Stephen Travels

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Flamingos, Namibia

Top 5 Pinks

Spring arrives with bursts of colorful blossoms, including those in both the most delicate and the boldest pinks. But pink isn’t solely a spring color, nor is it relegated only to traditional baby girl announcements. Pink is a year-round delight. You can see it at any time on the glaze of a donut, in your comfy jammies, in locally made rhodochrosite jewelry at an outdoor market in Mendoza, Argentina, in the hair of an eponymous rock star, in a bowl of strawberry ice cream, on sand beaches in the Bahamas, Elvis Presley’s Cadillac, and one certain crafty animated panther. These are my favorites.

#1 Salta Cathedral (Salta, Argentina)

Salta Cathedral, Salta, ArgentinaThe laid-back, friendly vibe of the city of Salta, Argentina, is nowhere more evident than in Plaza 9 de Julio. Just a few blocks from my hotel, the Hotel del Antiguo Convento, the city’s main and most important square lured me to it every one of the three nights I was here. Well past nightfall, the plaza remains busy with people simply living — couples out for a stroll, families with children up well past an imagined bedtime, friends meeting up for coffee or Malbec. It’s a warm atmosphere kept comfortably cool by the breezes blowing in from the neighboring Andes Mountains. At one end of the square, the Cabildo sports one of the world’s best arcades. At the opposite end stands the world’s best pink object: Salta Cathedral. Rebuilt in 1882 after an earthquake in 1856 and declared a national monument in 1941, the cathedral is dedicated to Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and it remains open well into the night, when it’s illuminated in warm lighting, like an enduring beacon calling its faithful. The interior is quite spectacular, with its elegant barrel vault ceiling, fantastic altar piece, masterful use of color, and a dizzying geometric floor pattern. While wall pack lights cast strong lights and shadows on the exterior at night, during the day, it’s the pink façade that will capture your heart. Featuring one of the world’s top domes, the cathedral’s pink exterior sports a trio of entrance arches, two bell towers, and a central quatrefoil window. Rich cream-colored accents include angels, swags, pilasters, volutes, and balustrades. In the central broken pediment, the Eye of Providence, in a little triangle and shooting out glorious rays of light, watches over humanity, or, at least, everyone in Plaza 9 de Julio.

#2 Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, Ljubljana, Slovenia

One of the world’s loveliest squares, Prešeren Square remains the heart of the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. It’s a central meeting point as well as a favorite departure point. From here, you can stroll along the Ljubljanica River that cuts right through the city, cross over one of the world’s top five bridges, or head up to the mountaintop castle. But if you stick around, you’ll be rewarded with views of beautiful buildings and a place filled with romantic history. The architectural star of the show is the Franciscan Church of the Assumption, a large, deep-salmon pink, Baroque building, the oldest on the square. Protected as a cultural monument of national significance since 2008, the church derives its symbolic color from the Franciscan monastic order. On a bright day, this explosion of color contrasts beautifully against its white neighbors, blue sky, gray granite block pavement, and the short green trees in front of it. Although mostly completed in 1660, the bell towers with subtly different steeples were added later, and the front façade, in the Baroque style, didn’t show up until 1706, and then it underwent a redesign in the 19th century. The façade is relatively uncluttered, featuring buttresses and a surprising dearth of windows. Pilasters with Ionic capitals in the lower section and with Corinthian capitals above adorn the front. A stone staircase leads to the entrance, a fine vantage point to inspect the only three statues — God the Father above the main portal, and the Virgin Mary and an angel in the two side niches. The top section features wonderful volutes and a short pediment capped by a beaten copper statue of the Madonna with Child, the largest Madonna statue in the city.

