The Big Bucket list

After seeing countless lists of places to visit before you die/before you reach 30/if you can log off the net and actually get out there, I thought I’d add my tuppence-worth with some slightly different places I want to visit.

If anyone reads this then feel free to comment and offer up other places. If I don’t know enough about your favourite place and I haven’t included it then give me reasons for it to be added, though I may already have been there or just not want to…

AFRICA:

1. Church of St. George – Lalibela – Ethiopia

A normal-sized church hewn from solid rock, rock from the ground. This is a statement of devotion I just have to see. Built in the early thirteenth century it’s still a major pilgrimage destination. Amazing.

2. Namib desert – Namibia

A tustle rages on between this and the Atacama for the title of world’s oldest desert but this one seems to pip it. It’s achingly beautiful with petrified sand dunes and red dust – this one is well worth a visit to the Wiki page just to see the image below full size.

3. Great Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe

This site lent it’s name to the country of Zimbabwe so it’s been somewhat hijacked politically but that ‘s because it puts to rest the insulting and downright racist view that a lot of people have about African architecture. The conical tower is the pinnacle of construction here and a marvel in masonry. Constructed from round 1100AD the site is one of the oldest in Southern Africa and evidence has been uncovered of a trade netweork stretching as far as Arabia and China.

4. Nile Cruise from Cairo to Aswan – Egypt

One that really should be on everyone’s list. The Pyramids, Karnak (which I’ve wanted to see ever since The Spy Who Loved Me), Abu Simbel, some of the most important historical sites in the world, all linked by the one famous river. A cruise down stream would be a great way to see them all and I will try to get here in the next year or so.

5. The Dogon People – Mali

I’d never even heard of Dogon villages until I was forced to mortar and machine gun them in Farcry 2. The digital version was so striking I looked into it and discovered what they were based on. This culture has a lot of specific, sexual and gender-based architecture. Fertility cults and the division between men and women is encapsulated in these strange structures, the granaries in particular. It seems more than a travesty to blow these up doesn’t it:

6. The East African Rift Valley – Kenya

Apparently the birthplace of Homo Sapiens, anyone want to find out where you came from? Yes please! Really this is something of a journey of imagination because the region must look almost nothing like it did all those millennia ago when we moved onto two legs and started turning tools to our advantage, beginning the rapid road to where we are now. To see the area is an ambition of mine that shouldn’t be too difficult with so much of the Valley accessible from Kenya.

EUROPE:

1. Portofino – Italy

Part of the rugged Cinque Terre (‘five lands’ referring to five picturesque villages) section of the Italian Riveria, Portofino is a destination very well frequented by cruise ships for good reason – it’s a small and extremely beautiful cove filled with houses painted in every pastel shade. Probably not great for much more than a day trip but well worth seeing from the sea, from where you can take it all in in one go. I first heard about this place from someone I used to work with, he holidayed along that part of the Italian coast and showed me his snaps. From then on I’ve longed to visit.

2. Delphi – Greece

Referring particularly to the archaeological site rather than the modern city I wanted to visit here when I was in Athens but there just wasn’t time. With an ancient amphitheatre perched on the side of a mountain what’s not to love? I’ll get here on a future trip to the country.

3. Florence – Italy

The home of some of Michelangelo’s greatest works and the world’s first art gallery, the Uffizi, Firenze absolutely has to be on any art lover’s list of places to visit!

4. Venice – Italy

Goes without saying really doesn’t it? Legendary.

5. The State Hermitage – St. Petersburg – Russia

Another of the world’s greatest art repositories and palaces, and another building which is a work of art in itself! The Hermitage was founded by Catherine The Great and has grown from its inception to include several buildings used by the Tsars until the Revolution of 1917 when it was requisitioned into a state property and national treasure.

6. The Alhambra – Granada – Spain

Ok, this one’s an annoyance. It’s obviously so amazing that when I tried to go there in 2003 I couldn’t get a ticket because it was sold out, even in the local banks which is apparently where it’s best to get on-the-day tickets. I was on a small trip around Andalusia and tried to visit, to no avail. Book in advance!

Even from the outside this fourteenth century palace and fortress of the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada is an astonishing place. Famous for its gardens and elaborate architectural details this has drawn masses of visitors since it fell to the Reconquista in 1492. From the hillside opposite it’s just beautiful and in part can claim to be one of the reasons I love islamic and moorish buildings, the majority of the sites I want to visit it seems.

