Synonymous with Hans Christian Anderson, pioneering design, retro flair, galleries to die for (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art springs to mind) and gastronomic haunts that change the way people understand food, Copenhagen is a city like no other. There is so much to lure you to this northern wonderland – and so many reasons to stay – yet a particular gem, a welcoming abode that offers old world luxury with character, is Nimb Hotel. Part fairy-tale, this is where you venture when seeking a decadently blissful Danish escape.
Found in the Tivoli Gardens (the world’s second oldest amusement park – and one hotel guests are given private access to), this domed, light-festooned hotel somehow manages to be simultaneously gallery-esque, vintage and playful. The palatial structure, built in 1909, comes to life the moment you step through its doors; the interiors combining soft lighting, antique furnishing and objet d’art, an abundance of rich wooden detailing, glittering chandeliers, bird motifs, natural tones and flower arrangements more akin to blooming works of art.
In the rooms – of which there are 38, some of which come with their own fireplaces (making a winter visit seem rather delicious) – the focus is on the minute. There are vintage cocktail cabinets filled with Alice in Wonderland-worthy jars of spirits, ornate writing desks and thriving house plants. My four poster bed was at least part cloud, while the tub, which I filled to the brim with bubbles, proved almost impossible to leave. Although, with dinner and drinks calling, I somehow found to will to depart this opulent, comforting space – an homage to the best of Scandi design. It’s worth noting too that spa treatments can be carried out in the bedrooms upon request. To learn more about The Nimb’s other wellness offerings click here.
Food is another area where The Nimb excels. There is an assortment of restaurants and bars on site, meaning all tastes can be catered for – whether it’s fine French fare, cocktails or afternoon teas complete with all the Danish staples that you hanker for. As it was summer, and everything was suitably relaxed, I made for Fru Nimb, renowned for its open sandwiches and view over the Tivoli Gardens – their summer herring, elderflower, horseradish and radish is a thing of beauty. Light-filled and glorious, this restaurant only opened in 2015 and is named for Louise Nimb – restauranteur extraordinaire of the 1800s. Vegetarians will delight in the creations of Gemyse while wine connoisseurs will fall for the wonders of Vinotek – the hotel’s wine cellar. Clearly in this charming, pioneering Copenhagen abode, there is something for everyone.
To find out more about the hotel – or indulge, escape and book a room – click here.
There’s something otherworldly about the snow-dusted, wildflower-adorned peaks of South Tyrol. Found in Italy’s far north, just shy of the Austrian border, South Tyrol is an area of staggering natural beauty, a place full of the unexpected, a melting pot of cultures, histories and landscapes – and yet, thankfully really, it remains largely unexplored. And, while there is pasta, wine and sun in abundance, you’ll also find dumplings, snow, alpine forests, breathtaking mountain passes and wooden refuges that feel worlds away from the villas of Tuscany or waterways of Venice. This is an entirely different Italy – a place of magic and wonder where travellers can embrace all things adventurous or simply unwind in a singular, spectacular setting.
While South Tyrol has long been synonymous with wintery escapades – it had 1,200 kilometres of ski slops after all – this alpine wonderland proves glorious year round. With 350 mountains over 3,000 metres, seven nature parks and what feels like only a handful of visitors, how could it not be? Here the setting – think chocolate box villages found amongst soaring, time-ravened peaks, the terrain a collage of greens and greys – comes with a rather liberating sense of space.
With each passing season South Tyrol has been adding attractions to its tourism programme. A cable car takes early-risers skywards to watch the summer sunrise, mountaincarts speed down winding dirt tracks and the Plose Looping will leave you equal parts exhilarated and euphoric. Thanks also to a collection of rustic mountain lodges scattered throughout the region, everything remains accessible; Rossalm will delight youngsters after a morning tramping along the ‘WoodyWalk’, while Maurerberg Lodge, which sits at 2157 metres, serves up typical Tyrollean dishes and views you can get utterly lost in. Here you will also find around 16,000 marked hiking trails, mountain bike routes, spa towns, healing waters and mountain lakes – like Caldaro, Dobbiaco and Carezza – that are among the warmest in the alps, making them ideal destinations for wild swimmers. It’s no surprise to discover that locals have long made a habit of heading into the wild the moment work finishes. Spend a few days surrounded by such beauty and you’ll find that this local pride is infectious.
