Monday, 30 June 2014

Bucketlist: Cities

by Dom Baker


For the last two years, I haven’t been on holiday with my parents, and I’ve come to realise that without their help I’m relatively boring in organising my own holidays. On top of that, I haven’t ventured too far off the beaten track, visiting mainly standard holiday destinations, such as France and Italy. For that reason, I thought it useful to think about places and more specifically cities, around the world, to which I would love to visit. I’ve picked out 5 cities from the thousands across the globe that particularly interest me, and said a bit about why I would undertake the strenuous activity of holiday planning, to travel there and experience their cultures and lifestyles for myself.

1)      Rio de Janeiro

First things first, I promise that this is not in light of the World Cup. I’m not a football fan anyway so… Rio appeals due to its rich culture, breathtaking landscapes and energetic and vibrant buzz: embodying much of South America’s passion and energy. Rio is South America’s most popular city among tourists, attracting an incredible 2.82 million visitors every year, and it isn’t difficult to see why.  The second largest city in Brazil is home to features such as Christ the Redeemer, one of the most instantly recognisable landmarks in the world and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, as well as the iconic Maracanã stadium, Copacabana beach, and the thick Tijuca forest which is typical of Rio’s tropical climate. However, the culture in Rio goes far deeper than just tourist attractions; The Biblioteca Nacional is Latin America’s largest library, and an incredible piece of architecture commissioned by the King of Portugal back in 1810. Rio also has a strong music and arts scene, with the Carnival that takes places every February, and the Cidada das Artes (City of Arts), a cultural complex that was opened last year, and will become home to the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. Whilst there endless museums, theatres and carnivals to enjoy, I would also take a cable car up to the top of Sugerloaf Mountain,   which overlooks the city and Botafogo Bay. In short, the crazy, hectic and exciting South American lifestyle would draw me into Rio, but I wouldn’t be leaving in any rush.

2)      Rome

Despite studying Latin up to GCSE, I never managed a trip to the most impo.rtant city of its time, and this was definitely a missed opportunity. Rome is a city of huge historical and religious significance, and with that comes breath-taking architecture, right throughout the city. Prominent periods in Rome’s history have been Classical, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, and the list of important buildings within the city is mammoth (so much so that it requires its own Wikipedia page). You have, for example, the Colosseum – another of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Pantheon – commissioned during the reign of Augustus, and of course the Vatican City.  In fact, out of the 45 UNESCO heritage sites in Italy, 12 are located in Rome. Furthermore, Rome is also packed full of art, with some of the world’s most treasure museums and galleries. For example, the Galleria Borghese, a magnificent seventeenth century villa, houses many Bernini sculptures, as well as other antiques and artwork ranging from Renaissance to Baroque. As well as architecture and art, Rome is also a fantastic city for shopping, eating and drinking. Via Condotti, barely 100m long, is home to a host of Italian designers, such as Ferragamo, Valentino and Bulgari. Throughout the city there are endless markets, delicatessens and cafes, where you can buy Italian and Roman delicacies, as well as famous white wine, from regions such as Castelli Romani and Frascati. Rome seems to typify Italian culture, with a strong emphasis on art, architecture, food and fashion.

3)      Budapest

Comprised of two cities: Buda and Pest that are separated by the Danube River, the Hungarian capital was officially created in 1873, although the first recorded settlement of the area dates to before 1AD. Today, Budapest is a lively city with lots going on, and its busy nature is what would really attract me to go and visit. The city’s largest cultural event is its Spring Festival that takes places in the last two weeks of March every year. This year the festival held around 200 events across the city, ranging from world-famous operas to DJ sets, and attracts people from all around the world. Much like Rome, Budapest is home to incredible architecture. The Chain Bridge, built in 1849 is of particular significance, as it aided in the city’s unification, being the first permanent crossing over the Danube. Other noteworthy buildings in Budapest range from the impressive Hungarian Parliament building, as well as the Matthias Church, and Buda Castle that overlooks the city. Due to Budapest central European location, there is a lot of foreign influence running throughout the city. During the Ottoman rule of the city in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, four large baths were built. These are open to the public for bathing, and despite having been renovated since, they retain their original appearance and atmosphere. Another benefit of the city’s diverse history, is that many cultural foods and specialities have survived. The city’s cuisine can vary from Jewish to Italian, Slavic, Austrian and Turkish, and is considered a melting pot in this respect. Finally, Budapest also seems like a wonderful place to relax, with a plethora of parks and lakes, as well as the Danube itself.

4)      Kabul


My desire to visit Kabul really stems from having read The Kite Runner earlier this year. Although I didn’t really enjoy the book, it opened my eyes up to the troubled but incredibly interesting history of Afghanistan’s capital city. Obviously at this point in time it’s not especially wise to travel in Afghanistan, as the government have control of only small parts of their country, with the Taliban at large and extremely dangerous. However, the city is filled with history. The National Museum of Afghanistan houses a collection of around 30,000 artefacts; this was over 100,000 before the Taliban took control during the 1990s. One of the ‘treasures’ of the collection is the Rabatak Inscription of King Kanishka, which details the history of Afghanistan and the Kushan dynasty. Elsewhere in the city there are beautiful mosques, ruined tombs of famous leaders such as Mughal Emporer Babur, and forts, like Bala Hissar – destroyed by the British in 1879. The inner city is packed with bazaars and local produce, from clothes, to food, to furniture. It is really the culture and history of Kabul that make me want to experience the city first hand. Having lived a reasonably sheltered life, experiencing the totally different way of life, as well as visiting a conflict-stricken area of the world, would give me a totally different perspective, and also allow me to see first-hand, scenes and traditions described in The Kite Runner.

5)      Kyoto

From the outside, oriental culture seems vibrant, extravagant, and utterly inspiring. Kyoto is considered by many to be the cultural and spiritual capital of Japan, and was the major city for more than 1000 years, during the Imperialist reign. The first reasons that Kyoto is regarded as one of the richest and most vibrant cities is due to its temples and shrines: in 1994 17 locations in the city and its outskirts were designated as being The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Enough stress cannot be put on the temples that Kyoto has to offer. For example, Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, and is typical of the Muromachi period of design. During this time, the relationship between the building and its surroundings was heavily emphasised, and Kinkaku-ji is situated idyllically, overlooking a lake, with a mountainous backdrop. Kyoto is also a city that is full of festivals. The three main festivals: Aoi Matsuri, Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri, celebrate Japan’s history, culture and traditions with processions, parades, lanterns and lights. The city itself has over 2000 religious locations: 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, many of which are located within Kyoto’s busy streets. The markets and shops are, like the other cities I’ve looked at, famous for local cuisine. Kyoto is different to other major Japanese cities, in that it is not coastal. This, along with the heavy Buddhist population, has led to a cuisine mainly based around local vegetables, commonly served as a broth with tofu, and other small dishes on the side. The Far East seems to excite me, as a place totally different from, well, Barnham, and Kyoto appears to be the perfect place to fully immerse yourself in culture, history and excitement.

 

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