The Saviour of Suncheon Bay

Located in the southern province of Jeollanam-do, Suncheon is a natural jewel. Great mountain trails, calm beaches, and sprawling parks entice visitors to a city that possess all the wholesome beauties that nature can provide and people can facilitate. It is in this marriage of nature and society that Suncheon Bay National Garden emerged. Prior to the garden’s conception, the city was facing an ecological crisis. Suncheon Bay, a marvellous coastal wetlands site, was taking in more visitors than the area could sustain. And so the National Garden came into being. Unveiled in Expo 2012 in Yeosu, the international exposition’s theme of “The Living Ocean and Coast” focused on environmental sustainability and protection of sensitive lands and species. It is here that the Suncheon Bay National Garden was opened to the public.

Covering a little under 1.12km2 of land, the SBNG is recognised as South Korea’s top national garden. Intended to help absorb the sheer numbers visiting Suncheon’s wetlands, the expansive park was designed in cooperation with the surrounding natural landscape. Artists, landscape designers, and many other creative individuals were locally and internationally sourced, all coming together in Suncheon to design a garden that welcomes ten of thousands of visitors every year. Over 860,000 trees (covering more than 505 different species) call the garden home, as do 113 species of flowers that change in accordance to the seasons. After visiting the Suncheon Filming Location, we headed towards the Dongcheon River to see SNBG in the afternoon light.

With only enough time to focus on one side of the garden, we decided to spend the rest of our day on the east side of SBNG. Here we found flora both indigenous and foreign to Korean soil, miniature gardens inspired by the architecture of outside countries and cultures, and a colourful design spirit that made every part we explored a unique and memorable experience.

In the six hours that we spent in SBNG the time flew so quickly, I couldn’t believe it when the sun started to set! Listed below are our Five Reasons to Visit Suncheon Bay National Garden.

The World Around Us and The World That Once Was

Entering the east gate, the Indoor Garden is one of the first exhibits that SBNG offers its guests. Once indoors, the sunlight is muted, radiating the warm glow that lights the building’s interior. Bougainvillea, first discovered by a French explorer of the same name, is the first flora to greet you. The path through the Indoor Garden bends this way and that, slowly leading you forward. Air purification plants, their vines spindly white like unwound cotton, hang neatly overhead and give the air inside a refreshing presence. Floss silk trees are tall and stately, their thorny trunks heavy with water in preparation for the dry season. The Wollemi Pine Tree sits nearby. A tree that dates back to the Jurassic period (201 – 145 million years ago), the Wollemi Pine was thought to be extinct. Miraculously, in 1994 it was discovered in the Blue Mountains of Australia. One of the rarest trees in the world, a few call the Indoor Garden home.

Near the back of the building, an area called Uami Garden is sectioned off. Here all the crucial elements of a traditional garden have been recreated, taking on the look of Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897) gardens in aesthetic details and the traditional organisation of such spaces. Entering Uami Garden, a Korean traditional totem pole welcomes you. A fake river is constructed to show visitors how pavilions would be constructed to exist harmoniously with their natural surroundings. The Bullo Gate (“Gate of Eternal Youth”) sits across from the pavilion, its sleek and simple design free of all signs of age, promising the visitor everlasting vitality.

The World Garden Zone

You don’t have to leave South Korea to see the world. Within SBNG lies a space where the cultural values and aesthetic tastes of eleven different countries are brought to life. Thailand, America, Germany, and many other exciting destinations are condensed into charming gardens that capture the design elements integral to each country’s global image, as well as the essence that makes each one distinctive.

Of the eleven countries, five hold a special place in my memory. While they are all stunning in their own right, my own tastes made me partial to the Mediterranean opulence of the Italian Garden, the Austen-esque romance of the British Garden, the colourful flowers that surrounded the Dutch Garden’s giant windmill, the Mexican Garden with its colour contrasts that brought Picasso to mind, and the heartbreaking tale of The Butterfly Lovers whose sentimental spirits shone through the style of the Chinese Garden.

