History

A Mediterranean Honeymoon, Part 1

Casey and I said our vows on a windy day in Texas two years ago. We spent the following six months apart from each other as Casey completed his flight training in California and North Carolina, and then we moved across the planet. After arriving in Okinawa, we dealt with many adjustments in the time we were able to spend together. It would be dishonest to say it was easy. With all of the changes in our lives during such a short period, we did not have much time to focus on us. All the moves and changes also left us no chance to go on a honeymoon.

Last month, we finally made that happen– two years late, but incredible nonetheless. Two of our closest friends currently live in Seville, Spain, so we could not pass up the opportunity to see them and have them show us around (probably) the coolest country in the world. As I had never been to Europe, we decided to make a honeymoon out of it via a cruise through the Mediterranean. We packed as much as we could into this almost-3-week-long trip.

Our 30+ hour flight experience took us from Okinawa to Tokyo, Doha, and finally into Barcelona. Exhausted but excited, we found our way to our adorable bed and breakfast, ANBA, which provided tasteful modern decor juxtaposed with original nineteenth- century hand-painted ceilings. We cleaned up and then went out to meet Barcelona. We walked through the streets of Las Ramblas, spending time in the Boquería, the most colorful market I have ever seen. Everything from fresh squeezed fruit juices to paella, eggs, pastries, fish, jamón serrano, truffles, and lamb heads, are fresh and on display in gorgeous array.

Barcelona is a city that is truly alive. Everything from the architecture to the food pulsates with a vibrancy that is uniquely Barcelona. It goes without saying that I did not want to leave. We went to bed early on our first night there, then spent the morning and early afternoon at La Sagrada Familia, an unfinished masterpiece of the late architectural genius Antoni Gaudí. No photo can come close to capturing his brilliance, and I remain in absolute awe of his work. La Sagrada Familia in particular is an incredible work of art, as every elemental detail is cutting edge in its design and construction. I am amazed by Gaudí’s ability to plan and begin construction in 1882 on what is seen as a modern architectural marvel in 2014. Despite ongoing construction on the building, this was a major highlight of our trip.

That afternoon, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the port to embark upon the Costa Serena, our home and transportation for the next seven days. In case you are wondering, yes: this is the sister ship to the Costa Concordia, whose recent journey ended in the deaths of 32 passengers when it ran aground outside Tuscany in 2012. As we expected, Costa had ramped up their emergency procedures in response, and we felt safe but slightly annoyed by all of the safety reminders announced daily in seven languages. The ship was massive, and filled with passengers speaking every language you can imagine. We enjoyed multilingual performances, all-inclusive food and drinks, dancing, beautiful Mediterranean sunsets from our balcony, and making friends with an awesome British family who provided companionship and entertainment throughout the trip.

From Barcelona, the Costa Serena carried us along to Marseille, France. While our plans to hike Les Calanques did not work out, we enjoyed casually discovering the sights of this lovely old city. We visited a gorgeous old cathedral, walked through the shopping district, savored fantastic espressos and lunch at a local cafe, and relaxed in the sunlight looking down over le vieux port de Marseille. It was just the day we needed.

From France, we headed on to the shores of Savona, Italy. Our planned excursion to tour the local vineyards along the Italian countryside was unfortunately cancelled, so we took the opportunity to visit Monaco. The two-hour-long bus ride was the most beautiful drive I’ve ever experienced (sorry, Big Sur), taking us through gorgeous villages along the mountains of Liguria. As we approached Monaco, I understood why the wealthiest people in the world retire there. The entire (2.02 square kilometers) sits surrounded by stunning blue water and beautiful French countryside. In addition to its beauty, Monaco sports a very attractive tax code, explaining why it manages to be both the second smallest and the most densely populated country in the world. We visited the royal palace, the famous Monte Carlo casino, and walked around the immaculately manicured streets during our short visit. Casey geeked out a bit over the ridiculously expensive cars that frequented the streets, and especially enjoyed seeing the Formula 1 track that runs right through the city.