My base for South Tyrollean exploration was the newly-opened My Arbor, a modern and open, nature-inspired boutique abode found on the mountains above Bressanone. Bathed in light, the design is elegant and innovative, full of earthy tones and organic textures that make the space feel like an extension of the surrounding forest. Rooms are expansive, the view impossible to ignore and forest bathing de rigueur – as is lounging by the pool, feeling kinks loosen in the spa, indulging in a restorative multi-course meal, or letting time slip away in a mediative massage.
Best of all though, South Tyrol is home to the Italy’s most northerly wineries and, thanks in part to the cooler climes, their wines are clean, smooth and distinctive. Known more for their white varieties, entire days can be spent visiting wineries like Novacella, which is found in an old monastery and is famed as much for its library as its coveted tipples. But whatever draws you to this mountain-filled paradise – be it wine, calm or daring do – know that a few days here will leave you breathing deeper and thinking clearer and that you’ll depart utterly in awe of all South Tyrol has to offer.
We chat to Lodestars Anthology cover photographer Annapurna Mellor about the joys of photography and travel – to see more of her work be sure to check out our India magazine here.
What drew you to photography?
I never studied photography and initially I fell into it. After I graduated from university, I felt quite lost in my life and decided to travel solo around Asia for a year. I first went to Nepal to hike the mountain I was named after, and then continued through India, South East Asia and Mongolia. I started with a small camera which I didn’t know how to use outside of Auto mode, and throughout that year got more and more into shooting. I learnt techniques from other travellers and the photos I was taking got better and better. I had a blog at the time and family and friends back home started telling me I should do it as a career. My dad is actually a travel photographer too, so I think I have a natural eye from him which is perhaps how my images developed very quickly at the beginning. I loved the idea of being able to have a job where I could travel and tell stories of people and places around the world. Finding the incredible work of photographers like Steve McCurry and Alison Wright just inspired me even more. Of course, over the few years since then I have found out that this is a very hard career to make money from, and it isn’t just all about travelling and taking photos, but my love and passion for image making has always carried me through.
How would you describe your style?
I describe myself as a travel photographer because while I shoot a mixture of portraits, street photography and landscapes, I am always trying to portray a sense of place through my images. I want people to look at my photographs and feel like they are in a place; meeting the people,
walking the streets. My work definitely has a documentary angle, as I’ve always been drawn to cultures when I travel and I love capturing people and telling their stories.
Has your style changed over time?
Yes, to a degree. I only started taking photographs around four years ago and I found very quickly that I mostly connected to photographing people and that is also what my audience responded to. Quickly my portraits have become what I am known for, and they are still my favourite thing to shoot. Overtime, my style has definitely become more refined and I think my skills as a storyteller have improved. In the beginning, I was just shooting things which I thought were beautiful, without much regard for how the images fitted together and how they might make a story. Now it’s one of the main things I think about when I’m shooting.
Has there been a particularly memorable shoot?
I’ve had some amazing opportunities to shoot beautiful places and people all over the world, and different shoots stand out for different reasons. My first big magazine assignment (for National Geographic Traveller) was along the English/Scottish Borders. It was a location totally different for me, and after having spent a few years living in Asia building my portfolio, I was nervous if I could capture the UK in a way which still felt like my style. I took my sister with me as my driver/model and we spent four days driving along the border. It rained constantly, we had to sleep in an unheated barn one night (in early February) due to a lack of any budget, and we ended up in a lot of locations I was supposed to shoot thinking ‘is this it?’. It was a really tough shoot but in the end I think I captured some images which really celebrated the beauty of the place, and it made me realise that sometimes challenging shoots end up being the most rewarding.
You’ve travelled the world taking photographs, do you have a favourite location or subject?
India is my favourite place both to travel and to take photographs. I feel a very strong connection with the country and when I’m there I feel very at home. As a photographer, it’s a paradise. The colours, the faces, the festivals and spirituality. I feel like I could spend a lifetime photographing India and there would still be more to see, more to capture.
Can you tell us about capturing the Lodestars Anthology India cover image?
That photograph was taken at the Pushkar Lake in Pushkar, Rajasthan a few years ago during my second trip to the country. Pushkar is a gorgeous little town between Jaipur and Jodhpur, and I spent almost a month there over the annual Camel Fair, capturing local herders and families on the dunes.