Fun for the Little Ones

While I don’t have any of my own, it warms my heart to see children having fun. Summer days can be a logistical nightmare for families. Wanting to enjoy the sun without suffering in the heat, SBNG gives parents reprieve and their kids a way to enjoy their holiday without developing heatstroke. The adorably named Wriggling Garden has both covered play areas for the children and an outdoor water-play station with tall structures that spout water. Its cute name is derived from a long wooden tunnel. Donning every colour of the rainbow, the tunnel turns about like a snake finding its way in the grass. Each colour is a different section with its own means of entertaining the kids (from mirrors, to a ship’s steering wheel, to climbing ropes).

The City Reimagined

When your eyes set on Suncheon Lake Garden, it is difficult to think beyond its beauty. The elegant slopes of its five hills and the seemingly impossible wisp of a bridge that winds through them make for a breathtaking vision. What is truly amazing is that the lake garden, fitting so perfectly with its surroundings, was not always there. The artificial lake is the centerpiece of SBNG designed by American landscape designer, Charles Jencks. A person whose vision combined nature with science, Jencks designed the lake to illustrate the city of Suncheon in miniature. The hills are the city’s mountains, the wooden deck is Dongcheon Stream slicing through the landscape, and Suncheon itself is symbolised by the lake.

A Bridge Made of Dreams

SBNG was made with a vision of protecting and maintaining the wildlife surrounding it for future generations. The Dream Bridge perfectly encapsulates this goal. Designed by installation artist Kang Ik-joong, the bridge connects the east and west sides of Dongcheon River, giving visitors the opportunity to explore Suncheon Bay. Built for Expo 2012, The Dream Bridge was made in the spirit of the expo. Constructed with thirty abandoned and recycled cargo containers, it is charmingly decorated with 140,000 tiles made by as many different children from sixteen countries, reminding visitors that the environment is a global treasure, and that it is the children of today who will have the world of tomorrow.

Bringing the world to this city in southern Korea, Suncheon Bay National Garden is a place where you can spend the day, becoming lost in beauty created by both Mother Nature and the world’s artistic minds. 

The Fairytale that is the Lynn Glen Trail

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Sometimes what the soul needs is a daydream escape. Finally able to breathe after an onslaught of deadlines, we took to the road and made our way towards the coast. The roar of city life stripped away with every mile that we placed between us and Glasgow. Pop throwbacks from the 2000s and early 2010s blared in the car as I picked each song, connecting them to the car’s speakers through the magic that is Bluetooth. Singing along to the likes of Selena Gomez and Avicii, we ran through all the songs that had caught our generation by storm all those years ago

As we drove into Dalry, rolling mountains and staggering fields were sprawled as far as the eye could see. Even with three years of living in the UK, the beauty of pastoral life still brought a smile to my face. My friend chuckled as a I cheerily yelled out “Sheep!” or “Horse!” every time I caught sight of the farm animals. Reaching our destination, we parked the car near Lynn Bridge, a quaint stone construction, and headed towards the river.

Having parked at the end of the trail, we decided to start there, too. Spending the afternoon on the Lynn Glen Trail, five stunning sights make the charming walk a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Faerie Doors

Existing in the histories of many cultures worldwide, the physical forms and purposes of faeries differ between countries. To understand how long these magical beings have been part of humanity’s story of the universe, it is important to note that the term is derived from the Latin word “fata”. This refers to “The Fates”, three goddesses of Greek mythology that spun the string of individual destinies, determining the length of people’s lives before they are born. In this context, we can understand that faeries are mystical beings that can comprehend our world in ways we can’t even fathom. One of those ways is their ability to travel between realms.

Through our walk, we were greeted by the sight of faerie doors. No taller than the length of our hands, each door was carefully hand-painted with the whimsical charm of childhood. According to myth, faerie doors are used as a means for humans to communicate with the spirited creatures. While we didn’t have any faerie sightings, we admired the tiny offerings of coins and sparkly knick-knacks that rested beside the homemade doors.