#3 Cherry Blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Brooklyn, New York)

Cherry blossom, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, New YorkThose unfamiliar with my hometown of Brooklyn, New York, would be surprised by the amount of green space found throughout the borough, even if Betty Smith’s novel hints that, indeed, at least one tree grows here. The 478-acre Green-Wood Cemetery, a National Historic Site, teems with remarkable flora and fauna, and Prospect Park is an urban lung of trees, lawns, and lakes. Directly across Flatbush Avenue from the park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has been charming and educating visitors since it opened in 1911. A year-round destination, the garden truly comes to life in the spring, attracting throngs to inspect daffodils, magnolias, and primroses. But it’s the short-lived cherry blossoms that really pack them in, spiking attendance for about one month. More than 20 species and cultivars compose the garden’s Flowering Cherry Collection. You can find flowering cherry varieties in different spots of the garden, including the fantastic Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, but the one that really draws in the crowds is the double-flowering “Kanzan” cherry. Found along the Cherry Esplanade, a wide lawn flanked by allées of flowering cherry and red oak trees, it explodes onto the scene as the most ornamental of them all. Although cherry blossoms naturally have five petals, these beauties were bred to have up to 28 petals each, adding to their irresistible extravagance. The double blossoms hang in clusters, tantalizing you to walk under them and gaze upward into a tapestry of deep, rich pink against a blue sky.

#4 Tulips at Keukenhof (Lisse, Netherlands)

Tulips, Keukenhof, Lisse, NetherlandsKeukenhof, the second-largest flower garden in the world, occupies 79 acres of what used to be the hunting grounds of a 15th-century castle. More than seven million flowers virtually carpet the grounds. Ordinarily opened for only eight weeks per year, Keukenhof provides a thrilling experience for your eyes — and your nostrils. Fragrances embrace your nose in the most pleasant way, starting immediately upon your entrance, when an enormous bed of purple hyacinths greets you. I spent hours in this 70-year-old garden, delighted by the azaleas, crocuses, daffodils, orchids, roses, and countless other flowers. But it’s the tulip that steals the show. The depth and breadth of the colors and types of this Dutch favorite is truly astounding — about 800 varieties can be found here. And the pink ones are particularly attractive. Cup-shaped, lily-shaped, or pyramid-shaped, fringed or flared, solid or striped, these tulips make you almost understand how a single flower drove an entire nation to levels of near insanity in the 1630s. At the height of this “tulip mania,” when the Dutch went quite bonkers over the flower, coveting it, trading it, designing specific vases to display it, a single bulb of a particular tulip cost more than the price of a grand canal house in Amsterdam. Of course, such a raging bull market could not last forever, and when the fall came, it came hard, in what is largely regarded as the first stock market crash ever, leaving countless people bankrupt and indebted for obscene amounts of money that they would never be able to repay. The tulip’s fascinating story gave me new and intriguing insights into this fragile flower. But even if you don’t know much about how tulips rocked the Netherlands back in the 17th century, you can still truly appreciate them because they’re just plain pretty to look at.

#5 Casa Rosada (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaLike the White House in the United States, the Pink House in Buenos Aires is where the Argentinian president works (although he or she resides elsewhere). Anchoring one end of historic Plaza de Mayo (with the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, one of the top five churches in the city, anchoring another), Casa Rosada is an intriguing study in pink. Built on the site of a fort from the 1500s, today’s huge structure is an amalgamation of multiple buildings, including a customs house and a post office, that blends the styles of the Italian Renaissance Revival and the French Second Empire. United into one building by 1898, the three-story asymmetrical Casa Rosada features a prominent mansard roof, a tremendous arched portico, arcaded loggias, a frieze of shields, and plenty of swags and cherubs in the ornamentation. The presidential balcony has been the setting for key addresses from the country’s presidents and dictators, including those of Juan Perón. From the same balcony, Eva Perón rallied the working class, and Madonna belted out “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” in Evita. At night, hot pink floodlights cast magenta flares onto the pink sandstone façade. During the day, you can debate over which story about the building’s hue you prefer. The first holds that President Domingo Sarmiento had the building painted pink in order to tamper political tensions during his presidency in the later 1800s by blending the colors of the opposing Federalists (whose color was red) and Unitarians (who favored white). The second suggests that cow’s blood, used to prevent damage from the effects of the city’s humidity, was added to the white paint and that it dried pink.

Five Runners-up