O’er vales and hills

Between my undergraduate college and postgraduate school now, I spent four months looking for a reason not to pursue physics. I found none. Physics has a logic to it, and an emotion few are lucky to see; once you are acquainted with it, it is hard to find anything else more satisfying than looking around you and being able to trace why something is the way it is, all the way back to around 13 billion years ago.

As I pen this, I sit with a cup of coffee, over two-thousand metres high on the edge of a balcony in a stoneclad house overlooking a deep valley embraced by several lush, green tropical mountains.

And it is not physics that I am thinking of.

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Wishlist: Seven places I intend to visit

I have often come across lists of ‘Ten places to see before you die!’ (Not to mention the elephantine NYTimes bestseller, 1000 places to see before you die.) The pessimism in these titles hardly appeals to me, I have, since long ago, decided that the number ten is some sort of sleight-of-the-mind rounding-off habit that most humans had acquired, which trained their minds to look at a list of ten things as complete (for reasons beyond me.)

I decided to go in for a more practical approach and settle for as many as I actually mean to put on this list rather than want to. The result is this wishlist article. I stumbled upon these places in books (most notably the RD classic, Strange Worlds, Amazing Places,) magazines and elsewhere.

 7.  Tuscany, Italy

Having been fascinated by Tuscany ever since I first saw a photograph of the Tuscan sunset, I have found an increasing number of reasons why it should be on the list. Presently, I have it at number 7!

Tuscany
San Quirico d’Orcia, Tuscany, photograph by Matthias Rhomberg

Six Tuscan localities have been designated World Heritage Sites: the historic centre of Florence (1982), the historical centre of Siena (1995), the square of the Cathedral of Pisa (1987), the historical centre of San Gimignano (1990), the historical centre of Pienza (1996) and the Val d’Orcia (2004). Furthermore, Tuscany has over 120 protected nature reserves.

And then there is always nature which is worth an entire visit by itself!

 6.  Vienna, Austria

Mozart’s statue, Vienna, photograph by Nico Paix

Vienna, also described as Europe’s cultural capital, is a metropolis with unique charm, vibrancy and flair. It boasts outstanding infrastructure, is clean and safe, and has all the inspiration that you could wish for in order to discover this wonderful part of Europe. In a recent survey, the city was declared the place with the highest quality of life all over the world!

And the one reason? It is the centre of medieval Western music, from Mozart to Beethoven to Joseph Haydn to Franz Schubert. Statistically speaking, no other city on Earth have so many musicians ever made their home!

 5.  Monuriki, Japan

Monuriki is the underrated island in which the famous film, Cast Away, was shot. It is, perhaps, as isolated from civilisation as Miranda was from men. And, arguably, this is one of the best escapes that actually stay true to the actual sense of the word!

Monuriki island, Japan, photograph by Heinz Albers

 4.  Sweethaven Village, Malta

Popeye Village, also known as Sweethaven Village, is a group of rustic and ramshackle wooden buildings located at Anchor Bay in the north-west corner of the Mediterranean island of Malta, two miles from the village of Melliea.

It was built as a film set for the production of the 1980 live-action musical feature film Popeye, produced by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions and starring Robin Williams. Today it is open to the public as an open-air museumand family entertainment complex.

The construction of the film set started in June 1979. A construction crew of 165 working over seven months was needed to build the village, which consists of nineteen authentic wooden buildings. Hundreds of logs and several thousand wooden planks were imported from Holland, while wood shingles used in the construction of the roof tops were imported from Canada. Eight tons of nails and two thousand gallons of paint were also used in construction.

Sweethaven/Popeye village, Malta, photograph from Wikimedia Commons

In addition, a 200-250 foot breakwater was built around Anchor Bay’s mouth to protect the set from high seas during the shooting.

The set was completed in seven months, and filming commenced on January 23, 1980. The film, based on the comic strips by E.C. Segar, is set around the fictional village of Sweethaven where the sailor Popeye arrives in an attempt to find his long lost father.

Although the film was initially perceived to be a failure (but not in my eyes,) Popeye (or, rather, Sweethaven) Village remains a popular tourist attraction.

 3.  Neuschwanstein castle, Bavaria

Neuschwanstein castle, photograph by Alaskan Dude

Built in the 19th century by the mad king, Ludwig II of Bavaria as a homage to Richard Wagner, this tourist hotspot in Germany has well got to be my top favourite building on Earth. And for somebody with such tastes, I doubt ol’ Ludwig was all that mad.

Built on the ruins of the earlier Hohenschwangau castle where Ludwig spent his childhood, this dreamy place has rooms inspired in arcane fashions by the many compositions of Wagner.

In turn, the castle inspired Walt Disney to create the famous Sleeping Beauty castle seen in the equally famous film by the same name.

 2.  Paris, France

Little, if anything, need be said about this city.

An important settlement for more than two millennia, Paris is today one of the world’s leading business and cultural centres, and its influences in politicseducationentertainmentmedia,fashionscience, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world’s major global cities. In 2009 and 2010 Paris was ranked among the three most important and influential cities in the world, among the first three “European cities of the future” – according to research published by the Financial Times and among the top ten most liveable cities in the world according to the British review Monocle. Paris also ranked among the ten greenest European cities in 2010. Paris hosts the headquarters of many international organizations such as UNESCO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the informal Paris Club.

Paris, photograph by zoetnet

Paris and the Paris Region, with €552.1 billion in 2009, produces more than a quarter of the gross domestic product of France. According to 2008 estimates, the Paris agglomeration is, scantily after London, Europe’s second biggest city economy and the sixth largest in the world. The Paris Region hosts 37 of the Fortune Global 500 companies in several business districts, notably La Défense, the largest dedicated business district in Europe. According to the latest survey from Economist Intelligence Unit in 2010, Paris is the world’s most expensive city in which to live. With about 42 million tourists per year (28 in city proper of which 17 million are foreign visitors), Paris is the most visited city in the world. The city and its region contain 3,800 historical monuments and four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 1.  Metéora, Greece

Right on top of my list is the Grecian monastry town of Metéora (meaning suspended rocks (in the sky) and giving origin to the word meteorite.) At an extreme level, it would perhaps be the only place I would truly describe as one nobody has words to describe.

One of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of thePlain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. The nearest town is Kalambaka. The Metéora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Meteora, Greece, photography by alaskapine

Access to the monasteries was originally (and deliberately) difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith – the ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only “when the Lord let them break”. In the 1920s there was an improvement in the arrangements. Steps were cut into the rock, making the complex accessible via a bridge from the nearby plateau. During World War II the site was bombed and many art treasures were stolen.

Only six of the monasteries remain today. Of these six, five are inhabited by men, one by women. Each monastery has fewer than 10 inhabitants.

Had enough?

As a bonus, I also would not pass a chance to visit Roswell.

Yes, I want to believe. [vhb]  Cover image: Flickr/katerha