A Picturesque Cascade

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The largest tributary of nearby River Garnock, the side stream rushed on our left side as path twisted and turned with the steep cliff faces. On the right, statuesque trees stood tall and proud. Gnarled roots gave the impression of bowing, and sturdy branches jutted out over the path, their foliage providing a lovely shade. Our pace slowed to a snail’s pace as we admired each new perspective of Garnock’s feeder.

A Well-Ribboned Tree

Further along, we passed a moss-covered tree dressed in colourful ribbons. A handmade sign sat on one of the branches, declaring it to be the “Wishing Tree”. Ribbons are a common item for humans to gift faeries. Their heavy presence in on the trail suggested a long history of odd phenomena in the area explained away with the winged firms. Without ribbons of our own, we passed the tree hoping that the dreams attached to it would come true.

Lynn Falls

As we drew closer to the waterfall, the river began to stagger, preparing itself for the inevitable drop. Glances through tangled tree branches amazed us. What was revealed near the end of the path was more than we had hoped for. As if set into a small staircase, the river poured over levels of stone, past a toppled tree coated green. The water by the edge of the fall was surprisingly calm. Wanting to enjoy the full view, we waded through the water. The sight was worth the caution. Looking back at the river, skinny trees framed either side. Rushing water made for a stunning contrast in tones. The fallen tree called out to me, and I answered. Walking its length with careful steps and airplane arms, my mind was brought back to younger, carefree years.

A Charming Waterfall

Past Lynn Falls, a subsection of the river flows into what is adorably known as Lynn Spout, which ends in an impressively sharp 90-degree drop. Looking back, water falls off of staggered rock formations. The precision of their design gives the distinct impression that they were crafted and not naturally formed. We wandered around the area, climbing along the bridge-like form of a fallen tree. Walking through the rushing water, visitors would be wise to either tread carefully on bare feet or wear water shoes with reliable grips.

Things to Know Before You Go

Wear Form-Fitting Clothes

While much can be seen on the main path, we found that most of the stunning views could only be captured by climbing over rocks, carefully treading on fallen leaves, and weaving through numerous branches. That day, I was wearing a long coat that snagged on everything. Physical mementos of the excursion stayed with me in the form of leaves, spiderwebs, and bits of twig. To avoid turning your clothes into makeshift birds nests, wear form-fitting attire.

Make Sure You’ve Got Grippy Shoes

Underestimating the depth of a pool of water, my friend almost sprained his ankle, if not for the incredible luck of course-correcting and stumbling himself upright when he realised his mistake. Granted, he was wearing slip-on boots with smooth soles. It wasn’t the best choice for a day out, and he’s since stuck to trainers whenever we meet up.

When nighttime drew, we reluctantly left the trail behind. Singing along to old Selena Gomez songs, our expressions were bright with the fun we had on the faerie’s trail.

Glasgow: Good for a Wander

Spending almost a month in the city of Glasgow, the time flew by. Venturing into the city centre as often as possible, I always made sure to wear boots made for walking as I explored the cityscape of the Dear Green Place.

From the get-go, Glasgow stunned me with the familiarity of its metropolitan manner. Throughout the entirety of my stay, I couldn’t help but feel as if the city was an old acquaintance, someone I’d known once before who was at once recognisable and mysterious. It started, as it so often does, with food. Standing at the street corner just a few metres from the train station was a sight I thought I’d never see in the UK. The unmistakeable red and white of the Tim Horton’s brand called my name. Who was I to ignore her siren call? In my extended stay, I visited the Canadian coffee chain at least a dozen times.

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All that sugar and caffeine fuelled me for the long strolls around the city. Most exciting was discovering the various murals adorning buildings. Created in 2008, Glasgow Council developed the City Centre Mural Trail, an exciting way to explore all four corners of the city’s downtown sector. Leading you through main roads and narrow alleyways, the trail is an exciting way to experience Glasgow, a fantastic activity that is enjoyable in both daylight and moonlight.

