Wednesday, 12 June 2013

My Top 20 Favourite Places Around the World

This is my 100th entry on this blog, so I thought I'd celebrate by doing something a bit different from the usual Korea-based posts that I tend to write. I'm a huge lover of lists, and since this is a blog dedicated to my travels abroad, why not make a list of some of my favourite places that I've been to? So far my travels have been limited to Europe, the USA and China, and my hope is that in a year or two the list will be much more varied. But for now, these are the places in the world - most are cities, a few are regions - that hold a special place in my heart.

20. Dresden, Germany
A completely unique architectural gem in Eastern Germany, and a great example of urban renovation (most of its buildings were destroyed during WWII, but several treasures have been restored to their former glory).

19. Florence, Italy
I visited this splendid Renaissance city after cycling for several days through the green Tuscan scenery that surrounds it. Venice and Rome are both beautiful places, but this was Italy's most striking city for me. It's a must-see place for art and history lovers, and the Duomo is one of the most breathtaking cathedrals I've ever seen.

The magnificent Duomo.
Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge famed for having shops and houses built along it.

18. Lund, Sweden
Around 5 years ago my friend Nick and I made the spontaneous decision to quit our lives in England, go live in a small university city in Sweden for a month, and record an album. It was one of those youthful, overly idealistic ideas that never reached full fruition like we'd planned: we recorded a handful of sketches and ideas but never got anywhere near making a full, cohesive album. But it doesn't matter. I look back on it as one of the most fun and carefree months of my life. We met tons of cool Swedish people, played our guitars in the streets and parks, and consumed lots and lots of alcohol. I also really miss eating pyttipanna for breakfast every day.

Playing our guitars in a park in Lund. 

We also played guitar in the nearby sea.

17. Ohrid, Macedonia
A beautiful Roman town built on the shores of Lake Ohrid.

The lake is a great place to go for a cycle.
16. Disney World Resort, Florida
Every child's dream is to go to Disney World. I was so lucky my parents took me there when I was 8, and while I doubt it would feel anywhere near as magical if I were to return as an adult, the memories alone make it worthy of a place on this list.

Space Mountain! 
My favourite water park: Typhoon Lagoon. 
My second-favourite water park: Blizzard Beach.

15. Seoul, South Korea
I've been living here for nearly eight months now, and the majority of my posts on this blog so far have been based on this thriving Korean capital. While I would never consider it among the most beautiful cities on Earth, there are endless things to see and do, and every day here feels like an adventure.  After my year is done, I will look back on my time here with great fondness. I will remember the neon lights hanging from every block. I will remember the mountains sprouting out from among the skyscrapers. I will remember the jjimjilbangs, the delicious Korean barbecues, the palaces and the nightlife. But what I will remember most fondly will be the awesome people I've met here.

Gyeongbokgung Palace.
An alleyway near Jongro.
The Cheonggyecheon. 

14. Edinburgh, Scotland
Beautiful cobbled streets, very friendly locals, and lots of great bars. I really have to go back and explore the area, as I was only there for a day. Also, this is the one place on the list where I didn't take any photos, so I had to steal one from Wikipedia!

13. Côte D'Azur, France
One of the most enjoyable bike rides I've ever experienced was when I cycled from Marseille along the coast to Cannes, Nice, Monaco and then into Italy. The weather was sunny, the sea was infinitely blue, and the stunning coastline was dotted with pretty, idyllic French villages. Also, purely out of luck, I arrived in Cannes during its famous festival, and then arrived in Monte Carlo during the Grand Prix.

White cliffs near Marseille.
The cliffs magically turn to red sandstone not far from Cannes.
The beautiful village of Èze. 
Close to Monaco.

12. San Francisco, California
I loved the relaxed vibe here. It felt a lot more quaint and historic - almost European in quality - than most American cities I've been to, with its old cable cars, diverse architecture and a thriving art scene. Also, the surrounding Bay Area has some gorgeous coastal scenery and is well worth exploring.

Sailing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
A view of Alcatraz Island from Coit Tower.

11. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland
One of the most peaceful and inspiring hikes I ever went on was down Lauterbrunnen, a stunning glacial valley lined with dozens of waterfalls, its grassy basin dotted with farms and cows. Switzerland is an amazing country - so clean, efficient and filled with gorgeous scenery - and everything amazing about it is exemplified here in this valley. Nearby Grindelwald is also definitely worth a visit.

10. Prague
I was constantly embarrassed by British lager-louts being loud and obnoxious in the street, there are way too many tourists, and frankly the locals seemed pretty cold and unfriendly for the most part. But when a city is this downright beautiful to look at, all is forgiven. I could wander around its streets for days, admiring its medieval architecture.

Crossing Charles Bridge. 

9. Yangshuo, China
A stunning landscape that makes you feel as though you wandered into an old watercolour painting.

The view from our balloon ride.

8. Bath, England
I lived and studied in this city for three years, and while it's a beautiful place in itself - easily one of the most charming cities in England - the experiences I had over those three years are the reason it's so high on this list. I miss it a lot, and could see myself potentially living there again when I reach retirement age.

Pulteney Bridge, which hangs over the River Avon.

