My Top Ten List of World Monuments (Who Said Anything About Dying?)

You’ve probably seen them before – Travel guides insisting that you visit certain places before you die; as if visiting them afterwards is a bankable strategy. There is much to be said for visiting those places before flat-lining, but I’m happy to share my own personal list of the top ten world monuments that I’ve visited, all without that superfluous reminder of our common mortality.

10) Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey 069

Wedged between two other monuments of note in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square (Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque), the ancient monument called Hagia Sophia – meaning Holy Wisdom in Greek – began its existence as a church before being converted to a mosque and now a museum. It’s massive dome was (and still is) an architectural marvel, and wandering its cavernous halls is a must for anyone visiting this historic city.

9) Empire State Building,  New York, USA

The Core of the Big Apple

Maybe I’m a bit partial to my former hometown, but few monuments have gotten as much screen time as the good old Empire State Building. There are bigger and bolder buildings to be found – even right there in Manhattan – but the classic art-deco architecture and famous views of the ‘Capital of the World’ from its lofty observation deck are timeless, and definitely worthy of my humble list.

8) Big Ben, London, England

Big Ben…and a cool-looking clock tower

Technically, Big Ben is the name of the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower located at the north end of London’s Westminster Palace. But that iconic tower is commonly known for its namesake bell, and far be it for me to harp on a technicality. Well, technically I just did, but…anyway. Big Ben is one of the most recognizable images in of all Europe, especially the U.K. and that, after all, is the point of a famous monument.

7) Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

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Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

Poised at a scenic point between the Sydney Botanical Gardens and Harbour Bridge, this monument to culture is widely recognizable for its sail-like curves and yawning glass sidewalls. This draws tourists from all over the world (including yours truly) and also doubles as an actual working opera venue. While no one comes to Australia for urban scenery (at least they shouldn’t), a visit here is is a visit to the only world-class man-made monument on the continent.

6) Christ the Redeemer Statue, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Finding Jesus is Easy in Rio de Janeiro

The monolithic Christ the Redeemer Statue, which looms over the vibrant city of Rio de Janeiro, is not so much a must-see in and of itself, but rather a recognizable symbol of one of the world’s most-impressive city setting. Visible from various points around the city, the views from atop its home on Corcovado Mountain are a thrill for even the most jaded travelers.

5) The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

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Il famoso Colosseo

In a land full of impressive monuments, the Colosseum in central Rome takes the cake (or cannoli if you will). If you can look past its checkered history as a venue for bloody entertainment, this massive stone arena is the crown jewel of Roman Empire relics. Surrounded by other famous monuments like the Forum, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Square (which is technically part of the tiny sovereign state of Vatican City…there I go again) perhaps some of the Colosseum’s thunder gets stolen. But if there is only one building to encapsulate the majesty and glory of ancient Rome, this is certainly the place.

4) Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Le Tour Eiffel

When it comes to icons, I can’t imagine anything more recognizable than the Eiffel Tower. This is one of those monuments where you’ll never forget the moment and circumstances when you first laid eyes on it (in my case, after passing out from behind a cluster of buildings while riding a train). It is bigger and more impressive than you think. And if it weren’t for the next three monuments on my list, it could easily be considered number one.

3) Great Wall of China, Northern China

Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China

Part of the measure of what makes a world monument great, is the absolutely, must-see factor. You simply cannot (or should not) miss out on visiting this enormous attraction if you are anywhere near northern China. Sure it’s just a wall with guardhouses snaking over a hilly landscape, but that’s not the point. Nothing symbolizes China more than its namesake wall. Just go see it (I’ll refrain from specifying why, as promised earlier).

2) Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Pyramid Perfection

Are there any monuments more iconic and recognizable than the Pyramids? Well, I’d say one, but it must be admitted that the Pyramids were here first. Like the Eiffel Tower, you will not forget the first time you see these sentinels of the ages baking in the sun. Whether you believe they were built by slaves, aliens, or an ancient local Egyptian contracting firm, the overall impression will leave you awed and more than just a little bit humbled.