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Of course, coffee alone wasn’t able to sustain me. While enjoying the mural walk, I stumbled upon an establishment that called out to my love for Japanese animation. Located on Saltmarket street, R-CADE is the city’s first retro arcade gaming café. Fun for all ages, playing sessions at R-CADE are charged by the half-hour or hour at amazingly affordable flat rates covering all the games in the store. Numerous gaming consoles are in play here, including Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Xbox 360, and Atari 2600. Between gaming sessions, the café boasts a number of Asian comfort foods. I enjoyed vegetable and pork steamed gyoza, a cup of Instant Noodles, and a warm mug of green tea as I chatted with the staff, who were eager to talk about the store and what made them interested in Asian gaming and animation.

Meeting fascinating people and testing the limits of the soles of my shoes, Glasgow is a city I’d happily wander around with camera in hand and an eager smile.

Thank You for Your Wonderful

Adopted at birth, I’m eternally grateful for the good fortune that united me and my family. In my twenty two years, I never felt out of place among my loved ones. Their  warm personalities, loving hearts, and individual spirits were an absolute joy to grow up with.

To our parent’s relief and our delight, we weren’t the sort of siblings that were constantly at each other’s throat or denied the other’s existence. My sister, a loving sibling and wonderful friend, encouraged my independent and adventurous side, challenging me to do and be more than I thought I was capable of. She was always there to give advice, gently tease, and hang out with for a few hours in her cool, grown up room decorated with music posters and funky figurines. Even when I did the typical annoying little sibling things – ‘borrowing’ her clothes, playing a tug-o’-war for the remote, or tagging along with her and her friends – she never made me feel unwanted. I couldn’t imagine growing up without her.

Always ready with a smile that lit up his eyes, my father took to Monty Python’s advice and always looked on the bright side of life – a magnificent trait that continues to this day. Many of my cheery memories, filled with big laughs and matching smiles, are thanks to him. He’d walk around the apartment with me on his shoulders, my tiny hands gleefully touching the ceiling at this dizzying height. Some days he would surprise me at primary school, showing up to drop off my lunch bag. And he was always happy to share his hobbies with me, taking me out swimming or hiking. I wouldn’t have smiled quite so widely without him.

Fitted with an open mind and generous heart, I never doubted that I could count on my mother. Working a full time job, she never let that prevent her from attending every parent-teacher day, every talent show, and every extracurricular demonstration. Always able to read my moods, she listened without judgement and hugged with complete abandon. I can count on her for a chat; be it the light day-to-day catch up, or deeper conversations whose responses required serious thought and consideration. Giving me well wishes and believing in my dreams, I’d be lost without her.

The adage, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, is a tried and true one. Though I miss them dearly, the miles that separate us make the times that we do have together absolutely wonderful.

The Romance of Classic Stationary: Oxford’s Creative Gem

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Taking its visitors into a world that blends the beauty of English and Italian design; Scriptum Fine Stationary has proudly showcased the best of independent European craft in the world of stationary since 2003. Moving to Turl Street, their current location, which I happily lost myself for an hour, Scriptum’s dedication to classic craftsmanship is something to be revered.

Selling personal stationary largely sourced from small businesses in England and Italy, the romance of its timeless objects emanates throughout the cosy space. On the first floor, feathered ink pens, dyed marbles, leather bound journals, and ornate magnifying glasses bring to mind polished oak desks and wide windows overlooking the countryside.

The aesthetic joys continue on the second floor. Hanging models of hot air balloons hover overhead. Venetian masks, in a myriad of colours and sizes, are neatly arranged on a wooden shelf in the side. Decorated papers intended for personal letters are bordered with neat swirls and blooming flowers. Most exciting, a series of vibrant folios stand on display.

