Around the World in 80 Minutes (or Less!)

"Where are you going for Spring Break?" "Nowhere really…Just stay at home, I guess."

I have to admit, I always feel the slightest tinge of embarrassment when I confess that I'm going nowhere special over Spring Break. I'm not planning out of country flights or long road trips home; I was simply staying and looking at the same scenery of good old Thousand Oaks. However, Staycations should not limit what we can do or where we can go during the Spring Break. Many lifestyle magazines encourage staycationers to open up and play the role of tourist in your own city. Maybe you'll end up finding spots you never knew existed or renew your love for an old one. And that's exactly what I did -- I played tourist (in more way than one) when I visited Thousand Oaks' very own Gardens of the World.

Open from Tuesday through Sunday, Gardens of the World is a mere 15 minutes drive away from the Cal Lutheran's campus. It features gardens (of course) inspired by the landscapes of different countries and cultures. It is a place that can instantly transport you to America, Europe, and Asia in a matter of minutes. And here's the best part: no payment or plane ticket required!

             Hot tip: Find their beautiful information building and pick up a Garden Guide pamphlet! ​

1. The Italian Garden -  This garden sits on an inclined plane and pulls inspiration from both Italy's rural present and Roman past. The main attraction of this garden is a fountain that begins at the top of the garden with a replica of the famous Venus de Milo statue and ends at the bottom where guests are invited to sit under a shade covered in twisting (grape-like) vines. Out of all the gardens, I would have to say that this one was the most photogenic of the bunch. The Italian garden practically framed itself with its towering native Italian cypress trees on both sides. It seemed like this garden didn't have any bad angles at all; it was a model in its own right! Now that's something to post about on your Instagram (or your HerCampus article).

                                        What Venus, Roman goddess of love, probably sees 

2. The French Garden - Allow this next garden to capture the spirit of mystique and romance in the gardens of Versailles with its miniature mazes and blooming rose bushes. It has a pathway lined with arches and twisting rose buds present in every nook and cranny. To be honest, I might have planned my visit a bit too early as the roses had barely begun to bloom. However, that gives me more reasons to return to these gardens when spring is finally in full swing (and perhaps then, I'll get a true sense of that romantic spirit. Maybe bring a hopeful significant other for a stroll? Or maybe some friends to keep me company?) 

However, the true masterpiece (the pièce de résistance, as the French say) of this pit stop and all the other gardens was the grand fountain sitting by the main gate. This huge waterworks stands several levels tall and looks over a green maze in the shape of a papillon -- a butterfly. It photographs equally beautiful from the top and bottom, and if there was any landmark that was uniquely 'Gardens of the World'…it would be this centerpiece right here.  

                                                                  Can you spot the papillon?

3. The English Perennial - While the French roses are slowly taking their time, the English Perennial is practically bursting with life. This side of the European gardens aims to showcase the regal and elegant feel of Buckingham Palace. Filled with flowers of every size and shade, this English inspired landscape never failed to put a smile on my face. The white daisies and yellow poppies in particular truly made me feel that spring was here and that Spring Break was truly just around the corner. While each flower and plant have plaque cards that label them, there is always a gardener on standby, readying to give you more information on these brilliant blossoms.

                                                                This garden is ready to spring into action!

4The Mission Courtyard - After having a simple but sweet taste of Europe, allow the Mission Courtyard to transport you back to sunny California, but to a different culture…to a different time. We've heard about the California Missions one way or another but now is your chance to experience it for yourself. This Californian garden begins with a small gateway that leads you into what the gardeners on standby describe as an 'authentic Mission Courtyard'. It is a shaded square -- except for the center of the courtyard where they placed a single clay fountain surrounded by growing lemon trees. Around the walkway, murals of the 21 remaining Missions are painted as well as a map of that records the movement of the California Missions.

What I particularly love about this garden is that everything is so contained. While there are windows that lead to the outside world, everything is so quiet…and it feels like I'm in a different time and place. Although life in the Missions then was far from being this beauteous and simple…I believe this is the place to go to if you want to better immerse yourself in California's history. To see what people then might have seen -- to know where they lived.

                                                      Thinking about Californian living back then...

5. The Japanese Pagoda - Amidst all the stress and strain during the Spring Semester, what we all need is a little more…zen in our life. A Pagoda is the sacred building for those who practice Buddhism, and although they are typically multi-tiered, Gardens of the World has a downsized replica of one where you can find peace and harmony yourself. You cannot miss the Japanese garden -- you will first hear the small waterfall gushing or spot the wooden bridge that leads you towards the Pagoda. Outside the Pagoda, you will see bonsai trees lining the pathway as well as a bamboo forest and koi pond!

                                                            Note to self: these koi fishes are huuuuge​!

While there is a lot of things going on between your journey from the wooden bridge to the Pagoda, they all work in perfect balance to remind you of the peace you can find in nature. All the little sounds, little sights, and little experiences -- that is where you can find the zen you've been looking for. Pro-tip: try to get to the Pagoda before it fills up with other guests and tourists. Sit down and perhaps meditate -- listen to the music of nature and just…be. 

                                                                Perfect harmony and balance...

So, I didn't go to some far off country or take a life-changing road trip. However, I can still find my own adventures here in quiet Thousand Oaks. And perhaps all we really need to have a great Spring Break or amazing adventures is an open mind and the curiosity of a tourist in a foreign place. I'm stuck in Thousand Oaks this year, but who knows...maybe one of these gardens will inspire my next big vacation!

All photos courtesy of the author