Temperate Glasshouse in Kew Gardens, London, England
The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens are some of the finest botanical gardens in the world. Spread over 121 hectares (300 acres), wander amongst some 50,000 plants found across this UNESCO World Heritage site outside London. The jewel of Kew Gardens is the beautiful Temperate House. This Victorian-era glasshouse – opened 1862 – was built to be the stunning entrance to the royal gardens when the rail line was complete. Things didn’t go to plan, and the railway station was moved to the other end of the park. The building itself is quite marvellous, containing thousands of panes of glasses (replaced after more than 100 WWII-era bombs rocked Kew), while the thousands of plants within this iron and glass dome are even more so. The Victorians had an intense curiosity. Those who could afford to went on adventures to all corners of the Earth in search of the new and exotic to bring back to mother England – or more likely, sponsored an explorer to go off in their name. Those who couldn’t afford the adventures themselves would instead satisfy their curiosity by going to palm houses, world fairs, circuses, museums, curiosity cabinets, exhibits, wax halls, and other such places. Housing 1,500 plants from 5 continents and 16 islands, the Temperate House covers plants within the temperate zone (where most of the world population lives, the temperate zone is sandwiched between the polar and tropics – including North America, Europe, China, Australia, southern Africa, and parts of South America). While at the Temperate House, wander the narrow alleys between plants before climbing up to the viewing platform for an aerial panorama of the ecosystems below and the wrought and cast iron structure above. Whether or not you have an interest in biology and ecosystems, Kew Gardens and its glasshouses are a fascinating place – both pulling you into the past with its Victorian glasshouses as well as looking towards the future at the effects humans have on the planet, and working to conserve and protect the Earth’s flora.
Pro tip: Visit the Palm House while you’re at Kew Gardens. When you’re in Belfast, be sure to visit the Palm House in Belfast’s Botanical Gardens and in Dublin visit the National Botanic Gardens – all four glasshouses are designed by Victorian-era architect Richard Turner. Also while in Kew, be sure to check out the beautiful glass art by artist Dale Chihuly.
Le Jardin Anglais (the English Garden), Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva’s lovely Jardin Anglais overlooks the mouth of the famously beautiful Lac Leman at its convergence with the Rhone River. Constructed in 1855, this lovely urban garden hosts the famed horloge fleurie, or ‘flower clock’, which was built at the park’s centennial as a way to pay homage to the Switzerland and its affinity for clocks. Originally a wooded patch of embankment, the city of Geneva decided to buy it and turn the area into a lakeside park, part of an initiative to develop a new luxury neighbourhood. Even to this day, the neighbourhood surrounding the Jardin Anglais (as with most of central Geneva) is luxurious and beautiful. It is a place where Porches and Ferraris are parked, where shops like Cartier, Chanel, Gucci and Burberry are the norm, where the flats are glorious and expansive, with flower-clad balconies overlooking Lac Leman. Despite its name, this manicured and meticulous garden with its flower clock, perfect organisation, and profound cleanliness, is so undeniably and unmistakably Swiss.
Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park, Ireland
The silent headstones reach out of the earth like fingernails. A soft layer of grass covers the ground; ivy climbs the walls. Wildflowers, left to their own devices, plant their roots in their chosen bits of earth. Muckross Abbey, a squat, ancient building within the beautiful Killarney National Park in western Ireland, rings of silence. As one approaches the roofless, hollow structure, the quantity of graves thickens, as in Catholicism, being buried on Holy Ground was a believer’s final life objective. Graves are everywhere, even inside the building. The ground by the abbey seems to be higher than the ground further away, but that’s no trick of the light or any natural phenomenon – no, that’s a result of as many people being buried on Holy Ground by the church as possible. The silence inside is deafening. Your footsteps echo in the cloisters as you circle the inner courtyard. Climbing to the second floor, you come face-to-face with the ancient, scared yew tree planted by the monks of yesteryears, a symbol of their eternal faith. Finally at the top of the tower, you get a sweeping view of the rest of the churchyard, and beyond it, the lush greens of Killarney National Park, a good bit of which was once the property of the Muckross Estate before becoming Ireland’s first national park in 1932. The spell is finally broken when a group of boisterous tourists lumber through the abbey’s gates, and you take your cue, quietly slipping out onto one of the many forested paths winding in and around Killarney’s famous park.
Given the recent tragedies in the French capital this week as well as the solidarity marches happening at this very moment, it is only fitting to put the spotlight on Paris. The City of Love, the City of Lights–what can be said about Paris that hasn’t already been said? One of the most visited, photographed and expensive cities in the world, Paris makes the top of every list. From broad avenues to narrow alleys, from magnificent restaurants to cozy cafes, from style to revolution, from love to passion, from life to death, how can one describe a city that has felt and seen so much? Paris has seen the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, it has seen the expulsion of the Jews in the 14th century and later the massacre of the Protestants in 1572. It has seen the glory days of the Renaissance and the height of Impressionism. It has seen the rise and fall of Napoleon, the horrors of WWI, the blood of the French Revolution. Yet, in all that, long has it been the capital of art, culture and society. As such, the city has provided inspiration for creative souls such as Gertrude Stein, Claude Monet, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Oscar Wilde, Gustave Eiffel, Pablo Picasso, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and so many others. Paris is at the very heart of French life and culture. In wake of the recent murders at Chalie Hebdo and beyond, let us remember that through good times and bad, we’ll always love Paris.
Jeff Koons’ puppy outside the Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
After a few weeks of absence (no internet while working out on the French vineyards!), I return with a photo of Bilbao, one of Spain’s best-kept secrets (no worries ; French vineyards are soon to come). Outside the infamous, space-age museum sits a…well, a special sort of art. Made completely of flowers, Jeff Koons’ amazing sculpture, ‘Puppy’ stands guard outside Bilbao’s famous museum. Koons is known for his stainless steel balloon animals as well as other slightly eccentric types of art. Puppy is a 43 ft/13m tall sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier puppy created from petunias, begonias, marigolds and other such flowers. He currently sits quietly outside Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum–itself a work of art!–where he has been since 1997. Today, an intricate and permanent part of the museum, Puppy almost became the victim of attack by an Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque) gang who planted explosives in flowerpots around his feet–though of course, our favorite terrier was saved by a Basque policeman who later died from gunshot wouds (and no, I am not making this up, as crazy as it may sound…). Ever since I studied Koons’ artwork in university, I’d always wanted to go, so finally getting the chance to visit Bilbao was an opportunity of a lifetime!
April showers bring May showers—that’s what they say, right? Sometimes a dark grey sky can be just as beautiful as a bright blue one. Sometimes a rainstorm is as pretty as a clear day. How else will the flowers grow? How else will the world fill with life—not just flowers, but expanses of green grass, rows leafy trees, fresh air, skipping squirrels and twittering birds? So welcome in the cloudy days as well as the sunny ones because spring is here! Its in every corner of Europe, even rural Poland. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of those showers. Go outside, take a hike, have a picnic, go for a bike ride – because the beauty of spring is all around!