7. Cordoba – Spain

Ta-da! Told you so, here’s another Moor-inspired choice and it’s a goodun. The Catholic cathedral was originally a mosque:

The whole of the old centre of the city seems astonishingly pretty too though so I reckon there are at least a few days visit in this choice.

8. Segovia – Spain

Another stunning Spanish choice with Roman and Castillian architecture. The aqueduct is justly renowned because it’s bloody massive and the topography of the area makes the cathedral seem even more massive than it already is.

9. Carcassonne – France

The fortified town of Carcassonne is, to me, the epitome of what a medieval walled city should look like. Dominating the area like a French Camelot it’s enormous pointy-turreted walls tick every box in picture-perfect fairy tale world.

10. Auschwitz-Birkenau – Poland

Yes, like Hiroshima but far more harrowing. This really is something to make you think about what you are and what you’re capable of because I’m sure that every person on this planet is capable of deeds like this, given the right conditions. If we get to know what can happen then perhaps there is a way to avert crimes like this. Events like the Holocaust have not ended with the fall of the Nazi regime so there’s every chance or, realistically, near certainty that scenes like this will come again.

11. Westminster Abbey – London – UK

Right, I’ve lived in London my whole life and still haven’t been inside this historic site. It’s where all our monarchs are coronated and the stone is saturated with history. Founded 400 years before the Normans invaded the British Isles it finally got its stone form during the 1040s in the reign of the last Saxon king – Edward The Confessor. I’m sure it’s brilliant, must have a look!

12. La Tomatina – Bunol – Spain

This is one of those things you read about all over the internet. In honour of St. Louis Bertrand but with unknown origins this food fight looks like great fun so I must go along one year and join in chucking tomatoes absolutely everywhere. Bunol, where it’s held, looks quite nice too but is almost an afterthought on this one I’m afraid.

13. Oktoberfest – Munich – Germany

Mmmmmmmm, beer. This beerfest started in 1810 to honour a royal marriage and since then has grown to the epic proportions seen today. Oktoberfest is ‘the biggest party in the world’ though rather commercialised and rising in cost, but what the heck, it’s only for a day or two. Unless I don’t like my liver any more and fancy killing it off by going for the whole sixteen days? No, no thanks, even all the pretty German girls in traditional dirndl dress couldn’t convince me on that one…

14. Extremadura – Spain

Yes, yet more Spain! On the aforementioned trip to Andalusia we took a bus from Granada to Lisbon. We crested a hill and the scene that opened up before me was breathtaking. Ever since then I’ve wanted to re-visit the plains of Extremadura. We only skirted the southern rim but at that time of year it was an endless, glorious patchwork of purples, reds, browns, greens, oranges and yellows. I’ll need to learn how to drive for this one methinks. Minus the myriad colours this is very much how I remember my first view of the birth region of the conquistadores:

15. Ostia Antica – Italy

Ostia is 30km southwest of Rome and operated as the Imperial capital’s port from around 300BC. The ruins are vast and severely under-visited so if you want respite from the throngs of Rome itself then come here to wander in peace (apparently). It’s the quality of the remains that gets Ostia onto this list. You can visit the public latrines, shop fronts, warehouses, and baths – all of which are remarkably well preserved. You get a real taste of what living in a Roman city was like. I reckon this would be a better visit than Pompei because of its crowds and the relative difficulty of getting there. Coming from Rome Ostia is a short rail journey, but an epoch away from somtimes overwhelming Roma. Or so I’ve read…

MIDDLE EAST:

1. Palmyra – Syria

This is a massive and extremely important archaeological site partly dating from well before the Greek Empire. I’m not sure when this first came to my attention but I know I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.

2. Istanbul – Turkey

Istanbul is rapidly becoming a must-see city for people avoiding the cost of the Euro in tough economic times. Now the largest city in Turkey, but not its capital (that task belongs to Ankara), Istanbul developed from a Greek colony called Byzantium to become Constantinople and the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire under Constantine. Later Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and became the Imperial capital for 450 years. The influence of this place cannot be underestimated yet to many people it’s an unknown and mysterious place mythologised in films like Midnight Express which certainly coloured my youthful impression of it! This is a city I reckon I’d better get to quite quickly or risk seeing it fully Europeanised when it does inevitably enter the EU in the near future. Trust me, this will happen, and we’ll all be richer and happier for it once the inevitable racial backlash calms.

3. Krak des Chevaliers – Syria

With many ingenious design solutions to the question of how to repel invaders except for I believe, providing a well, this is a case-study in how to build a castle properly. It may not be the prettiest but it was damned effective during the Crusades!