Some days, I would take time off and sit around the lake where it was very peaceful and quiet. Most of the lake is for pilgrims, who bathe in the holy waters, which are said to be tears of Lord Shiva. I was sat on the opposite side one day when all these women in vibrant dress walked past. I loved the contrast of their bright clothes with the white background of Pushkar town and the lake. Little unexpected moments of magic like this often happen in India.
You also run ROAM magazine, can you tell us about this project?
I started ROAM two years ago with my sister Athena. I felt like there was a lack of a platform which focused on storytelling and cultures, and too much travel media was becoming about the traveller not about the place. I wanted to change the conversation about travel, and create a platform to celebrate the work of travellers who seek out deeper cultural connections and off the beaten track places.
We publish photo essays, stories, interviews, guides and features from all over the world. We aim to delve into places a little more off the beaten track, or to highlight cultures you may never have come across. Imagery is a huge focus for us, and we love finding beautiful photography to illustrate the magazine with. We are contributor based, and have published stories from amazing photographers, writers and creatives from around the world. Our aim is eventually to make ROAM into a physical magazine, full of stories and beautiful photography.
What advise do you have for someone looking to begin a photography career?
Firstly, this is a really hard and unpredictable profession and you really need to love it with all your heart to want to pursue it as a career. If you do, then I think it’s really important to develop your own style and unique way of telling stories. This is what will make you stand out from everyone else.
It feels like a lifetime ago that we created our Canada magazine, but certain memories remain gloriously vivid. Travelling along the Keele River in the Northwest Territories with Canoe North Adventures was an utterly life-changing experience. Not only was it one of those rare chances to venture somewhere truly wild – the sort of place you might assume was impossible to find in our modern world – but it allowed me to meet the most astounding people, hear their stories and physically push myself in the most liberating way. It’s been two years since I ventured north … I think I’m due a return journey.
When travelling through some of the globe’s more remote locations you’re likely to have a moment of clarity. Miles from normality, you feel like you’ve found another world, a place where only your immediate reality matters. For me this happened on the Keele River in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. I’d been paddling in the bow of a canoe for ten days when, late on a sunny summer evening, the water around me became a reflected mass of rose gold clouds, the perfect mirror of the sky above. With no discernible horizon, it was as if I was travelling through a dreamscape where down was up and up was down; the surreal setting a reminder that in this world there is true, untameable beauty. And to uncover it, I’d recommend travelling north.
Along the Keele River you’ll encounter the kind of landscape they envisioned when they first thought of the sublime. It’s a setting that makes you feel small, dwarfed by the surroundings. There are mountains chiselled away by wind and rain, the last patches of summer snow clinging to their peaks, and marbled cliff faces seemingly painted into the scene. But rather than feeling overwhelmed, you’re honoured. It is difficult to find something so majestic, so much bigger than yourself. And here it is, not all that far from the Arctic Circle, a region where many landmarks remain nameless and a canoe is the most desirable form of transportation.
Copes of our Canada magazine are still available to buy here.
According to locals, Seattle doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is remarkable really when you consider it’s perfect mix of nature and urban sophistication. This is an exciting and unpretentious city where you can feast on the spectacularly fresh bounty of the Pacific northwest, be passionate about coffee at Starbucks Reserve Roastery watching coffee mixologists work their magic, awe over Dreamliner production in the world’s largest building at Boeing, chat with producers and artisans at the historic Pike Place Market, admire excitingly curated artworks at the Seattle Art Museum (the building itself a masterpiece), take a day hike through Washington State’s evergreen beauty, explore ways to tackle some of the world’s problems at Bill and Melinda Gates Discovery Centre, spot one of the 75 resident killer whales on a whale watching tour around the San Juan Islands or merely gather and chat at any one of the swanky bars showcasing the best of regional creations.
A Savour Seattle Booze’n Bites tour helps you navigate the myriad choices in this food-centric city which, despite being settled by Methodist teetotallers and once boasting a pontoon in the middle of Puget Sound for clandestine drinking, has a refreshing ‘anything-goes’ attitude. Starting with ginger beer and whisky at Rachel’s, there are blood-orange margaritas with jalapeño infused salt served with slow-roasted sirloin tip tacos to try at San Patricio, vodka and triplesec lemongrass martinis paired with shrimp roll at The Martini Bar, Diller Daiquiris with a hint of cinnamon infused lime juice (slight lightheadedness eased with the accompanying Mufaletta sandwiches) at The Diller Bar and finally Kilt Lifter beer and pretzels made from brewing by-products at Pike Brewing Co.