That night, we had a great time enjoying (more than) a few drinks with our new British friends. The following morning, we had room service before we pulled into the port of Naples, Italy. If you can imagine the world’s worst hangover, and then picture yourself on a boat in the middle of the ocean, then you might be able to understand the situation I was in as I decided that I absolutely could not miss out on our trip to Pompeii that day. Please note that if you are planning to visit Pompeii, there is nowhere where it is conceivably appropriate to leave your breakfast. However, there are some nice bushes outside the local cameo jewelry factory. Despite feeling like death, I fully enjoyed Pompeii. It is absolutely incredible how well maintained it is after so long, with intact mosaics and murals, ovens, wells, furniture, and even calcified human and animal remains. In short, there is something for everyone! 😉

Stay tuned for the second half of our trip to learn how we let ourselves get swindled in Africa, saw dead people in Palermo, and fell even deeper in love with Spain as we spend more time in Barcelona, and then visit Granada and Sevilla with our friends!

Always, Amanda

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Categories: Culture, Exploring, History, Marriage, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Lives Lost Underground

It is no secret that the relationship between the United States and Japan is a complex one, but living in Okinawa has provided me with a new perspective on the alliance. Okinawa has had a fairly rough history for such a peaceful people. On their own they lived in relative peace for many years until the Japanese stepped in and claimed them. With such a strategic location, it is no wonder Okinawa has for centuries now been a popular geopolitical asset. The impact this has had on the people here, however, has at times been no less than tragic.

I will save my international political rant on the current state of affairs for another day. Living in a foreign country while on orders from the US military has revealed things to me that I would never have found in a history book or on CNN. I have seen first-hand the results of international politics, but being an American has still allowed me the naive comfort of being sheltered from some of the worst stories history has to offer. Until I ventured underground in Okinawa.

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This is the monument outside the Japanese Naval Underground, where the Japanese forces dug a tunnel system towards the end of World War II. The Americans were winning the war, so the Japanese Navy literally went underground. These tunnels were by far the most ominous place I’ve been in my life.

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This is the room where the Japanese Navy decided that committing suicide en masse was preferable to surrendering to American forces. You can see the marks the grenade shrapnel left in the walls where many men met their deaths. It is a strange thing to be an American in a place such as this, but forcing myself to witness these places has helped me come closer to understanding the complex dynamics of the relationship between these countries that now mean so much to me. May we not forget those who came before us and the sacrifices they made to bring the world where it is today.

-A

Categories: Culture, History, Okinawa | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Castles and Ruins

On our first weekend in Okinawa, our new friends Claira and Slade picked us up from the hotel and introduced us to some Okinawan history! It took us awhile to find it, but deep in the hills we found the historical site of Nakagusuku castle, a 14th century fortress with a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape.

                 

The castle was constructed without the use of any mortar or cement, which is incredible considering the longevity of the structure. They carved the limestone so that each piece would fit perfectly with the adjoining pieces. Not only has it survived the intense weather of the last 7 centuries, but it also survived some fierce battles in WWII!

This is one of multiple castle sites on the island, although it is one of the best preserved. In the ancient Ryukyu period (between the 14th and 17th centuries), Okinawa was divided into 3 kingdoms. The kingdoms co-existed peacefully for many years, thriving on trade with China, until at some point one ruler conquered the rest in a story I’ll have to save for a day when I have my facts straight. 🙂 When Japan annexed Okinawa (then known as the Ryukyu Kingdom), these castle sites became designated as National Historic Sites.

                  

From the top of the enclosure, you can see where the Pacific Ocean meets the East China sea.

               

We had a great time checking out the ruins of Nakagusuku castle, but then our friends told us they had more to show us. Walking distance from the castle was the creepiest place I’d ever seen… the old abandoned construction site of the Royal Hotel.

                 
Apparently, this hotel was being built in the 70s, and was supposed to be the most extravagant hotel on the island. Weird things started to happen during the hotel’s construction, and the construction workers came to believe the site was haunted. I’ll have to explain Okinawan spirituality more in depth in a later post, but I will tell you that they believe that the dead remain on the earth, and their spirits can and do cause harm to the living. Whether the owner of the hotel went bankrupt or was encouraged by an unfriendly spirit, he committed suicide and the hotel has not been touched since. (Except by graffiti artists and copper collectors)!

                

I have no idea how someone managed to get a car onto the 3rd floor! This would not exist in America- it would either be bought and taken over by someone else or torn down. We were able to climb concrete staircases without any siding up 5 flights- a law suit waiting to happen (in America, that is)!

The view from the top was amazing! If I were an Okinawan ghost, I’m sure this wouldn’t be a bad spot to haunt. Stay tuned for snorkeling, flying, shopping, driving, beer-drinking adventures!

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