Not being someone who makes New Year's resolutions, the plan is to acknowledge and reconsider places on earth which are personally the most memorable, which also prove that our fellow human beings can sometimes actually touch genius and create impressive items of timelessness. The New Year holiday usually sees predictions, along with lists of popular resolutions. However, the following international list is of incredible creations by God and man which are on my personal 'bucket-list' [a list of desired events in which to participate; and in this overview, of a 'bakers-dozen' places to be seen before kicking the bucket]. Most of the following are crossed off, while a few are still to do:
UNITED STATES: Sinking Spring Farm in Hodgenville, Kentucky is a National Historic Site which houses the birthplace log cabin of Abraham Lincoln. The cabin, built before 1809, is housed in a neoclassical stone memorial/temple. However, the bucket-worthy highlight of this beautiful homestead on earth is the actual sinking spring which still trickles springwater. It's the same water from the ancient Kentucky bedrock which nourished infant Abraham Lincoln for the first few years of his life. Took my family here back in the mid-eighties.
CANADA'S ST. FRANCIS-XAVIER MISSION: Wherein is found the burial site of Kateri Tekakwitha. She was an Algonquian-Iroquois maiden born in 1656 at Auriesville, in upstate New York, whose dying words on April 17, 1680 in Kahnawake, Quebec were "Jesus, I Love You" when she breathed her last at the tender age of 24. Those present near her deathbed witnessed Kateri's extremely Smallpox-scarred face instantly and miraculously change into the most peaches-and-cream complexion for which any young lady could ever hope. The Catholic Church and presiding Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI, will publicly proclaim her a canonized Saint in a few months. Kahnawake Indian settlement just south and across the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal is still on my bucket list to visit.
ENGLAND'S STONEHENGE is by far the most intriguingly eerie yet inspiring stone monument left from ancient peoples of the British Isles predating Angles, Saxons, Norse and Normans. The most believable scientific/historic explanation so far is that the site was used by hunter/gatherers for understanding and or defining life, death, and mysticism by rituals of using drums with repetitive echo-force for mesmerizing participants in the ceremonies performed for reverberation within the large megalithic stonework. I walked away from this site, on foot, all the way to Salisbury with countless questions; and has since then, evoked even more questions. I suppose they'll never be answered.
AUSTRALIA'S ULURU, or AYERS ROCK, a naturally reddish and overlarge sandstone outcropping in the Northern Territory of central Australia calls to me. Many tourists intend to climb it; however the Anango natives consider their Uluru as a sacred tribal precinct which they never climb; and they kindly ask that tourists also do not climb. Just to be near the site listening to Australian aboriginal musicians playing their native tunes on traditional instruments would do me fine; and is still on the bucket list.
GERMANY'S COLOGNE CATHEDRAL (Koln Dom) is the superlative of all Gothic architecture. Each doorway, outer buttress, arch, vault, ceilings, pillars: the whole of this Christian stone monumental house of worship is pure Gothic in every sense of the word. Superlatively-massive size yet perfect proportions lend it to giving you a refreshing and airy sensation not found in almost every other man-made stone structure in the world. I crawled up inside the south [open-to-the-air] spire, and braved a gale upon ascending into the heights.
INDIA excites the imagination for sure. Of all the places shown in tourist films about India, and in books on travel, the most desirable place for my feet to walk within and my eyes to feast upon are the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and her devoted and worshipful husband, Shah Jehan. Theirs is a resting place, side by side, which is a symbol of undying love and affection. Both rectangular, decorated tombs lie in hard stone which is the encased and decorated tribute to marital love: a marble mausoleum known as the Taj Mahal.
ITALY'S MARBLE STATUE OF MOSES which can be found in one of Rome's lesser-known churches. It's off the beaten path for tourists. Inside San Pietro in Vincolo (Saint Peter in Chains) which actually houses the chains with which the Apostle Peter was shackled. This Church also is home to a magnificent larger-than-life statue of the Old Testament's Prophet Moses seated, carved by Michelangelo. I stood before this cold stone figure, eyes riveted to the veins in Moses' hands, almost breathless for what I imagined would be an instant when surely a pulse could soon be seen throbbing in the veins of those strong hands. Very lifelike indeed.