Friendly, artistic, dynamic and surrounded by magnificent landscape, a Seattle sojourn should be a definite on your wandering wish-list.
Everybody loves the chance to unplug and get up close and personal with the real outdoors, the pristine wildernesses where seasons can change every hour and hiking trails meander through an alpine wonderland, but it’s the chance to combine this with a perfect road trip that makes it the ideal release from the madding world.
The Cascade Loop north of Seattle is a wonderful drive taking you from Puget Sound’s glistening waters, through a patchwork of fruit trees growing on Colombia River’s rich river flats (roadside stalls offering the best of their freshly picked sweetness), past Methow Valley farmlands and into charming towns like the Wild West-restored Winthrop (where a round of putt-putt and an ice-cream is perfect after a day of hiking, kayaking or fishing) and Leavenworth, whose Bavarian themed buildings sit perfectly below surrounding snow-capped mountains. Eventually you reach North Cascades National Park, whose beauty is astonishing despite it being remarkably lesser known than other parks.
Less than three hours from Seattle, it contains over 200,000 acres of old growth forest, 500 lakes and ponds, 300 glaciers, endless waterfalls which cascade down mountains even in the height of summer and a multitude of hiking trails. Everywhere the views are magnificent and the names evocative; Diablo Lake, Thunder Knob, Pyramid Peak, Rainy Lake, Cutthroat Lake, Liberty Bell, but if you really feel a vertical challenge is in order, take the Hart’s Pass Rd, rated one of the world’s most dangerous, and enjoy views into the heart of the North Cascades at Slate Peak Lookout.
This area is magical, the real-time panoramas better than any technological imagery available, and after a few days of hiking I thought I’d seen it all. My last night revealed yet another treasure though as the waxing moon and setting sun sat in the sky together, the scattered clouds over blue skies releasing gossamer raindrops that glowed golden in the sun’s rays, every season appearing to hint of its existence at the same time. Life’s natural bounty really.
Our India magazine is now available through our online store (you can nab a copy here) and will be with stockists in the next few days (UK) and weeks (rest of the world we’re afraid).
In the mean time, here is a sneak peak of the new issue, featuring the Editor’s Letter from Liz and the images of a few of our contributors. Embrace the wanderlust!
Creating these magazines is joyous, a chance to see the world in extraordinary detail and share the work of contributors driven by awe, curiosity and a need to create. The process is both inspiring and unpredictable, with each issue taking on a life of its own, but I can’t think of any as delightfully eccentric or lively as India.
Or as demanding for that matter – for how do you capture a country this diverse? I considered producing two magazines – North and South – or focusing on a single state, yet ultimately decided not to meddle with the Lodestars’ status quo. We would, as always, offer vignettes, snapshots of India’s attractions, culture and communities, its myriad of ever-shifting personalities. For even if our focus had been narrowed, you simply can’t do India’s immensity justice.
Understandably, selecting this issue’s featured locations proved challenging. Our best hope was to offer a geographical spread, a window into worlds which, whilst they might seem remote, are still kith and kin to Mother India. But I also made some personal choices. For me it was vital that Darjeeling be featured. The gateway to the Himalayas, this is an India far removed from the sun-baked Rajasthan I’d explored – a place where great snows fall and time seems to slow. My grandfather, Alan, spent his childhood in Darjeeling, on Nagri Farm, a working tea plantation to this day, where he remained until Partition, a time of heartbreak and violence seared into his memory yet rarely discussed. You can only imagine the horror and pain this period caused for Indians. Alan had grown up looking at the mountains, too young to be aware of the political and social ramifications of his family’s presence, yet absolutely alive to the magnificence of the world around him.
I wasn’t sure how appropriate it was to share this story, especially when on the ground, but what’s surprising about India is how open everyone is when it comes to discussing history and how willing people are to share their stories and listen to those of others.
This country is generous to travellers. It is bewitching, tumultuous, electrifying, maddening and addictive. You will adore or despair of it, whatever emotion it draws out guaranteed to be extreme. Travelling here you nd that life’s nuances, its highs and lows, are on full display. There will be moments when it all feels too much, when your mind yearns for calm, but then you’ll see something that takes your breath away. India will sweep you up, envelop you, and leave you enraptured. Then you depart and all those experiences seem like a distant dream, so at odds with the ordinariness of your everyday. People ask me what I thought of India and I have to take a moment to remind myself I was even there. And then it all comes flooding back.