Their spines decorated with swirling text and enchanting illustrations, it’s difficult to ignore their siren call. So I didn’t. Choosing Volume One of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales from Around the World, I left looking forward to the fantasy realm Scriptum had made available to me.

Going Around the Getty: A Beautiful Day Seeing Art in LA

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With the sky a perfect shade of blue and the occasional breeze complimenting the warm rays of the sun, my Saturday in LA was too lovely to stay indoors. Easily making my way to the hillside site of the Getty Centre, a free tram system led visitors from the foot of the hill to the museum entrance. Even though I arrived half an hour prior to opening time, the line was considerably long. People mostly came in groups, and all wielded a camera to capture their favourite pieces for posterity.

What I enjoyed most about the museum was how it shifted between eras and genres of art; from Renaissance theistic art to Roman-Greek statues, furniture from Versailles, a modern installation on the changing nature of the written word, and even a cactus garden. There was something for everyone, and not a soul I passed was without a smile.

There is always something to be gained from exposing yourself to the past. In art, something fantastic and awe-inspiring can be discovered in any and all forms. There is always wonderful to be discovered within weird. Through enjoying varieties of art, maybe you’ll find a way to enjoy parts of yourself you’re less certain of.

Wandering Around Oxford: The City’s Best Walking Route

During my fleeting four-day stay at Oxford, every single adventure began and ended with walking. Though I was staying at a friend’s house that was almost an hour from the city centre on foot, I didn’t tire from all the traipsing around. There was too much to see, from the classic architecture to the variety of life being lived in this fine university city. Students rushing from class to class, tourists armed with expensive cameras and comically large guide maps, stall keepers selling jewellery and collectibles designed to catch the eye, and crooning buskers who gave a smile to anyone who stopped and took the time to listen to the music.

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With all this walking, naturally my mind decided upon its favourite routes taken. Funnily enough, these three routes were all taken on the same day, one leading directly into the other.

The Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum, charging a small fee to visitors and students alike, is well worth the price of admission. Glasshouses hosted flora originating from tropical climes. The gardens were coloured with a myriad of flowers and herbs. Sturdy trees, their leaves expressed in the form of either a wide umbrella or arms lazily swaying in the air, provided plenty of shade and comfort. Everyone I passed by was in good spirits, enjoying this little piece of heaven tucked away in the city corner.

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Leaving the gardens, I headed along Dead Man’s Walk. So named for its medieval history as a processional path for Jewish funerals, its sombre past did nothing to diminish the peace and tranquility of the walk. Trees lining either side of the wide path kept the afternoon glare of the sun away. What light managed to filter through the leaves created wonderful shifting patterns on the dusty path.

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Christ Church College greeted me at the end of the short walk. Perfect for lovers of history, fantasy, and beauty, Christ Church was one of the filming sites for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, its grand staircase utilised in the scene where harry met Draco Malfoy for the first time. In the College’s Great Hall, another fantasy world is brought to life. Housing the infamous Alice Window, all of Lewis Carroll’s most popular characters are immortalised in stained glass, from Alice’s signature sky-blue dress to the Dodo Bird’s brilliant plumage.

To all who have little time to enjoy the fascinating city of Oxford, I highly recommended walking along this path.

Baguio: A Cloud and a Cafe

True to its name, Mt. Cloud Bookshop is a bit of a trek. Made up of rolling hills and winding streets, the walk to Mt. Cloud is a brisk one requiring equal parts energy and enthusiasm. Fortunately we had a hearty breakfast that morning, and are all bibliophiles obsessed with expanding our collections. The sun poked in and out of clouds all day. This, however, did nothing to disguise its presence from us. A steady heat radiated through the city, pressing onto us as we made our pilgrimage to Mt. Cloud. When we reached our destination, it was well worth the effort. The entrance was located past a staircase heading underground. Lush flora grew tall and proud across from the open door.

