Bucket List

Bucket List

A few weeks ago I wrote about places I’d visit if I could go to any of the many made-up universes in my favorite books. As much as I like escaping into fantasy realms, there are plenty of places in the real world I’d like to visit. Traveling the world has always been something my husband and I wanted to do, and it seems some opportunities might open up for us sooner than expected. If I could hop in a plane tomorrow and see anything I wanted, these would be my top five destinations.

5. The Taj Mahal – India
I don’t usually choose my vacation destinations from movies, but I admit to falling in love with India after watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I fell in love with it’s depiction of India, the brilliant juxtaposition between the old and ultra modern. An episode of Top Gear depicts driving in India as both exciting and terrifying, since there seem to be no lights among stretches of road, and other drivers don’t always have headlights on their vehicles. The hosts drove past cars being fixed on the side of the road, even rickshaws and animals. A co-worker of mine once spoke highly of his love for India, it’s customs and traditions, and I’ve always wanted to see it for myself.

India is home to some fabulous architecture. The Taj Mahal actually hosts a series of buildings, including a tomb (as so many old buildings do). It was built between 1632 and 1653 and combines elements of Persian and Indian architectural styles. Pictures of the Taj Mahal show it’s grad size and intricate decoration. It’s the kind of place that inspires awe simply from photographs, it’d be amazing to stand in front of it.

4. The Great Wall – China
China boasts a host of landscapes, from plains to mountain ranges to the Gobi Desert. I’ve seen many fascinating photos from China, including rice fields at various stages of the growing season. If I didn’t have such a strong draw to writing, I might have liked to be an anthropologist; cultures interest me. And China has a vastly interesting culture. I’d love to visit the country’s many shrines and temples to get a better sense of their rich history. I could probably make a list pages long of things I’d like to see in China, but if I ever get a chance to go, I really want to visit the Great Wall. It’s visible from space; that alone makes it awesome enough to warrant a visit!

The great wall of China is actually composed of several smaller, interconnected walls. As early as the 7th century BC it was common for the Chinese to build these walls and fortresses to protect against nomadic military incursions. Between 220 and 206 BC, the first emperor of China decided to join all of these smaller constructions into one vast, impenetrable wall. As you can imagine, the wall has been broken and rebuilt several times over the centuries. Most of the existing wall was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty. Walking along the wall-top fortifications is definitely on my bucket list.

3. The Colosseum – Rome
I’ve always loved studying ancient Greek and Roman culture. It was one of my favorite units in high school, sadly cut short by the end of the school year. I even borrowed my teacher’s copy of the Aeneid, and read it cover to cover. The Aeneid was supposed to connect the Romans to the Greeks, since the Romans so worshiped the Greek civilization. I’d love to see any and all ruins related to either ancient culture. My in-laws recently traveled Turkey, where they visited several ruins. From their pictures, you can see how vast and detailed some of those ancient constructions must have been. I’d love to follow in their footsteps!

If I could only pick one ancient ruin to visit, it’d have to be the Colosseum. Built between 70 and 80 AD, it is estimated the Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. The building is even constructed to allow crowds to file in and out of the amphitheater quite quickly. It was used for gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles. The base of the amphitheater could even be flooded and used for mock naval battles. The Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and best embodies, in my opinion, the the odd values of their culture.

2. Stonehenge – the UK
No one knows exactly who built Stonehenge, since it was built by a culture which possessed no written history. Its construction was long attributed to the Druids, though modern archeologists now suggest the druids had nothing to do with the henge. We do know that the henge had three stages. Originally it was built of wood. It may have started as a general map of the area and later evolved into a more complex construction. Sometime in the area of 2600 BC the builders abandoned wood in favor of stone. The bluestones which made up the second stage of the henge may have been transported over 150 miles (240 km) for use in the henge. Sometime between 2600 and 2400 BC the massive sarsen stones were added to the complex, forming the third and final stage of the henge and the remains of the ring you can still visit today. They may have come from a quarry 25 miles away. Whoever built the henge, it stands as a monument to the ingenuity of our ancient ancestors.

No one knows the exact purpose the builders intended for Stonehenge, but it was almost certainly a place of ritual. The alignment of the sunrise and sunset of the solstices through the giant arches certainly supports this theory. Modern tests based on the full structure before decline also suggest impressive acoustics from within the circle. It’s proximity to several hundred burial mounds suggests that it almost certainly played some role in the builder’s funerary rituals.

When we found out we were coming to England, my husband and I made a list of things we wanted to see while we were here. Top of my list has always been Stonehenge. So it seems I’ll get to cross at least one item off my bucket list sometime in the next year. Stonehenge holds a special place in my heart. Ideally, I’d like to visit during the summer or winter solstice, when the sun rises or sets between the arches, though I know that’s unlikely to happen.

1. The pyramids – Egypt
Ancient Egypt is my absolute favorite time period to study. I’ve done extensive research on their myths, culture and religious beliefs. There’s something about their civilization that resonates with me. We recently took our first trip to the British Museum. When I stood in their hall of Egyptian sculpture, I almost trembled from the exhilaration of it. To be surrounded by such exquisite pieces of ancient artwork, many of them larger than life, many within inches of my fingertips (but no, I didn’t touch, not even one sneaky swipe, because I respect those artifacts far too much). But as exciting as it is to walk through the halls of collections in museums, nothing quite compares to the real deal.

The ultimate trip for me would include a visit to the Necropolis at Giza, where stands the last wonder of the ancient world. The complex at Giza includes the Great Pyramid (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu), the smaller Pyramid of Khafre, the modest Pyramid of Mykerinos, the Great Sphinx, and a number of satellite pyramids known as “the queens pyramids.” It has been suggested that each of the Great Pyramids was built to perfectly align with a star that shone in the ancient sky.

The ancient Egyptians had complex and detailed beliefs about the afterlife. Most specifically, they believed that the living world and the world of the dead were tied together. In order for a soul to be sustained in the afterlife, for instance, it required food and other sustenance be delivered to it in the world of the living. A person’s body also had to be preserved. Without it, the Ba and Ka could not find each other and eternal life could not be achieved. Though the pyramids are worn and desert colored now, they would have been painted brilliant gold in ancient days, shining beacons for the souls of the dead on the way to join the sun god, Ra, in his daily journey across the sky. Current conditions may prevent me from visiting any time soon, but it’s still something I hope to do one day.

You’ll notice nothing in Australia appears on the list. It sounds like a beautiful place and all, but considering everything that lives there can kill you, I don’t think a weakling like me would survive the trip!

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