Central Park, New York

Wiktionary’s definition of “concrete jungle” reads like a checklist of adjectives one would use to describe New York City. The cityscape harsh, unattractive, conspicuously devoid of greenery, and denser than Jim Hoft. Central Park, comparatively speaking, is a paradise.

I visited Central Park in middle of summer. The surrounding city was sweltering, noisy and smelled like hot garbage. Central Park, natural beauty aside, was the perfect escape from the discomfort of the city. The air was cooler and smelled fresh and clean. In fact, the air in Central Park is literally less polluted than that in the city that surrounds it.

Central Park features a small zoo. All things considered, it’s quite unremarkable, housing a small collection of mammals, reptiles and birds that one would find in any major zoo anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, it’s a nice, relaxing (and surprisingly inexpensive) way to spend a few hours.

Outside of the zoo, the park bustles with wildlife. Sparrows and squirrels scuttle skittishly across the park’s vistas, aiming feverishly to separate humans from their food, while simultaneously trying to avoid making any contact with said humans.

The ponds and reservoirs of Central Park are visually stunning, especially in the evenings as the lights of the New York skyline shimmer across their waters. Paddle boats are popular in the lake at the southern end, while fishing most enjoyable in Harlem Meer at the northern end.

Salzburg Old Town, Austria

Arguably best known as the setting for The Sound of Music, the city of Salzburg’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site internationally renowned for its architecture and picturesque surrounds.

I visited Salzburg in January of 2015 on a day trip for somewhat-nearby Hopfgarten im Brixental. It was a bitterly cold day, but the Old Town area of the city was still packed with tourists and shoppers. The short trip duration made it impossible to venture off the beaten path, so I was only able to visit the most notable attractions.

The point of arrival into the Old Town is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Getreidegasse (shown below), Old Town’s primary shopping street. It features an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants—mostlty both chain stores, but there’s a few interesting locally-owned boutiques dotted throughout.

I’m not usually much of shopper, especially in overpriced tourist areas, but the relentless cold wind and rain made going into stores a survival necessity. I went home with a handful of souvenirs, a Christmas decoration, and a few essentials from H&M. I don’t speak a word of German, but most of the shop keepers and waiters were able to speak decent English. Many of them spoke Italian too, which proved to be a useful fallback language when over-enunciated English and furious pointing proved fruitless.

The Salzburg Cathedral and the Hohensalzburg Castle are the main tourist sights in Old Town. The castle is one of medieval Europe’s largest, but unfortunately was closed for repairs while I was there (it’s usually open year-round). The castle sits on a hill overlooking the town and is accessible either by walking or the funicular (sloped rail). The walk is utterly exhausting.

The cathedral, fortunately, was open and we were able to explore it freely. The Baroque style architecture and many windows above the nave made the interior lighter and more joyful than that of a more traditional Roman-Gothic cathedral.

Lerici, Italy

Lerici is a town in northern Italy on the Italian Riviera. The town is home to roughly ten thousand people; a number that rises considerably in the summer months as holidaymakers fill the hotels, restaurants and beach.

I’ve visited Lerici twice. The first time, in 2008, we stayed several nights in the Hotel Florida Lerici and used the town as a jumping-off-point for the nearby Cinque Terre. The second time was in 2015, when my travelling companion and I took a bus trip from La Spezia for lunch and some light sightseeing.

The town’s primary attraction is the Castello di Lerici—Lerici Castle—which was constructed almost 900 years ago to protect the town and harbor from Saracen attacks. It was used militarily for three centuries, under the rule of the Republics of Genoa, Pisa, Genoa (again), and later the Ligurian Republic.

Today the castle houses a paleontology museum, following the discovery of dinosaur bones in the Lerici area.

One World Trade Center, New York

I was only eight years old when the September 11 attacks happened. I was in a hotel room in Darwin, watching the live news coverage, with little understanding of the historical significance of what was happening.

Visiting One World Trade Center was an unusual experience. The building is unequivocally and gorgeous magnificent sight to behold as it triumphantly dominates its surroundings. But there is also solemnity lingering in the crowds in the plaza below. Groups speak in hushed voices and shiny eyes are everywhere, as though participating in a decades-long wake.

The elevators to the One World Observatory, floors 100-102, are a technological marvel—travelling 100 floors in under a minute. The elevator plays a visually stunning 3D animation of the tower’s construction and the 500-year evolution of the New York skyline on the way up. The CGI is quite remarkable.

The two fountains, each roughly an acre in size, sit in the footprint of the fallen towers. The names of the lives lost are inscribed on the fountains’ perimeter walls; on which white roses are placed on the victim’s name in celebration of their birthday. I found it impossible to read more than a few names without feeling a lump in my throat.