7. Paris, France
What can I say about Paris that hasn't been said before? Everything that is wonderful about Europe you can find here: stunning architecture, great food, endless art galleries, history, culture, wine... I've visited in spring and in winter, and both times it was a beautiful city to just wander through idly without a set itinerary. My fondest memory is arriving at Gare du Nord, then cycling along the edge of the Louvre, through Place de la Concorde and up the Champs-Elysees among 9 lanes of traffic, before reaching the Arc de Triomphe. It was one of the most exhilarating cycles I've ever had, and I knew within the first hour of arriving that this was a city I would come to love. I can't wait to go back and explore more of its charming avenues and boulevards.

The Grand Palais.
View over the Seine. 
The Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower. 

6. New York, New York
A very upbeat, diverse and exciting city with tons to see and do. I was constantly taken aback by the scale and beauty of Manhattan's art deco skyline (how often I found myself tilting my head back to see how high the buildings went!), and it was fun seeing so many familiar places I'd grown up seeing in movies. I was only there for four or five days, so I'm eager to revisit it in the future.

5. Istanbul, Turkey
I spent nearly a week exploring this magical Byzantine city of minarets, bazaars and midday prayer calls. Split into two halves, this city is at once European and Asian, Islamic and Christian, Roman and Turkish, and its countless historic sites bear testament to its varied and fascinating history. The most impressive among them is the Hagia Sophia, an immense cathedral-mosque-museum filled with mosaics and marble staircases. There are also some great views of the city and the Bosphorus from Galata Tower, and you can explore an underground cistern just near the Blue Mosque. But my favourite experience was cycling around the Prince Isles for some stunning views of the Sea of Marmara and the nearby Asiatic coastline.

View from Galata Tower.
A whirling dervish.
The Blue Mosque.

4. Beijing, China

When I visited Beijing, I was nearing the end of a month-long trip through China, and despite my love of the country, I was fed up with the endless crowds, the pollution, the language barriers, the staring, and all the other challenges that China brings to its visitors. Yet when I reached Beijing, I fell in love with the country all over again. After a month of travelling this vast, diverse place, it was in the capital, at the end of my trip, that I experienced some of the most profound "Wow...I'm in China" moments: exploring its hutongs, ancient alleyways where locals cycle on rickety bicycles and sell antiques from the dusty sidewalks; wandering the Forbidden City; seeing Chairman Mao's face plastered right next to bulletholes from the Tiananmen Massacre; browsing night markets that sell snake-meat and scorpions on sticks; and of course, hiking along the Great Wall.

The Forbidden City.

The Temple of Heaven.
Tiananmen Square.

3. London, England
This is a very biased placing in the list, since London is pretty much my hometown. Though I grew up far on its eastern outskirts, I've been into the city literally hundreds of times during my lifetime, for both work and leisure. Despite all the times I've visited, London has just kept on giving. It's not just that there are endless things to see and do. Every time I go, the atmosphere shifts; no two days in London have ever felt the same, and maybe that's true of all big, bustling cities, but I've never felt it more strongly than here. I have so many fond memories of London: walking down the Thames embankment with my family, going to SegaWorld on my tenth birthday, drinking beer and playing guitar in Hyde Park with old friends, having my first kiss in Shakespeare's Globe... This city will always have a very special place in my heart, and honestly, I'd rank it number 1 if these next two places weren't so damn magical.

Royal Albert Hall. 

2. Barcelona, Spain
I'm generally very trigger-happy when it comes to taking photos (well evidenced by the content of this blog!). But of all the places I've been to, the one where I found myself taking photos the most was Barcelona. This Catalonian capital deserves to have the same reputation for beauty as Paris or Prague. Every street corner I turned, I found myself confronted by some new, unusual building, built in a style I'd never seen before. Gaudi's influence is everywhere, giving the city an earthy, organic feel, as though its buildings rose straight out of the dirt. Whether it's Park Güell, with its surrealist clay-structures, or the wave forms of Casa Mila, or the part-palace-part-termite-mound that is the Sagrada Familia, there's no shortage of unique and magical things to see in this city.

The city's cathedral is incredibly beautiful inside. Also, last time I checked, there were geese living there.

Exploring the Gothic Quarter. 
Barcelona's own Arc de Triomf.

1. Hong Kong, China
I've always found it difficult to describe what it is that I love so much about Hong Kong. I was there for less than a week in 2008, yet it's a place I frequently find myself thinking about even 5 years later. For one thing, despite being overcrowded and polluted, it's an incredibly beautiful city. I never grew tired of admiring its skyline, which rivals even the great cityscapes of America. It also maintains a perfect balance between clean, urban street design and natural greenery. There are plenty of unspoiled, tropical landscapes where you can go hiking, relax on gorgeous beaches or stroll through parks. You can explore night-markets filled with jade trinkets, tea-ware and electronics. Every evening, its skyscrapers present a magical display of synchronised light and music. All in all, there's just an unexplainable atmosphere in the city, a combination of smells (the street food, the incense of Buddhist temples) and colours (neon lights in Nathan Road, Kowloon's peeling walls), which I have an inexplicable love for. I'm certain I want to return some day, and hopefully I'll end up living there, since there's so much more to this city that I need to see.

Crossing between Kowloon and Hong Kong island by ferry. 
One of the city's many beautiful parks. 
A skyscrapers!
Lantau Island.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the list. There are tons of other places I would like to have added if I had the time to extend it: Amsterdam, Venice, Stockholm, Budapest, Macau, Munich, to name a few. I'm sure I'll be doing a repeat of the list in a year or two, after I've explored more of the world.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome places . Photography is very nice and I love to visit new places world population