Alive as it is, this issue is slightly different. We’ve published something particularly photo-heavy; a magazine that will take you on a journey you feel rather than understand – one I hope allows you to respond to its pages the way you would to scenes on the ground. You’ll find within images of Holi in Varanasi, a lesser-known Goa, reclaimed fortresses, architectural marvels, beaches by the Arabian Sea, cosmopolitan madness, rural artisans, temple-dotted mountains and wilderness.
I feel even now, trying to describe a magazine that describes an impossible country, I’m failing somewhat, because India is beyond words. It is changing, harrowing, rousing, radiant and unparalleled. It is all things at once – constantly, unendingly – and more than I could ever say.
Songlines; ancient Aboriginal maps passed on through song, story or dance. When sung, they describe landmarks along a journey, enabling the user to navigate their way across vast distances of the Australian landscape. In doing so, they keep the sacred land alive.
I have always been in awe of the vast range of ancient landscapes within Australia and the comparisons between stories of the past and the present, the indigenous and the modern and the connections formed to those landscapes. It was upon learning about Aboriginal Songlines that the idea to take on a project going walkabout alone across the Australian landscape was affirmed.
Over the course of the summer, I set off to explore the deep-rooted connections of Australians’ to the landscape they call home. Weaving my way across the country, I spent five weeks working out of a make shift studio in the back of my car and spent my nights camping in a tent, in the country’s national parks.
Covering a total of 10,500 km, I collected scattered stories and imprinted memories strewn over the landscape. I gained a deeper understanding of the Country’s past and of the Aboriginals’ deep-rooted connection to the land that has been their home for thousands of years. What emerged were two conflicting devotions to the Landscape. That of the Aboriginals’ sacred connection and that of the newer generations commercialisation of space through modern land tourism. Despite the tenuous past of the nation, there is a shared love of the land, both past and present.
Giving no weight to any one persons, physical representations of individuals I encountered were removed. The stories that were shared are represented through the landscape in which they were created. The resulting body of work is a collection of landscapes and still-lifes, stories and natural interventions that explore human experience through listening to the language of the Australian landscape.
Songlines of the Here+Now, will be exhibited at The Argentea Gallery in Birmingham 13th September – 27th October 2018. To learn more about Tanya’s work, click here.
Around 20 minutes after leaving the train station I felt our taxi turn down a long driveway. My husband and I were in the heart of the Lake District and my eyes were instantly drawn to the blue waters of Ullswater – until we came to a complete stop in front of the doors to Another Place, The Lake.
With a few guests to check in before us we took a seat, admiring the central part of the original Georgian house. We’d passed by a collection of wellington boots by the entrance, ranging in size and shades of mud, and I spotted a bundle of wood in the corner of the library room, hinting at the presence of a fireplace, and a restaurant off to the right. As couples, a young family and dogs filtered through, it felt less like the reception area of a hotel and more like a large family house full of warmth and charm.
A smiling face caught my eye from behind the reception desk and as we were shown to our room in the hotel’s new extension, passing the Living Space and a casual restaurant/bar area and terrace, followed by the pool, sauna and treatment rooms. With the team from the Watergate Bay Hotel behind its creation, there are significant similarities in design and overall feel throughout – however, its place amongst the vast national parkland on the second largest lake in England ensures Another Place, The Lake stands on its own.
I lingered by the entrance to the indoor pool, struck by the view through the wall to ceiling windows. With a complete rundown of the hotel facilities and outdoor activities – from canoeing and paddle boarding, to tramping along the area’s many trails – I could foresee the challenge of indecision about what to do beyond the itinerary we had already booked in. Why do holidays never come with quite enough time?!
Our room was light and welcoming, with a view out over the lake and on to the snow-capped mountains in the distance (it had been an unseasonably long winter). I opened the balcony door and welcomed the crisp air into my lungs, the weight of the city now far behind me.
The next morning, the cloud that had rolled in over the lake in the early hours having long since burnt off, we went for breakfast at the Rampsbeck Restaurant, and it felt like the sun and the blue skies were competing for brightness.