4. Cappadocia – Turkey

I first saw this mysterious word being used as a restaurant name in Norbury, South London. For ages I meant to look up what it meant, when I did I was blown away. What an alien landscape, and fascinating culture this region possesses. One that apparently is best seen in winter and by hot air balloon… Churches and undergound cities carved into the rocks and phallic stone ‘fairy chimneys’ dominate the sights to see here.

5. Petra – Jordan

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That’s what I always think of when I see Petra. It was used as the resting place of the Holy Grail in that film and I can see why as an otherworldly city carved from rock. Just look at it! It’s not just this one building either, this is the most iconic of them though. The Nabataeans were a ‘lost’ civilisation until a Swiss explorer reported it widely to Europeans. Of course it had been known of since Pliny the Elder wrote about it but us Europeans like to forget things every now and then.

6. The Great Mosque of Samarra – Iraq

I built this. Many times. In Civilisation 4. That game and Dan Cruikshank’s ‘Around The World In 80 Treasures’ inspired me to visit a lot of places on this list. The Spiral Minaret, AKA the Great Mosque of Samarra was once the largest mosque in the world. Sadly, it being in Iraq I imagine this will be a site I don’t see for many years. If at all. Sadly indeed.

7. Naqsh-e Jahan Square – Isfahan – Iran

Constructed in Shah Abbas’ reign the Sheikh Lotf Allah mosque on this square is a stunning example of Islamic art. Something I’ve already established that I love. The Square is immense and a good setting for this building. Thank you Dan Cruikshank for this one too.

AMERICAS:

1. Great Blue Hole – Belize

This is one for that long-held desire to learn to SCUBA. The Great Blue Hole is the opening on the roof of a huge underwater cave. Just imagine the wonders in there…

2.  Kilauea – Hawaii

Volcanoes have always amazed me so to visit the one that has been spewing lava and extending Hawaii since the year I was born would be perfect.

3. Alaska – USA

Wolves, bears, eagles, glaciers, whales, aurora borealis. Some of the best things nature has to offer. Hopefully I’ll get to see it before it all either a) melts or b) turns into an oil refinery. Luckily with Bush gone from the White House and Palin resigning from the governorship there may be some sanity on that front.

4. Teotihuacan – Mexico

One of the big sites of Pre-Columbian America but majorly and unfairly overlooked. It was the centre of an empire pre-dating the Aztec’s and its influence stretched all the way to Guatemala. These ‘ruins’ are some of the most spectacular in Mexico, as the picture below demonstrates.

5. Machu Picchu – Peru

Probably on every list I’ve seen so it’s no surprise it’s on mine too… A four day trek culminating in a dawn view over the ruins sounds like a little earthly slice of heaven. Apart from the fact it’s often shared with a thronging crowd of tourists. I first got word of this incredible place when I was about 4 years old. The Mysterious Cities Of Gold cartoon was an inspiration that I’ve never lost. Who says cartoons, films and computer games do nothing for the youth of today eh? (do I still count as youth at 26? Bloody hope so but I doubt it…)

6. The Grand Canyon – USA

Another well-regarded and often mentioned attraction makes it onto mine too. I need not say any more.

7. Nazca Lines – Peru

How on earth were these surveyed? Nobody has a satisfactory answer but however it was done these are a work of artistic genius dating from anywhere from 200BC to 700AD. Beautiful geometric and animal shapes scraped into the desert floor. Gotta get up in an aeroplane or, perhaps absurdly as the makers did, in a balloon to see these.

8. Yellowstone National Park – USA

This jewel of a national park consists of a supervolcano caldera and could explode at any moment, I should get over there as soon as possible before that happens because when it does it’ll destroy the whole park and cripple most of North America. It’s swelling already and some think it’s only a matter of time before an explosion occurs powerful enough to change the way we all live our lives forever.

9. Antigua – Guatemala

I’d never heard of this place until I saw images like this. That’s all that was needed.

10. Monte Alban – Mexico

Another Pre-Columbian and Pre-Aztec site. Situated in a dramatic and dominant position on a hill overlooking a valley, it used to be a fortress town. I read a bit about it whilst doing an Archaeology course, worth a visit by all accounts.

11. Iguazu Falls – Argentina

The longest set of waterfalls in the world, Iguazu falls must be a breathtaking sight.

12. Altiplano – Bolivia

This region includes the famous Lake Titicaca and is one of the highest and most barren places in South America. High altitude living should make this a fascinating destination.

