Admiring Ancient Rome

 

Even in May, the heart of Italy slows you down with an intense heat. Covering all that it can reach, only tunnels built into the ground and indoor stores and restaurants are able to provide momentary respites from the glaring sun. This is actually a blessing in disguise. With your feet moving at a slower pace to combat sun lethargy, your eyes have the opportunity to pour over the sights and wonders of Rome with the care of a fine-toothed comb.

 

More than a little obsessed with architecture, my eyes couldn’t get enough in Rome. Both the  modern and ancient infrastructures fascinated me. From sunny shades and even tiles to elaborate stone carvings and shattered marble, it was all bewitching. My friend patiently waited as time and again I stopped in my tracks to stare, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, at some beautiful detail or enchanting colour. Faces pulled out of hard stone from artists who knew where to look. Light shades that, when caught by the sun, burst in their vibrancy and seemed to collect a piece of the shining star, if just for the moment.

Of our three days in Rome, four sites stand out most prominently in my memories; the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, and the Trevi Fountain. Being able to walk through history is always a treat. I find myself taking the time to wonder at the lives of those who had wandered in the same location thousands of years ago. What were their hopes, their dreams? What daily aggravations filled their heads and dominated conversations with peers? Did they admire the beauty of the city, or did they take it for granted?

Even before the busy season, Rome was packed. Tourists and locals alike flooded the streets. All steps were occupied by those taking a respite from the sun. In the Roman Forum, a middle-aged man slept soundly under the shade of a young Stone Pine. If it were not for the many public water fountains dotted throughout the grand city, we would have spent an absolute fortune hydrating ourselves. Thank goodness for thoughtful touches.

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Stunning even in ruins, I envied those who had lived when these buildings, arches, and statues were in their original state, carefully painted and displaying none of the effects of time. Difficult to leave, I find myself pouring over the photos from time to time, feeling the dry heat rush over my body and revelling in the cool protection of underground tunnels built centuries ago.

The Perfect Peak District

A visit to the Peak District can be summarised in one word: Perfect.

After a hearty breakfast at the cottage we were renting for the weekend, we piled into the car and headed off to start the day. Parking the car just beside Monsal trail entrance point. It is positioned right beside an abandoned set of railroad tracks that are now overgrown with weeds and grass.

Our walking path frequently shifted from dirt to timber bridges to large stones carefully arranged decades, or perhaps centuries, prior to today. A cool breeze was a welcome partner to the shining sun.

Alongside hiking among the rushing rivers and tall trees, we made the most of the day’s stunning weather and visited Eyam Hall. Visiting the site before its lease with the National Trust ended in January 2018, the modest estate was held by its founding family, the Wrights, for nine generations. A beautiful example of Jacobean architecture, the garden was as simple and effortless in its grace as the manor.

Driving back to the cottage, the sun was only beginning its slow descent into the horizon at seven thirty in the evening. As we headed back, I thanked my friends profusely for the day and apologised again for the copious amounts of photographs I had taken. They waved my words off and began discussing what to have for dinner. Absolute perfection.

Belton House: Wandering Into Beauty

It was a delightfully warm summer’s day when we piled into the car and headed off to Belton House. A short drive, the cool breeze folded through the car, the blue and green scenery blending together. Located in Grantham, Lincolnshire, the estate was built in the 1680s. Designed for the Brownlow family, despite its modest size in comparison to other country homes at the time, the estate, both outside and inside, is brimming with elegance and grandeur. With an impressive collection of artwork, books, and antique furniture, Belton House is a perfectly preserved window into the past.

This year, the estate celebrates the women who were inspiring individuals that found their muse in the spirit of Belton House. Wandering through the polished halls and neatly maintained gardens, it is little wonder how these women developed fascinating works of art based on the estate. Its parkland covering over 1300 acres of land, Belton House is a site that can be visited time and again without having the same experience time and again.

Wandering the gardens, it was easy to imagine myself placed right in the middle of Wonderland. Manicured flower bushes and twisting trees dazzled my senses. In many instances, my friends had to yell at me to catch up, I was that consumed by the beauty of it all.

Morocco: a summer feeling in the winter months

In the winter of 2015, I had just finished my first semester abroad. Between coursework, part-time jobs and newfound friends, there hadn’t been time to explore Europe, a world so close and yet so far out of reach. So when my sister and her then-boyfriend (now husband) invited me to join them on their winter travels, I was more than happy to tag along.