1) The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

It may look doctored, but this image is 100% untouched

I’ve said this before and will say it again here: There is no building on Earth that can compare with the beauty and majesty of India’s Taj Mahal. Add in the whole ‘greatest monument to love’ angle, and really, no other man-made structure can compete. I know I said I wouldn’t bring up the whole pending mortality thing, but if you only get to one spot on this list, make sure this is the one.

Not Dead Yet

Just like your life, my list of monuments is not over. I’ve still yet to visit such famous sites as Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu and the city of Petra to see how they stack up. So while I’m still breathing, (and presumably you are too) I’m keeping my mind – and my list – open to adjustment.

Share your own top ten list with your fellow travel enthusiasts by leaving a comment below.

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Second Fiddle in Agra is Still a Show Worth Seeing

Looking out at the Diwan I Am
Looking out at the Diwan I Am

It must be hard living in someone/something’s shadow. It must be even harder when said person/thing isn’t even half your size. But that’s the reality for Agra Fort – a colossal stronghold across the river for the world famous Taj Mahal, and a worthy destination in its own right.

While the Taj is known for its delicate white marble and inlaid stones, the Agra Fort would comparatively be considered utilitarian; at least by Indian standards. Its mammoth facade is made of reddish sandstone, and what it may lack in luxury it more than compensates for in size. Some 70% of the 94 acres are currently occupied by the Indian military and therefore off-limits to tourists. Regardless, both the sprawling grounds and hazy views of the Taj Mahal across the way make visiting this fortress worth the price of admission.

Seeing Red at Agra Fort
Seeing Red at Agra Fort

If all you want to do is admire the architecture, a guide will not be necessary. If you care to know anything about what you’re looking at, I would highly recommend hiring one. Doing so will bring the various halls, courtyards and apartments into context and enhance your appreciation for what you’re seeing. Yeah, it doesn’t have the same romantic backstory as the Taj, but that doesn’t mean it’s without a decent plot line. The most interesting twist was finding out that the builder of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan, was eventually deposed by his son and imprisoned there in the fort – allegedly in full sight of his masterpiece just across the way. Lovers of irony and or tragedy will no doubt prefer the “unhappy ending” version of events. Romantics might want to just stick to the Taj.

While not as ornate as the aforementioned diva, there is great detail in the architecture -especially the doorways, columns and arches. There is perhaps no greater display than at the Diwan I Am, or the Hall of Public Audience. This is where the emperor du jour would hold court and interact with his subjects. Nowadays it’s filled with tourists snapping up pictures with whatever space is left on their memory cards after visiting the Taj Mahal.

Sit back. Relax. And Enjoy the Architecture
Sit back. Relax. And Enjoy the Architecture

Depending on one’s speed and stamina, the highlights of the fort can be seen unhurriedly in less than half a day. Often guided tours will take in the Agra Fort in conjunction with the Taj Mahal and sometimes the nearby abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri. While that’s a lot to take in, be sure not to skip this monument that if it were found in any other city, would be considered the star of the show. Just because it’s nearby to that other famous monument doesn’t diminish it in the least. I suppose that if you’re going to be overshadowed by something, it might as well be the most beautiful building in existence. Yet, here in Agra, the Agra Fort may be second fiddle, but I promise you’ll never see another sideshow looming so large.


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Snapshot of My Bucket List: Where and Why

Cross another one off the Bucket List
Cross another one off the Bucket List

Just today it dawned on me that every single blog post I’ve written has covered someplace that I’ve already been. For a change I thought I’d put down in writing some of the places I’d still like to get to. Of course, my list (and everyone else’s, I suppose) is always subject to change – you never know when you’ll see that photograph that will rocket that previously unknown destination to a top slot. You also never know when that proverbial bucket might be kicked. So with those caveats in mind, I present to you a snapshot of my bucket list at this particular moment in time and perhaps it might inspire you to form one of your own.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

In my head I like to think of myself as being in the mold of Indiana Jones – I love traveling to exotic places; history fascinates me; I even have a fedora. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to a landmark such as Angkor Wat – a sprawling temple complex of stone ruins rising out of the steamy jungles of southeast Asia. I had a taste of that in Ayutthaya, Thailand, but it would seem that Angkor Wat is the definitive ancient temple ruin and the photo opportunities alone urge me to return to the region after a 12 year hiatus. Probably not going to get there this year, but it still ranks high on my list.