13. Las Vegas – USA

Yet another regular appearance on this kind of list but just to see the legend would be worth it. The kingdom of tat and sleaze, sounds like fun! I especially fancy visiting the Double Down Saloon ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ as it sounds quite far removed from the Strip and from their website, my kind of place. http://www.doubledownsaloon.com/

ASIA AND PACIFIC (except for Hawaii):

1. Samarkand – Uzbekistan

Another Cruikshank classic, this time from the Silk Road. It looks like another winner to me judging from this picture.

2. Angkor Wat – Cambodia

Angkor is one of those places most people have heard of but aren’t quite sure where it is. They know it from films like Tomb Raider but everything I’ve heard is that it’s better than anyone’s imagination. When you can find a corner to yourself it’s supposed to be magical. Construction at Angkor started in the early twelth century and partially abandoned in the sixteenth it retains its place as one of the most impressive Hindu/Buddhist temple complexes I know of.

3. Himeji Castle – Japan

An ingeniously designed castle with so many ways to harrass and kill invading soldiers that it was never attacked! This was a prototype for many of the other castles in Japan.

UPDATE: Right, I went all the way to Japan in April this year. What did I discover? This castle is living in a sodding gigantic tent for a few years until renovations are completed! Just my luck.  One for my return trip methinks as Japan was awesome.

4. Bukhara – Uzbekistan

More Silk Road action which makes me think I really should just do the whole route. A nice trip from London to Xi’an wouldn’t be too much hassle really. Pop to Baku and start from there I reckon. This looks like an absolute must see on that kind of journey.

5. Bora Bora – French Polynesia

Not. Enough. Superlatives. Expensive but stunning. If I ever have the money, I’ll visit here.

6. Mount Kinabalu – Malaysia

A real biodiversity melting pot, Mount Kinabalu doesn’t require mountaineering knowledge to climb it. A good guide would be a must to get the most out of the wonders you’re looking at. Everything from orchids to rodent-eating plants abound here.

7. Varanasi – India

The Western take on death is wholly different to the Hindu one, as epitomised at Varanasi’s pyres on the Ganges. To see this kind of thing for real would make a lot of people re-think their outlook on life and recognise its transience. The full on nature of this city makes it somewhere I really have to visit on my own pilgrimage of sorts.

8. Guilin – China

Beautiful karst formations surround the city of Guilin in China’s Guangxi province and it’s one of the sites I didn’t get to visit when I was in China. This is something I want to rectify.

9. Hiroshima – Japan

A continuation on the theme set by Auschwitz, in order to see the worst things that people can do to each other you have to visit places like this. And then you have to see the recovery you can make. I suspect that visiting this city’s museums and monuments would be extremely moving.

UPDATE: I visited Hiroshima in April 2011.  It was amazing.  Probably one of the most horrible experiences I can remember.  The sight of the Peace Dome was moving, to an extent.  The Peace Park was also quite thought-provoking.  The museum was heart-rendingly horrible.  Most of it was fairly to the point and emotionally ‘cold’ in its presentation but there was a section of mementoes from family members along with their recollections of how their loved ones died.  This almost broke me down on the spot.  A display about someone coming to terms with their sister’s death and their own misplaced guilt 60+ years later.  Another telling of the full horrors of radiation sickness and watching their mother expire.  I’m not a religious man, but – Jesus!  It made me so angry that the world got itself into that predicament in the first place.  We are not inherently evil but we are inherently all fools waiting to happen.  Take from that what you will, I can’t decide whether it’s a depressing indictment of a doomed race or an intensely uplifting and life-affirming trigger to underpin my drive to live well by my own and everyone else’s best interests.

10. Durga Puja – Kolkata – India

One of the most extravagant Hindu festivals which celebrates all deities at the same time, including characters from other faiths like Mary and the Christian saints. The city bursts into colour as the oversized models of these gods and idols are paraded to the Ganges and then dunked in. The effort and excitement surrounding this festival make it something I want to be part of, if only as a voyeur.

11. Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival – Harbin – China

Every year incredible scenes from around the world are recreated in ice. The structures and sculptures are lit from within and externally to create a magical city of ice. It seems that every year it gets bigger and more ambitious too.

Antarctica

A vast continent, rapidly losing it’s icy cover. As a unique habitat this is something we should be trying far harder to save but I fear it’s already too late.

The Arctic Circle

Because, like Antarctic ice, it won’t be around much longer.

None of the pictures in this blog are my own, they have all been sourced from the Wikipedia pages noted.

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