The Bucket List
The Bucket List in popular culture is a simple idea. Figure out what you want to do, everything you want to see, all the foods you want to try and the places you want to go, make a list, check it twice, spend your discretionary time and resources ticking things off the list. I have two problems with the Bucket List. Thing 1) there is generally an assumption that you'll do most of those things 'when you have the time and money.' Turns out, we really probably shouldn't assume we'll ever have enough time or money. 'Don't wait my friend, it's later than you think' is part of a well-known cruiser axiom.
More crucially, the Bucket List requires some serious next level bullsh* assumption that you know what should be on it. Maybe other people are better at this than I am, but as we drunkenly stumble around Europe, I am routinely reminded that I don't know faff all about the world and virtually everything that is absolutely The Best Thing Ever that we've seen or done thus far was nowhere to be found on my bucket list. Let's just take a walk through a few of these places to provide a taste of the advantages of drifting aimlessly over making a list.
Which part? Why? All of it. Just because... Albania. What the actual f*, right? Albania just emerged recently from one of the worst and most oppressive communist dictatorships in human history. Look it up. Ranks right up there with North Korea. Aeron encapsulated their country spirit as "Well, at least it isn't getting worse!" This sounds dark, but it's said with such a light, optimistic, and joyous energy that I have to admit I fell in love with these scrappy, contentious people. It's mad as cheap, gloriously untouristy, full of amazing scenery both natural and built. The capital Tirana is imminently walkable, full of cafes and cheerfully colourful painted buildings (the former mayor was a painter), and several really fine museums including one of the secret service (again... surprisingly fascinating despite the dark subject). Take the free walking tour in Tirana, spend a few days on the Adriatic coast, scramble all over the walled fortresses in Gjirokaster and Birat. Don't make the mistake everyone makes and only stay a few days. Just take root. It is the only country you will ever visit there locals on the street will spontaneously greet you with, "Thank you for coming to our country!"
The Ladder of Kotor
Why isn't this in Lonely Planet as one of the ten best day hikes in the world? No clue. It's not even in Lonely Planet as one of the ten best things to do in Kotor, Montenegro. Do it anyway. Walk out the North Gate, across the bridge, turn right, head down the canal and then right again back over the canal and then start walking. Up. Up and up and up and up. The ladder is a well maintained trail that switchbacks up the side of the hill behind the walled city of Kotor. It rises 940 meters in roughly 4 km. The views are stunning every step of the way. Make your way back via a window in the wall of the 12th century fortress itself and down back into town for ice cream and beer in one of the many cafes.
Hiking the Durmitors
Speaking of Montenegro and hiking, go to Durmitor National Park. I suspect all of the five Montenegran National Parks are worthy of your time, but classically this wasn't on our bucket list so we didn't KNOW until it was time to get Aeron up to Croatia. We spent only two days hiking in Durmitor. I can compare these mountains to the Cascades or the Sierras but that's not really quite fair. Every mountain range has it's own special beauty, and so too the Durmitors offer something no other place can give you. Both hikes, one virtually straight up out of the Black Lake into the backcountry above the tree line, past the shepards and their flocks and into a scree alpine highland, the other an amble through pine tree rimmed forest meadows and up to an overlook over the Tara Canyon (at 1355 meters deep and 84 km long rivalling the Grand Canyon in scope) are absolute MUST items for anyone with day hike Bucket List.
The Dioramas of the Pharohs
Look, we saw a lot of big important really old stuff in Egypt. We saw the Pyramids of Gisa and went into tombs in the Valley of the Kings. We visited the Temple of Luxor, Karnak and Philae, spent the night in a Nubian home and floated down the Nile in a fallukah. Tick tick tick tick the Bucket List. But the thing that should have been on my Egypt to dos but was not was in a tiny corner of the Grandma's Attic of the current Cairo museum of antiquities which we only stumbled on by chance: the dioramas of the Pharohs. These are doll house sized scenes made of wood and clay and paint which at first we thought were some 19th century notion of dramatising 'what it looked like in the time of the kings.' Not so fast. These little scenes of farm life, the market, a Nubian army, a granary, a brewery, were all made approximately 1700 BC. Artists contemporaneous with the times built these models so that important people like mayors and priests and kings would go into the afterlife with a herd of cow, fresh beer and bread, a nice little standing army. Never mind mummies and gold jewellery, these are now my absolute favourite thing to look for in Egyptian antiquities displays.
The Vatican Maproom
You are going to reserve tickets to visit the Vactican Museum but if you're like 99% of the folks pushing through that insane queue, you'll be there mostly to see the Sistine Chapel. Okay, fine. It's nice. It's also not even close to the most interesting thing to see while you are at the Vatican, notwithstanding the Michaelangelo and Bottechelli masterpiece which is that tiny little church. You can get yourself your own list going (might start with the Raphaels or perhaps the insane collection of Egyptian sculpture or even the modern museum) but for DrC and I the section we hadn't even heard of and which should have been on our top 3 list was the Maproom. Some Pope in the 15th century got a hair up his bum that he wanted to see all the lands over which the Catholic Church had dominion in Italy. The map room is a long hallway of extraordinarily detailed massive frescos mapping all of Italy. Bonus points if you visit this room after you've ambled all over Italy and visited half of the walled cities on hilltops represented in this incredible cartographic masterpiece.
Look, one way to compile your bucket list is to sit at home and read blogs from bloggiators like myself, peruse your Lonely Planet, listen to years of Rick Steves' podcasts. Another way -- perhaps the arguably less efficient but more productive way -- is to just get off the couch and start moving. Our world is full of so many wonderous things, breathtaking scenario, jaw dropping art and architecture. You can't and won't get a chance to see all of it. Instead of making a list, just go see some of it.
CURRENT: Zadar, Croatia
PLAN: We have three more weeks in the Balkans before heading to the UK. Thinking we'll just dip into Bosnia Herzegovina for awhile then find a place out of the way and quiet to camp for a bit.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Other than just go to Albania? You can get a mobile chip in Montenegro for 5 Euro for 100 GB. That's not the tip. The tip is that after you leave Montenegro, you're going to cry and cry at the loss of virtually endless bandwidth. Brace yourself in advance.