FRANCE'S SAINTE CHAPELLE is located just a short walk from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with its famous flying buttresses; however Sainte Chapelle is more impressive because when you're inside, you believe the entire roof of this lacework Gothic structure is suspended in air by endless curtains of stained glass. As you stand inside, with mouth open, you feel as though you're actually suspended inside a richly colorful and sparkling stained-glass container. I think of it as the "French Jewel Box."
SPAIN'S LA SAGRADA FAMILIA BASILICA in Barcelona designed and begun by Antonio Gaudi defies description. This overwhelmingly fantastic architecture best shouts out an in-your-face definition of the word 'gaudy,' yet its scope becomes beautiful in the full context as the eye attempts to take in its oversized and mythically designed curves. A Navy buddy and I visited this place back in 1966 when it was in the mid-stages of being built; and it boggled my mind then as totally other-worldly; and so I won't even attempt to convey what it looks like. The news media released press accounts that it is now somewhat more finished; and was consecrated as a fully functional house of worship just last year.
RUSSIA'S TRETYAKOV ART GALLERY in Moscow displays two of the finest icons ever painted on wood. Andrei Rublev (1360 - 1430) the artist, used techniques from Byzantium for his Theotokos of Vladimir and the Trinity which explain, in just these two images, the entire heart and soul of Russia and the Russian people. Having seen only photos in artbooks and on the Internet, I find Rublev's painted faces and eyes explain the sorrow and suffering of these Slavic people not only under the Czars but as the portend of brutal treatment by Bolsheviks, Soviets, and Lenin/Stalin communist overlords. Unfortunately however, with just a slight breath of hope with the fall of Russia's communism, Vladimir Putin is presently beginning to repeat the former czarist stranglehold of bygone centuries. But at least we can now begin to understand the fatalistic resignation of starotrepsy [suffering] Russian royal brothers Boris and Gleb who were totally resigned in accepting being put to death by their own uncle's greed to sit on the Czarist throne of Russia. Let's hope the Vladimir Theotokos can still change the KGB-coldblooded-heart of Vladimir Putin.
DENMARK'S CAPITOL OF COPENHAGEN. This Nordic kingdom and wonderfully happy town is the complete and total vacation package for the aspiring traveler. Anywhere you visit in Copenhagen will leave you refreshed. Whether it's the breweries, restaurants, recreation park of Tivoli, or the fish market; you'll experience the ease and reason why this northern climate of an ancient human settlement is just plain warm and loving, even in wintertime. Antique shops here give you the best artwork of Nordic folk-impressions and craftsmanship as well as the most modern designs which are also a hallmark of the Danes. It's those friendly Danes themselves which warm the welcome. Oh, and the cheeses... And don't forget to visit the bronze mermaid in Copenhagen's harbor as she sits atop a rock while seawater washes over her leggy fins. I visited her close-up one wintry day by walking over frozen seacakes.
ARUBA'S NATURAL BRIDGE with a strong incoming tide. As of late, the two missing young ladies have removed some of this Caribbean pearl's luster; however, the native Papiamento folks [who share native South American and Caribbean Indian blood] are very warmhearted and accommodating. The beaches are among the finest in the world, and the warm ocean water is always a tempting emerald green. The natural bridge with a strong incoming tide will impress the most jaded tourist. The bride and I had but one week's stay, basking on the soft crushed-seashell Manchebo Beach; and we loathed leaving this island paradise.
NEW ZEALAND. This is still on the "to do" list. Having only seen travelogues on cable television, I'm dreaming of farms full of fragrant orchids, stark mountainside views and ocean vistas in this island nation. Have to begin searching the Internet. "Happy Trails" to those of you who enjoy traveling; especially if your headed to places such as L'Anse-aux-Meadows in Newfoundland, Easter Island, Angkor Wat, the Galapagos, Machu-Picchu or the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island. And how about fishing in Alaska on the Kenai River for Chinook salmon, then bringing the fresh catch back to your lodge, and feeding your family. Until the day I hook and cook a Chinook, guess I'll just wait until our local Shiretown grocer gets a fresh shipment of Alaskan salmon. Ultimately however, it ends up being the unexpected -- the unplanned experiences -- while traveling which rewards us with the most unforgettable moments. Bon Voyage!