As my husband had a paddle boarding lesson arranged, I opted for indulgence and made my way towards the treatment rooms for a pedicure. Although, having passed the Library with the sun streaming in, the thought of grabbing a book and curling up on one of the couches in front of the fire for the day certainly appealed.
With my feet thoroughly pampered I was tempted to give in to my relaxed state and head back to the room as I still had some time before my husband was to return, but then I remembered the three-course dinner we had planned that evening, so instead grabbed a map and selected a hiking trail. The map had a great selection of walks ranging in length and difficulty, but with limited time I decided on a short amble, saving a longer trek for the both of us to do the next day.
On my walk back to the hotel I spotted my husband’s paddle boarding group out on the water and decided to watch them come in from the terrace while I enjoyed something to eat from the Living Space menu. I felt deliciously calm and thought about when we would return; it was easy to imagine spending many types of holidays here throughout the year, each of the season’s offering up a different backdrop and range of adventrues.
Whatever the reason for making a trip to Another Place, The Lakes, you are assured of a view that will overtake the desire to curl back under the covers, no matter the weather.
Layered in meaning and as diverse as they come, attempts to photograph Japan can lead to quite an adventure.
Photographs by Tom Bunning; Words as told to Jen Harrison Bunning
Being a photographer can give you access to things that most people could only dream of seeing. It can be a key to a world of possibilities, a passport behind the scenes of other people’s lives or a ticket to secret spaces. However (with apologies to any budding image-makers certain that every day is a veritable dream), after ten years on the job, it can be dull: there are studio shoots where the day passes without a whiff of sunlight; tellings off from benighted bookkeepers when you fail to produce a crucial receipt; and hours spent in airports praying your kit clears customs. But then there are days when you get a phone call that makes your heart sing, and in this case it went like this: “Tom, how’s the first week of October looking? … Good, you’re off to Japan.”
There are a number of my esteemed fellow photographers who, as soon as they know they’re off somewhere new, jump online and begin to research: where they’re going, what kit they should pack, which perfect shot they’ll seek. Not me. I know I should be doing these things but there’s something wonderfully freeing about foregoing research, over-packing and being carried along on a wave of juvenile excitement, hoping my instincts, eyes and camera will deliver the goods. And this system hasn’t failed me yet. I never come home disappointed that I didn’t get that ‘perfect shot’.
Instead, I return with a treasure trove of images and associated memories of human stories and wild places. But Japan? From what I’d happened to soak up from books and films, I was diving in to a world of blazing neon, dangerous culinary delicacies, vast swathes of protected parkland and complicated social etiquette. Was my usual blasé attitude going to work in this most respectful and mannered of countries? We would have to see.
First stop: Tokyo. From touch-down it was a short, wide-eyed transfer from Haneda Airport to Palace Hotel Tokyo where, after a quick freshen-up in the luxurious Evian Spa, I was off on a crash course in the art and architecture of Aoyama, courtesy of the hotel. With the wild child fashion district of Harajuku to its west and Chiyoda with its stately brick station and imposing Imperial Palace to its north, it would be easy to forgive Aoyama an identity crisis – but there’s no need, for it has a brilliantly bonkers inner life all of its own. Here, huge brushed-concrete walls nestle against towers of twisted glass and locals take matcha tea and Taiwanese pineapple cake in the playful wooden lattice structure of the SunnyHills cake shop. Prada, Mui Mui and similarly high-end brands vie for first place in the ‘Most Impressive Architecture of a Retail Store’ competition (designed by the likes of Herzog & De Meuron and Gehry, no less), whilst the Nezu Museum (by the architect of the 2020 Olympic Stadium, Kengo Kuma) sits serenely behind its bamboo grove cloisters.
Despite its tranquil corners, there is an overriding sense of impermanence and newness in Aoyama which, as our guide Professor Matsuda explained, is partly due to earthquake fears as buildings are constantly torn down and rebuilt to the latest quake-proof technology, but also to the nation’s long-term obsession with the new, the disposable and the consumable. It’s a fascinating area and I could have spent hours there but Japanese trains wait for no man (and especially for no man slowed down by an abundance of camera bags), so it was all aboard the great green dragon of a bullet train for a silent and speedy 700 kilometre journey north to Aomori and on to Towada-Hachimantai National Park.
Some places in the world make you feel like you’re the first person to ever stand there. Even if you’re with a guide and gaggle of fellow travellers, everything is turned down a notch and all you know is what’s directly in front of you. If you visit Towada-Hachimantai National Park on a rainy October day, this is what might happen: your eyes may feast upon the towers of light casting through the clouds, the lush green wall of conifers, the mist hanging on the horizon. Your ears may delight in the silence, punctuated only by the creaking of branches and the odd birdsong. You may look out over the lake and feel a deep sense of freedom. But if you do visit and you don’t experience any of this then don’t despair, as you’ll still be treated to a spectacular view.
From the ever-changing urban landscape of Tokyo in the south to the ancient arboreal backdrops of the north, next I was off to a city that had no choice but to start again. Despite my lack of planning, the one place I had intended to photograph was Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a city that thrived on commercial fishing before it was devastated by the 2011 tsunami. I’d read about the effects of the disaster at the time; the dead, the missing, the school children and teachers swept away on the bridge, the port and buildings swallowed up by the water. I’d planned to shoot the wasteland, the reconstruction, the decimated waterfront, to take portraits of the people I met and to tell their stories. But when it came to it I couldn’t hide behind my lens. I felt I had to be entirely present, to listen and keep what I witnessed in my mind’s eye and not commit it to memory cards and print. I can’t tell you exactly why I felt like that. Perhaps it was the only way I knew how to honour Japanese culture’s acceptance of impermanence and insubstantiality, of mono no aware. Perhaps I’ll go back someday and it will feel right to capture it then, perhaps not.
Luckily, I did manage to photograph a little more of Japan than Tokyo and Towada. I rode the Gonō Line along the shore of the Sea of Japan with the Shirakami mountain range looming overhead.
On the Gono Line, Tom Bunning
On the Gono Line, Tom Bunning
I saw leaves fired up by golden light in Ginzan Onsen and followed in the 1,000 or so steps of one of Japan’s most famous poets, Matsuo Bashō, up a winding mountain path to Yamadera (mountain temple) perched high in its craggy nest. It’s a long and arduous climb but when I reached the top I was able to catch my breath in Godaido Hall, an observation deck dating back to the 1700s that juts out from the mountain.
Here, as the sun set, I was rewarded with a view of rolling pastel hills and golden cedar trees. If I was poetically inclined I might have recited Bashō’s famous haiku penned here in 1689,
“the stillness / penetrating the rock / a cicada’s cry”
– words that felt pretty spot on, even for a non-poetic type.
On my way home, back on urban turf for the night in Sendai ‘City of Trees’, I began backing up my images and gazed out of a high hotel window. With the twinkling towers of the city growing out of the concrete-covered earth in front, and my photos of mist-shrouded woodland and ancient temples on the screen behind, Japan’s new and old – its man-made glass towers and natural wonders, its thriving capital and tsunami-devastated coast – seemed at once intrinsically linked and yet miles apart. This wouldn’t do. I would have to make a plan to come back, and go deeper.
In a city known for its good weather, good food and laid-back lifestyle, you might come to Barcelona seeking a break but you will leave invigorated and energised. Long days wandering down picturesque streets, late nights sampling tapas and cava (the local wine) and dancing ‘til the sun comes up: the city’s vibrancy draws you in and the whole place really comes alive after dark. Be ready to adopt a more Spanish schedule to get the most out of your visit. Start later and spend your days strolling around the city, soaking up the magnificent Gaudí architecture and stopping regularly at cafes to unwind with a coffee and observe daily life. Locals eat late so head out for dinner after 9 or 10 and then – if you fancy – check out one of the city’s lively nightclubs after midnight.
But when you’re looking for a real break from the buzz of Barca, make for the waterfront Hilton Hotel in the city’s newer eastern district. Inside, the hotel’s glamorous new Purobeach Barcelona offers you endless hours day of lazing by the pool and pure indulgence in a quieter part of town. Book a luxurious sun bed by the pool, lie back and you really don’t have to move for the rest of day. Staff will tend to your every need, bringing whatever you desire to sip or nibble to your day bed. Between glasses of Moet and plates of salad and sashimi you can sit back and watch the glamorous crowds. If you feel like a more substantial meal then wander over to the adjoining restaurant where I tucked into fresh fish, giant salads and piping hot patatas bravas. When you’ve had enough of lounging and eating, pop into the pool for a dip. Or indulge in the ultimate Barcelonan ritual: the siesta. After a day here, you’ll be relaxed, recharged and ready to head back into the crowds and addictive energy of Barcelona.