Several friends recently asked us, “What was your favorite experience?” We answered that in our Q & A Live the week of August 30, 2020. In preparation for the broadcast I listed my 14 favorite experiences.
Kim was not pleased. She wanted me to choose one.
We are both accomplished negotiators and as with most negotiations, we split the difference. As every married man knows ½ of 14 is two.
My Top 14 List
For the Q & A Live, I talked about Tenochtitlan, Mexico, and the Bosphorus-Black Sea, Turkey.
Here are my other 12 favorite experiences.
Six of them are ruins:
- Chichén Itzá
- Acropolis in Athens (really all the Greek and Roman ruins in the area)
- The Great Wall
- Terracotta Warriors
Two are from the Middle Ages
- Italian sculpture and architecture
- Hagia Sophia
One is modern
- Skopje’s statues
One a natural formation
- The Alps
Two were activities
- Biking through Phnom Penh
- Speaking French in Marseille
It is apparent I like old ruins. Especially if seeing the ruins involves a good deal of exercise. In fact when I visited Coba, Mexico the second time I brought my running gear to run the sprawling grounds. Add the Alps and biking Cambodia and 9 of my 14 favorite experiences involve outside exercising.
Much to my surprise, I discovered I like art. Art in terms of sculpture and architecture. Grand impressive art that lasts centuries. Art that is created by true geniuses like Michelangelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Antonio Canova, Antoni Gaudí, Daniel Burnham . . . Prior to Italy, see below, I’d never had much interest in art appreciation.
This is part of the appeal of ancient ruins. We seldom know the name of the architects who designed these beautiful structures. It’s difficult to argue that the Temple of Kukulcan at Chichén Itzá, the Moon Pyramid of Teotihuacán, or the Jaguar Tempel in Tikal are not grand examples of architecture and art.
I also believe that these impressive places have to be experienced in person. It’s one thing to see a picture of the Terracotta Warriors and quite another to walk past row upon row of Warriors who have been standing ready for battle for the last 2,200 years.
The Great Wall, Pillars of Zeus, Aztec Capital
Pictures of the Great Wall are impressive but walking on an original, unrestored section of the Wall connects you emotionally. I think you will be humbled by these constructions. We’ve all seen pictures of the Pillars of Zeus. When you stand next to them you understand their immensity. It is awe-inspiring when you realize they were constructed 2,600 years ago.
When in the Aztec capital, you realize nothing culturally exists like it today. Standing in the same place that Hernando Cortez stood as a guest and later murderer of Montezuma and the Aztecs was “a once in a lifetime” experience for me. Even though I had visited there many times.
Florence, Istanbul, Skopje
Until I spent time in Italy, I was never an admirer of the country (please forgive my ignorance). Travel changes you. This is another reason to travel. Now, I love Italy, in part, because of the art and architect. Before experiencing these things I was not really interested in either sculptors or architecture now I’m uplifted by both.
This is why Hagia Sophia is on my list. Similar to Florence or Milan, Istanbul is bursting with beautiful architecture and art. Hagia Sophia is perhaps the grandest of them all.
The center of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, is packed with massive statues. They are modern, beautiful, and colossal. Skopje makes my experiences list in part because these sculptures were unexpected. We literally turned a corner and were stunned at the sights.
Yes, I understand there is controversy regarding these sculptures, but putting that aside, I liked them.
The Element Of Surprise
The element of surprise is something worth mentioning. When we walked through Florence the first day we did so without a map, not any idea of where things were located. This ‘strategy’ turned out to be one of the best ways to see a grand city. A walk down a humdrum street often resulted in stumbling unexpectedly on
- Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
- Palazzo Vecchio
- Ponte Vecchio
And many other spectacular sites.
We used this same strategy in Athens. Talk about having our breath taken away and standing dumbly in awe. That occurred in Florence, Athens, Istanbul, and Skopje. It has to be the right city, of course, a city with spectacular art and architecture. Try it next time you are in such a city.
The Alps, Bosphorus-Black Sea
For me, the Alps and Bosphorus-Black Sea confluence are nature’s architecture. A lot of nature is like this but these two areas have significance for me, although I’m not sure how to articulate exactly what that is.
Part of it is the violent ruggedness and vastness of the Alps. This inspires a bit of fear within me as does the impossible existence of the Bosphorus and its entrance into the vastness of the mysterious Black Sea. I think we all need a little reminder of the fearful greatness of the Earth and our small place in it from time to time.
Cambodia and Marseille
Biking Cambodia was a marvelous experience, mostly because it involved bikes. I love mountain biking and that was what we did in Phnom Penh. We did not do technical off-road insanity biking rather dirt trail and poorly maintained road riding. Exploring the exotic Cambodian countryside with fun biking mates and good Cambodian food made it a great experience.
Marseille made my top 14 list because I was able to understand their French and they could understand me. French is one of those languages which has a variety of accents and cadences. It’s possible to understand French speakers in one region and not understand them in another region. I’ve no idea what Parisians are talking about, but I can converse with Tahitians. English is similar in this way. Many Americans easily understand Australian English but find Scottish English unintelligible.
The people in Marseille are friendly and outgoing. More than once, the person at the table next to us heard us speaking English and struck up a conversation that quickly switched to French. This was the city were one of those random people had the keys to the castle, literally, and let us in. It was closed for renovation.
This was the city with the gym that had the unusual but nice custom of shaking hands. When a member arrived they would greet everyone in the gym and shake their hand and then begin their workout. That’s a friendly city.
Experiences = An Interesting Life
That’s what travel is: experiences.
Experiences that you can’t get in your home country.
Experiences are the spice of life. We like our life spicy.