When it came to architecture, I tended to like some things and some things I went “bleh” at. That was the start and end of my architecture criticism. Since travelling with Steph in 2007 though, who is an architect, I learnt a heap about appreciating bricks and mortar. She taught me so much – what the hell a flying buttress is, the difference between baroque and rococo and finally how to guess a building’s age based on its architectural style. Since then, I’ve never been able to stop looking at them all – Dutch guildhouses, modern skyscrapers, Asian temples and all that’s in between.
This list took me forever and there are some gaping holes – I’ve only named one church, for instance. There’s nothing much that links them, except for the fact that they’ve all made me go ‘wow’.
Next: Favourite nights out
10. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
This is the big daddy of Angkor, and quite rightly so. It’s on the country’s flag; they’re that proud of it. The sheer size of this place is amazing, and having a guide actually made us understand what exactly it was in another life. Watching the sunset over the complex was also something that I’m not going to forget easily.
9. Opera Garnier, Paris
When people think of famous buildings in Paris, usually it’s the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower or the pyramids of the Lourve. However, I find that seeing so many photos of things beforehand sometimes takes away a lot when seeing something in person for the first time. That’s why I love Opera Garnier, home of the famous Phantom. I’d never seen a picture of it before, which helps when it all of a sudden looms up in front of you when approaching it. It blew me away.
8. Burj Khalifa, Dubai
It’s a big building. The tallest in the world, actually. I couldn’t actually go up the thing as it was booked out for three days straight, or, as I was told by someone with a very straight face, I could pay about AU$100 to skip the line. I said thanks but no thanks and resorted to taking photos from the outside, which was impressive enough for me. It doesn’t actually look that big when you’re right beside it – you need to step back a bit and see it relative to the other skyscrapers nearby which are made to look like suburban houses.
7. Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona
Think of Barcelona and you think of one man – Antoni Gaudi. Like most people who visit Barcelona, I became obsessed with the architect, traipsing all over the metropolis to view works such as La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and Casa Batillo. But it was this building, on a nondescript back street, which caught my eye. It was fabulous, and I snapped its picture, convinced it was one of Gaudi’s. Months later I discovered it wasn’t at all, but rather by one of his followers who helped decorate Barcelona’s buildings after Gaudi’s death in his style.
6. CCTV Tower, Beijing
I only got about a five-second look at this building, in a taxi from Beijing’s airport. I’d seen photos of it before and I was pretty excited that I could point it out – it really does look like an extra-terrestrial creation.
5. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
There are skyscrapers and then there are skyscrapers. Actually, here in Kuala Lumpur there are two of them. You don’t often say skyscrapers are beautiful but these are – they are the symbol of the city and can see from pretty much every point in an otherwise quite low-rise city. Two thumbs up.
4. Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
When you’re travelling around Italy you can definitely get a case of the ABCs – Another Bloody Church. Thankfully, those in Tuscany and Umbria are completely different – I always describe them to passengers as if they had been meant to feature in the boardgame ‘Candyland’. They’re happy-looking, candy-striped and absolutely beautiful. Add Bruneschelli’s dome on top and your case of ABCs are cured.
3. Reichstag, Berlin
This has got to be one of the most historically symbolic buildings in the world. A fire here in 1933 gave Hitler emergency powers which eventually led to his dictatorship, the Soviet flag raised upon it meant that the city had fallen in 1945, and it remained a burnt-out shell and empty during the Cold War. Today it is again the united country’s parliament house, and has benefited from a makeover thanks to Sir Norman Foster. It now has a glass dome at the top, which allows visitors to see the city’s ever-changing skyline as well as the ability to stare down into the parliamentary chamber. It’s a way for the people to actually keep an eye on their politicians so such atrocities can never happen again.
2. Senso-ji, Tokyo
This massive temple doesn’t have a lot of historical significance (it’s been reconstructed many times) but is completely striking when you walk up to it for the first time. You approach it by walking up Nakamise, basically a traditional-looking shopping street. It’s even more beautiful at night when it’s tastefully lit. I visited Senso-ji twice, once on my first day of travelling solo and then again on my last day in Japan in 2008. It was great reminiscing and thinking of everything I’d done in between.
1. Houses of Parliament, Budapest
Imagine London’s Houses of Parliament and Big Ben on steroids – then you might have an idea of Budapest’s version. Also add in the mysterious Danube in place of the Thames, plonk yourself on a boat to view it and remember to look behind you for Castle Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion. It’s absolutely magical.