13087436_10209510268056234_5609370565635099615_nFirst traveling to Lisbon, from there we flew to Morocco. The tropical weather and stunning nature made Morocco the ideal place to celebrate the year past and welcome the year coming. Staying at The Lunar Surf House, we met an amazing array of like-minded travelers; people eager to explore every corner of the world, and leave no spare moment wasted. Owned and managed by Australian/Moroccan couple Irena and Adil, these two lovely people made every guest feel welcome. After showing us our beds and providing a tour of the hostel, they gave us helpful information regarding nearby restaurants, where to buy groceries, and scheduled activities that they organized for the guests. Of them all, we simply couldn’t resist a local tour of rocky cliffs and natural swimming pools.

Paradise Valley, surrounded by and within the Atlas Mountains, is an invigorating blend of hiking and swimming. A half-hour drive from the hostel, approximately a dozen of us met Adil after breakfast. The tour of Paradise Valley would take most of the day. Involving a forty-five minute hike, lunch at an outdoor restaurant nestled beside the rivers, and cliff-diving and swimming in the peaceful Paradise Valley, the three of us agreed that, at 30€ per person, the experience was a steal.
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The sun cast a bright and heavy glow throughout the day. Enveloped by the shadows cast by the towering rock faces and a cool breeze whispering through the hollows, the sunlight was a warm welcome. Keeping our spirits high with jokes and a helping hand, Adil brought us all safely and happily to Paradise Valley. With no one else in sight, the cool, shimmering water and sun-drenched rock faces were all ours. Setting all our things aside, the group divided into sun-bathers and river swimmers. Opting to soak up some vitamin D, I shared in the mirth and excitement as other guests cheered and whooped. Climbing up to the top of a rocky cliff, arms reaching to the skies as their bodies fell into the cool waters.

After the swimmers dried out in the sun, we all headed back to the main road. Greeted by the van, the sun was still pressed against a vibrant blue canvas. Mountains and cacti flit past us as we were driven back to the hostel. Thanking the driver and Adil profusely for the amazing day, we all headed up to our rooms to freshen up before dinner. Setting into the horizon so the stars could shine, the sun lit the sky in blazing oranges and delicate pinks and purples. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Fortunes in February

Have a read through my favorite season in Hong Kong!

Hong Kong. A bustling city juxtaposed with the natural beauty of rolling hills and sandy beaches, it is my home away from home. My childhood was inundated with fast food from 7-Eleven, crowded commutes on ferries and subways, and spontaneous hikes after school and on weekends. There was no end of things to do. While I enjoyed it all, I loved the holidays best. Every December and February, the buildings lining Victoria Harbor shone with greetings and well wishes. The end and the beginning of each year blended together into three months of pure bliss.

Chinese New Year was, and is, my favorite holiday season. Streets are embellished with festive lanterns. The city is set aflame. Red blazes through the streets, weaving in and out of restaurants and shops as it spreads good fortune and happiness through every corner of the congested metropolis. An army’s worth of food is created and consumed in the span of a week, with plenty of leftovers symbolizing the fortune you will have in the New Year. The sweet smell of tangerines, proffered by loved ones, sticks to your fingertips. Families reminisce, and friends create new memories. To me, this is when the city is at its finest.

When I traveled to the City of Lights in this convivial month, there was no doubt that my family would go to Victoria Park. No February trip to Hong Kong would be complete without visiting the flower market in the aforementioned park. Officially called the Victoria Park Lunar New Year Fair, the flower market is an annual pilgrimage for flowers, street food, and unique products created by local school students to raise funds for their societies. I fell in love with the coconut stall, salivating over the sheer volume on display before finally purchasing one. Pussy willows, narcissus, orchids – representing oncoming prosperity, good fortune, and abundance – are a staple of the brilliant flora and fauna crowding tables and shelves. Dolls and balloons of beloved cartoon characters can be found in every corner. To the far left by the park entry, stalls of student-run shops sell products exclusively designed and created by the entrepreneurial youth of this city. One of my favorite purchases? A file folder stating ‘Life is easy A.F.’ Not sure I agree with the sentiment, but the aesthetic was too pleasing to pass up on!

Chinese New Year sees Hong Kong bursting with all the promise and possibility that the future holds. If you can, see the city clothed in the colors of wealth and success.