And inside it was beautiful. Books lined the walls in neat shelves, a flurry of colours ranging in size and length. At the end of bookshop, the entire wall was dedicated to children’s books. Gorgeous stationary stood to the side of the front door. Art books and zines rested at the foot of the stairs. Up the staircase, Filipino graphic novels and poetry was set across the banister. Biographies, anthologies, and international literature are neatly arranged on the second floor. Mt. Cloud graphic tees hang on the balcony, proud flags to this indie store. Pouring over the many choices, I was drawn to the anthology collections and poetry. Tackling universal issues of love, pain, and a sense of belonging, I eventually chose not one, but five books. My wallet cried but my soul sung.

Leaving Mt. Cloud before I succumbed to the siren calls of even more novels, we headed off in search of a light lunch. Little Leigh Cafe was perfect. Located at the entrance to Honeymoon, Little Leigh is a doll’s dream. The dining area, on the top floor, is set in soothing pastel tones. The tables dominating the main area are low to the ground in perfect imitation of a dollhouse. Immediately, I thought this would be the perfect place for a children’s tea party.

The fun doesn’t end there. More than a pop of colour, a canary yellow ladder leads up to an attic space. Carpeted flooring feels like clouds. The low, slanted ceiling is answered with a low table and cozy dark brown cushions, giving the space a casual feel. A small window floods natural light into the space. During the evenings, two lamps are set here to create ambiance.

Ordering an ube milkshake and a chosilog (Chorizo and tapsilog, a meal incorporating garlic fried rice and a fried egg with various meat), the savoury tones of the chosilog balanced well with the light and sweet milkshake.

Leaving the cafe in happy spirits, we walked through the rain and onto our friend’s house. Our food babies were properly formed by this point, and we all dreamed of a lazy siesta.

Renewed Life in Peng Chau

In the island town of Peng Chau, the entrance to an artistic secret garden lies, unassuming, between two shop buildings. Leather Factory, so named for formerly being the location of two leather factories, is a cosy world-unto-itself primarily consisting of art formed from recyclable material. From the narrow passageway leading you into the space, graffiti lines the walls. Colourful paper cups are arranged on the ceiling in circles imitating the sun. At the end of the passageway is a series of photo collages. Titled Symbiotic, this piece by Nicolas Lemal explores human perception through intimate and tasteful shots of unidentified peoples.

Once past the entrance, marvellous curiosities are aplenty. To the left sits a chair fit for a giant. Painted a royal blue and towering over visitors, this grand seat is definitely BFG approved. To the right is the self-declared Concrete Jungle. Creatively utilising the empty spray paint cans that must have coloured the walls, bicycle parts, children’s toys and so on, Concrete Jungle forces viewers to reconsider how objects take up space and how their meanings are transformed when presented in ways atypical of their function.

Behind Concrete Jungle sits a darling little garden. Bursting with carefully arranged fauna and one side providing a cool respite from the glaring sun, the garden is an ideal hangout spot. A sinewy statue of found metal objects desperately reaches out to the sky, in likeness of the Tower of Babbel. Glowing rays light up the structure, drawing the eye to its myriad of unique lines and curves.

Across from the garden is a stunning work that speaks to the desire for success that is inherent in all individuals. Starting from the ground level, a link of cycling vehicles – all coloured in the same burgundy hue – make the brave climb up the wall and towards the heavens.

With plans to renovate part of the space into a B&B, Leather Factory is a unique spot to visit on a trip to Hong Kong. Its one-of-a-kind displays are the perfect way to get out of your head, excusing your mind from self-doubt and worry and diving into the wonder and intrigue of contemporary art and how it can affect and interact with the environment. Visiting Leather Factory also kept me well-grounded. The second instalment in Kevin Kwan’s addictive trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend had me dreaming of Gastby-esque fortunes and feeling irrationally sorry for my current place in life. Beautifully expressed and demonstrating that money isn’t everything, Kwan still made the internal struggles of the rich sound like suffering in the best sense.

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.

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.