And, we have come to love dear animals.

On one house-sitting assignment, we stayed for a month just north of Cape Town, South Africa, and our duties included twice-daily walks on the beach with loving Labrador Retrievers. The homeowner shared wonderful hospitality with us. We still are in touch with the homeowner several months after our assignment to check on our furry friends.

Christmas in Normandy

Christmas in Normandy

We completed a house-sitting assignment in Normandy, France, where we cared for a sweet and kind nine-year-old Irish Wolf Hound. Our duties included twice-daily walks that took us through fields and past donkeys and horses. The homeowners provided delicious welcome and farewell meals, and because our stay was over the holidays, they even generously gave us presents to open on Christmas morning.
A wonderful terrier in New Zealand

A wonderful terrier in New Zealand

Currently, we are house-sitting in New Zealand where we are caring for a loving and energetic two-year-old Australian Terrier. The home is set in a wonderful location away from town and in the midst of fields filled with cows and sheep. The homeowners have provided special dinners before leaving on their holiday. They are bee keepers, and we have tasted delicious honey from their hives.

Our experience is incalculably richer because of our house-sitting experiences. Sure, we have saved some money, but house sitting is beneficial for reasons far beyond finances. We have made new friends around the world — both human and animal. We have encountered life in different locations in ways we never could have on our own. We have tried new foods and shared stories with dear people around the world.
I encourage you to consider house-sitting, and if you have any questions, please be in touch with me.
Happy travelling!

Iceland

After Phase One of our family’s Round-the-World odyssey (August-November 2014), we returned to the United States in late November and early December 2014.  We enjoyed sharing Thanksgiving and celebrating an early Christmas with family members before setting off on Phase Two on December 16.

We took advantage of IcelandAir’s competitive prices between the United States and Europe and their stopover program, which lets you include a stay in Iceland at no additional cost.  While flying from Orlando, Florida, to Paris, France, we enjoyed two days and two nights in Reykjavik.

Bjugnakraekir the Sausage Swiping Yule Lad

Bjugnakraekir the Sausage Swiping Yule Lad

We loved Iceland.  Visiting just prior to Christmas, we learned about the Yule Lads, thirteen troll-like figures from Icelandic folklore who visit children on the nights before Christmas and either put presents in their shoes or, if they have been naughty, leave them potatoes. When not visiting children’s homes, the Yule Lads are up to mischief such as stealing milk, slamming doors, licking spoons, and swiping sausages.

We enjoyed the weather with freezing temperatures, snowfall, and short hours of daylight.  During our visit, the sun rose about 11:00 each morning and set about 3:30 each afternoon.

We searched for the Aurora Borealis, driving one night about 100 kilometers to find clear skies so we could see the lights.  We think the dim shades of green and red we saw in the night sky were the northern lights.

Blue Lagoon near steam roomsMost of all, we enjoyed our trip to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located in a lava field outside of Reykjavik. The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s top tourist attractions, and visitors pay hefty prices to float or swim in its hot waters.  Thanks to a Christmas gift from my parents, we enjoyed a package that included a robe, towel, flip-flops, facial mask, and drink.

During our visit, which began after 2:00 p.m. so we could be in the water at sunset, the air temperature was about thirty degrees Fahrenheit.  Snow and sleet were falling, and mist rose from the 107-degree water.  When we ventured outside in our swimming suits, we ran as quickly as we could to the warm water.

iceland-blue-lagoonWe had a grand time in the water.  We kept our heads just above the surface as snow covered our hair.  We applied our facial masks, and we enjoyed our smoothies.  We spent time in a steam room, and our daughter, Rachel, made a snow angel on the side of the pool.

We are glad we included a stopover in Iceland during our travels, and we are especially glad we visited the Blue Lagoon while in Iceland. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it a tourist trap? Yes. Is it worth doing? Certainly, yes.

Blue Lagoon Flip FlopsAs it came time to leave, we faced a small quandary.  It seemed obvious that we should return our towels and robes in the bins at the exit, but there was no place to return the flip-flops.  What should we do?  We kept them, and now we have them with us on Phase Two of our Round-the-World adventure as a fun reminder of a nice time on a great island.