Petra, Jordan

Speaking of Indiana Jones, how could anyone see The Last Crusade and not be inspired to visit Petra? While the chances of finding the holy grail are unlikely, the landscape – carved out of rock by the ancient Nabateans – is 100% real. Ever since I saw that on full moons it is possible for a nighttime tour, I have kept the flame burning for a visit to this ancient wonder. Now if only that whole ISIS thing would just settle down…

Archipelago Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Even for places off the beaten path, the islands of Fernando de Noronha off the northeastern tip of Brazil would be considered as way, way off the normal tourist circuit. For me the appeal is partly the remote and thereby rather untouched nature of this Atlantic archipelago, and partly the dream of scuba diving in its pristine waters – preferably among the many dolphins that frequent the area. It would require some dedication to get there, but like anything else of any value, I’m certain the extra effort would be worth it.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

The first time I heard of Ngorongoro Crater was in a magazine (the Awake! I believe) and the overview combined with the pictures depicted a veritable paradise on Earth. Many years later it was a featured destination on my favorite reality show The Amazing Race, and seeing the lush greenery and wildlife encounters was enough to seal its place on my bucket list – even though I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on several safaris. Add in ‘nearby’ attractions such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and the exotic island of Zanzibar and all it would take is the slightest opportunity for me to convert this wish into reality. That and a bunch of time and money.

Iceland, like almost all of it

Years ago I was planning a trip to Europe and intended to fly on Icelandair, the national carrier of Iceland who would have very graciously allowed me a free stopover in their country. While circumstances eventually led me to take another carrier, by that time I had already done the research on Iceland, and in doing so, convinced myself that this land of fire and ice was worth more than just a ‘stopover‘. When several of my friends made the trip there and shared their photos with me, my wanderlust was sufficiently stoked to include Iceland on my bucket list for the foreseeable future.

In the Queue

As I mentioned before, this is a snapshot of my bucket list. This reflects the fact that I already have a trip to Norway/Sweden/Italy/the Netherlands planned and therefore the wonders I hope to experience on that trip have gone from ‘bucket list’ to ‘itinerary’ – much to my delight. After that I don’t know what will come next. I might even wind up somewhere else. But that’s the great thing about bucket lists – so long as the ‘bucket’ hasn’t tipped over, there’s always time to add and subtract.

Do you have a bucket list? Please share your top slot with the rest of us as well as your reasons why by commenting below.

I would also like to mention that my fellow blogger Bianca Mazziotti has posted a review of my book You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper on her inspirational blog Stumbling for Balance. Her blog is full of positive thoughts on a variety of subjects along with a number of original poems. I encourage you to take a peek – I’m sure she’d like to connect with you.

Share Your Love For All Things Travel With A Gift From!

Whether it’s a custom tee, bucket list design or personalized departure or arrivals board, Custom Travel Art can create the perfect gift for the traveler in your life – even if that traveler is you! Browse our collection now for the perfect travel gift.

Wait For It….

Keep Your Adventure ebookJust a reminder to all you readers that my travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper will be released tomorrow!

If you’ve missed the preview see it here.

And if you wouldn’t mind my asking a favor, I would love your help in getting the word out, so please share, like, re-post, tweet, pin and any other social media verb that comes to mind both this post and the one that’s coming tomorrow. Who knows? You just might share the inspiration that will make all the difference in your travel life or in that of someone you love.

Until tomorrow….

Ben Pastore