Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Top Ten Sights

It’s a beach day and I’m cooped up inside, which means there’s no better time than now to recap my…

Top Ten Sights I Have Seen, and Why

1) Michelangelo’s David -- also known as my new boyfriend. Seriously, he is beautiful. Michelangelo truly created the “perfect man” at least in a physical form. Both times I have seen him, as I have rounded the corner into the long hallway leading to him, I have had my breath taken away by his profound beauty. That's the only word for him. And twice, I have been rendered teary once I am up close. He looks so alive that I honestly believe he is about to lean down and whisper “just what exactly are you looking at?” As if he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.

2) Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel -- I have had the great fortune to visit this twice. Once when it was jam-packed like a sardine can and once when I was one of 16 people in the chapel. Believe me when I say, you have never seen color like this before. Even from two stories below, these colors just sing out to you. And “hidden messages to the Pope” or not, the themselves images are just breathtaking.

3) Keukenhof Gardens, The Netherlands -- again with the colors. This is where I fell in love with the color orange because in its Dutch flower form, it made such a profound, lasting impression on me. Here you will see reds, oranges, yellows like you have never seen before, so rich and vibrant that you almost smell the flowers before you are close enough. The gardens are immaculately kept, the flowers are always perfectly in bloom (thanks to their full-time gardening/rotation of the crops); this is flower heaven, even for people lacking that green thumb gene.

4) Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland -- There are no words for this other than “hmmmm”. Essentially what this is is thousands upon thousands of octagonal columns of rock, on which you can step from one to the other for miles along the northern coast of Northern Ireland. Legend says these were steps that were built to help a giant walk from England to Ireland; perhaps that’s a Guinness-induced legend, I’m not sure. Whatever the case, I was there on a dark summer afternoon as a thunderstorm passed off the coast and it was eerie and beautiful and a complete wonder of nature. Each clap of thunder could easily have been one more nearing step of the giant himself. All I could do was hop among them and wonder why.

5) Pike’s Peak, Colorado -- Now admittedly I have not traveled in the US as much as I probably should. On one of my few trips westward rather than eastward, I had the chance to ride the tram up Pike’s Peak. It was about 3/4 of the way up, above the tree line, that I looked out and saw what had to be the inspiration for the verse “purple mountains majesty” because good lord, was that a tremendous view of purplish-blue mountains capped with a whipped-cream-like dab of snow. Oxygen deprivation and all, for the first time I fully appreciated the beauty that exists in my very own country.

6) Roman Forum/Palatine Hill/Colosseum, Rome, Italy -- Back to Italy I go to point out the obvious: Roman ruins are fascinating, phenomenal and addictive sights. Granted, I’d read about Ancient Rome up the wazoo before I visited them, so for me, it was more than a pile of rocks or one pillar of 28 still standing 3000 years later. I also took a tour with a specialist in Ancient Rome that really made this all speak to me. But I was still drawn, again and again, under different lighting conditions and at times of day, to just stand and stare, soaking in the history, remembering the men (and women -- can’t forget the Vestal Virgins) who walked these same paths. Most of what you think you know about the Colosseum is false, but it doesn’t make that building any less impressive.

7) Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia cathedral, Barcelona, Spain -- From a distance, and even close up, this looks like the kind of sand castle I used to make by dripping really wet sand between my fingers across the top of my sand pail stack, leaving precariously tall pointy triangular columns of drizzle to dry in the sun. But the thing is, this cathedral is cement and it’s still not finished. 100 years or so after Gaudi’s tragic death by streetcar, construction workers sign up to work on this project, considering it an honor to do so. The exterior appears to be complete, with various biblical scenes played out over doorways and on the spires. The inside appears as a war zone, with fencing keeping you out of holes, stacks of concrete and construction machinery. When it’s complete, if ever, I’m sure it will be extraordinary, but even today, I still found it gorgeous.

8) The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France -- As cliché as it may seem, I am smitten by this structure. The fact that it looks like a large hand has just plopped it in the middle of a residential neighborhood makes it just seem all the more surprising. My two favorite views of it, from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and from Trocadero, really highlight this aspect of it. Nothing nearby is more than a couple stories tall, so it makes the tower seem that much larger. It’s actually painted a beautiful brown/bronze and is just a feat of engineering, if you think about it. It is the seminal image of Paris in my mind and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s one of the few sights that takes my breath away every single time I return to Paris.

9) Cliffs of Moher and Dun Aengus, Ireland -- I’m a water sign and probably unnaturally drawn to water scenes. That said, both the Cliffs of Moher and nearby Dun Aengus (on Inishmore) are amazing experiences. When I was there several years ago, neither location had fences that kept you from blowing over the 800+ foot cliff face. I’ve heard that has changed. But in any event, the miles of coastline that you can walk and admire the massive cliffs beneath you is just stunning.

10) (tie) Duomo (Cathedral), Siena, Italy and Florence, Italy -- What is most striking about Siena’s cathedral is its massive size wedged into a tiny neighborhood and its glorious black and white striped marble façade and interior. It is the one cathedral I think that I have returned to over and over without fail with the exception of the cathedral in Florence, which is equally as ornate with its pastel pink and green marble exterior (the interior isn’t nearly as satisfying). I think because we are so brick and mortar with our churches in Boston, these two churches really stand out for me. I see them as Italy’s way of honoring and celebrating its religion through beauty. And that type of celebration, I can never tire of.

No comments: