The glass-enclosed tunnel leading out from the New Wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a portal through time, transporting visitors to a 1903 Venetian-style palace. The 4-storey residence, located in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston, is home to one of America’s finest private art collections. It is also the site of the largest art heist in history, which remains unsolved to this day.
On top of Minami-yamate, a gorgeous hillside overlooking Nagasaki Harbour, sits Glover Garden (グラバー園), an open-air museum of the homes of former Western residents of the city, who settled there after the end of Japan’s isolationism in the latter half of the 19th century. The Garden is the original site of the former residence of Scottish trader, Thomas Blake Glover, and features six other mansions which were dismantled, moved, and reconstructed here as important national cultural properties.
The walk up to Glover Garden begins at Oura Catholic Church, the oldest wooden church of Gothic architecture in Japan. It was built in 1864 by the French missionary Bernard Petitjean of Fier, and dedicated to the 26 martyrs who were executed on Nishizaka Hill. In 1865, Hidden Christians from Urakami came to the church and professed their faith to Father Petijean after two years in hiding. Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1981 and declared it the “Miracle in the East”.
Next to Oura Church, is one of two entrances into Glover Garden. Along with entry, the 600円 ($5.20) ticket gets you a map and cardboard cutout Glover mask that you can use to take pictures with. Two escalator rides later, Austin and I found ourselves in front of the Mitsubishi dock house, a former facility where crew members could rest while their ships were in for repairs. Even more impressive than the house is the view from its garden, which overlooks Nagasaki Bay and the surrounding hillside.
“It’s snowing!” I yelled excitedly over my shoulder, peeking through the curtains. “Oh yeah?” my sister responded with mild disinterest. You’d swear she never grew up in Johannesburg. The fluffy white stuff still excites me; I’m lucky if I even get to see it once a year.
We packed up the last of our things and headed for the bus, which ambled through the fresh snowfall to Niagara Jet Adventures. A ride on one of the company’s customized jet boats down the Niagara River costs $61 (and 45 minutes of nausea), which we weren’t willing to part with in the cold. We huddled around hot coffee and chocolate muffins in the waiting area instead and made friends with a nice family from Croatia.
Staten Island is a dump – literally and figuratively. It used to house the world’s largest landfill before it closed in 2001, and although it is the third-largest borough of New York City, it is the least populated. But usually the most forgotten places have the rarest gems, and for Staten Island, it’s the Alice Austen House.
The house-turned-museum, known as Clear Comfort, is the former family home of the photographer Alice Austen. In the Rosebank section of the island, the house sits on a small hill overlooking New York Bay, offering a view that is worth the ferry ride alone.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” the security guard yelled after me. It was my third day in New York and I was trying to make my way from bag check to the ticket counter at the American Museum of Natural History. But he had already checked my bag, which I tried to explain. “Then why are you all the way over there?” he yelled back. “Because I’m trying to get out the fucking way!”