Confession: I’ve only read parts of 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and haven’t even heard of many of the amazing spots author Patricia Schultz highlights, let alone visited them. I was in a local bookstore yesterday, however, and saw a copy out of the corner of my eye, and it got me thinking about my own extensive and ever-evolving travel bucket list.
While I like to think of myself as a reasonably well-traveled person, it’s on the long side, so I’ll spare you and just rattle off the top five. (Keep in mind that I’m a writer and a student of history, so I’m fascinated by the people and stories behind places. I also have an avid interest in archaeology and ancient civilizations. Well, studying them at least. Digging in the ground? Not so much.)
1. Newgrange. The burial mounds of ancient Celtic kings, warriors and maybe even gods. Swathed in emerald green, mist and legend. I came close in college when I visited Ireland for a long weekend while studying abroad at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Alas, I didn’t have a car and couldn’t find a tour bus my student budget could afford. A day trip to the 6th-century abbey of Glendalough provided a fun, but unsatisfying substitute, and missing Newgrange is one of my biggest travel regrets.
2. Santorini. (And any number of other Greek islands.) Colorful. Cheerful. Beaches and ancient ruins. Supposed to have been my honeymoon. At the time, the trip was too expensive. OK – it still kind of is, and other opportunities, such as a two-week writing conference in Florence, have taken precedence. My husband promises we will go, though. Someday.
3. The pyramids at Giza. Back to my small obsession with the ancient world: The idea that 5,000-some years ago, men were able to build these massive structures with nothing but hand tools never ceases to amaze me. I’ve watched countless documentaries on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel where experts recreate try to recreate the pyramids using the same tools, or where expert says the Sphinx is really 10,000 years old, or another expert claims aliens built it all, and I’m left with nothing but questions. Since time travel hasn’t been invented yet, I can only wait for the day when Egypt seems safer and less volatile and I can see them for myself. (I did visit the Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza in Mexico, which only makes me want to see these older, larger structures even more.)
4. Budapest. (On Fodor’s list of places to go in 2012.) Krakow. Dubrovnik. (On the New York Times‘ list.) Riga. Saint Petersburg. Cities in three very different parts of Europe, but grouped together here because of their communist pasts. A stop in Prague during a tour of central Europe in 2000 started my fascination with former-Eastern Block cities, with the way their fairy-tale architecture disguised pasts full of tragedy, danger, intrigue and resilience. I imagine visiting and walking through the small back alleys would feel like being in your very own spy thriller.
5. French Polynesia. Tahiti, Bora Bora – even the island names are exotic, beautiful, restful. They’re places, I think, where you can truly relax and do absolutely nothing. Those little huts with the glass floors that sit right over the water sound like heaven.
As I write this, I keep thinking of more and more places to visit – the Great Wall of China, Buenos Aires, Tierra del Fuego, the Bay of Fundy, Cornwall, South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Sydney – so I’d better stop. (Of course, I say all this and it looks like my big trip for the year will be right here in the good old USA, another writer’s conference in a place I’ve not only visited many times, but two hours from where I used to live: Bar Harbor, Maine.)
What about you? What’s on your list?