Travel Goals Master Checklist: Part IV – Europe

In Part IV of the Travel Goals Master Checklist series, I’ll explain the reasons and inspirations behind the 13 destinations selected to represent Europe in my list of the top 72 travel locations in the world. Suffice to say, I could have easily found 72 in Europe alone, and arguments can be made that some worthy destinations have been left out. But I challenge anyone to claim that the 13 selected aren’t worthy entrants in their own rite.

So enjoy the backstory to the European delegation to the Travel Goals Master Checklist, and if you haven’t done so already, I invite you to read Parts I, II and III.

Bavaria, Germany

The mountains, forests and charming villages of Germany’s Bavaria section are something right out of a fairy tale. The most conspicuous of such elements is the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, whose storybook setting and fantastical architecture were the perfect muse for representing this lovely region on the checklist.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Though on my own visit to the Cliffs of Moher they – and they alone – were disappointingly wreathed in fog, the drama was still readily evident, and the familiar vertical cliffs seen in movies and postcards were still impressive. Ireland’s Atlantic coastline is stunningly spectacular, and the Cliffs of Moher are a worthy subject for inclusion on the Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Geiranger, Norway

The Norwegian fjords are collectively one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. Among these dramatic inlets, tiny Geiranger stands out as a cut above the rest. In fact, I consider this to be the second most beautiful place I’ve ever been (the first being Milford Sound, New Zealand – also located on a fjord). I strongly encourage all who can to make plans to check off this entry on their own copy of the Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Greek Islands, Greece

Though I’ve yet to make my way through the islands of Greece, from a tourism viewpoint they are the stars of the Mediterranean, and deserve a spot on the list. Among the various postcard-worthy scenes I considered as inspiration for creating the artwork for this destination, a sunset view over Santorini seemed to best encapsulate all that is good in this corner of the world.

London, England

When it comes to world cities, London is not just the capital of England, but a capital of empire with relics of its history, museums and architecture to recommend it. Considering its strong profile on the world stage and world-class attractions, London easily made its way onto the checklist, and is likely one destination that many can check off.

Meteora, Greece

With so many sites in Europe worthy of their place on the checklist, I was reluctant to choose two from the same country. But the otherworldy pinnacles of the Meteora in mainland Greece were a highlight of my own travels, and a unique setting that earns its spot among the world’s most impressive places to visit.

Paris, France

Paris is another one of those cities that double as a national and cultural capital. There was no difficulty in selecting it as an entrant on the checklist, neither was there much internal debate as to which icon to select in representing the City of Light. Given its worldwide popularity as a travel destination, more than a few can mark off Paris on their own copy of the Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Only in recent years has the small Mediterranean country of Croatia muscled its way among the heavyweights of world travel destinations. While its turquoise-framed islands and coastline get a lot of the attention, Croatia’s biggest natural gem is located inland at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plitvice Lakes. With turquoise waters of its own spilling over tiers of lush, forested mountains, this idyllic spot is on my own bucket list, and is worthy of its inclusion of the checklist’s top 72 as well.

Rome, Italy

Brimming with recognizable monuments and vestiges of former empire, the Eternal City of Rome is a no-brainer for the travel goals checklist. It also wasn’t too hard to select the massive Colosseum as the subject for this particular piece of artwork. For centuries Rome has been a must-see world capital and that appeal lasts right up to our time as well.

St. Petersburg, Russia

Though not as famous as the Russian capital Moscow, many would argue that St. Petersburg is superior from a cultural and architectural viewpoint. The gilded Hermitage was the obvious choice for representing the city, and a winter scene seemed only fitting given its location.

Swiss Alps, Switzerland

The entire country of Switzerland is made up of postcard-worthy views in all directions. Such views come courtesy of the Alps, which also spill over into Italy, France, Germany and Austria to great visual effect. Most famous of those peaks is the Matterhorn, whose distinct knife-edge profile was an easy choice for representing this stunning landscape that well-deserves its place on the checklist.

Venice, Italy

In my opinion, Venice gives off a vibe that it is more akin to a movie set than an actual functioning city. But function it has for hundreds of years, and as a result, the historic palazzos, ornate bridges and ubiquitous gondolas have earned it a spot on the checklist. Add to that a charm that launches it into a competition with Paris as the world’s most romantic city, and there’s no way I could leave it off.

Volcanic Landscape, Iceland

Iceland is a prominent fixture near the top of my own bucket list, and has the geological and atmospheric chops to earn it a spot on the master checklist as well. With raw, rugged landscapes sculpted by volcanoes and other elements, and the kind of latitude that lends itself to viewing the elusive aurora borealis for a good portion of the year, Iceland is a popular travel destination for good reason, and someday I hope to see it for myself.

All 72 destinations of the Travel Goals Master Checklist

At this point in the series I’ve now covered 47 out of the 72 destinations on the master checklist. How many can you check off? Even if that number is zero, the beauty of the checklist is that it inspires a person to new adventures and specific travel goals. If you’ve enjoyed the artwork and want a Travel Goals Master Checklist to display in your home or office, please visit my Etsy store to order a copy for yourself or the traveler in your life.

Part V coming soon . . .

Have you been to any of these destinations? Or do you have a favorite in Africa that you feel should have made the list? Share it with your fellow travel lovers by leaving a comment!

Norway Beyond “The Nutshell”

Run-of-the-mill scene from rural Norway
Run-of-the-mill scene from rural Norway

“Norway in a nutshell” is tourist-speak for a classic itinerary that includes traveling between the cities of Oslo and Bergen with a stop among the world-famous fjords in between. This is a great option if you have limited time and mobility, and, as the name would suggest, allow you to see the essence of this majestic Nordic country. But if you have a week at your disposition, there are compelling reasons to go beyond the nutshell, break out of the shell or any other ‘nut’-related analogy you’d like to use. I will now list some of the most persuasive arguments to do so.

Land of Superlatives and Cliches

Stave church on the road to Flam
Stave church on the road to Flam

A journey through the heart of central and southern Norway is a journey through every cliche you can think of. In fact, I’m pretty sure the guy who came up with “Life’s a journey, not a destination” was probably driving between Bergen and Geiranger. No other country this side of New Zealand can boast such consistently jaw-dropping scenery that will have you burning through your vocabulary list in a search for superlatives. Sure, “the Nutshell” tour will give you a taste of all this. But I can personally attest to the joy and satisfaction of being able to pull over to the side of the road to snap off a few shots of some obscure valley that will ‘stir your soul’, ‘make your spirit soar’ or insert-your-own-cliche´ here.

Caution: Cruise Ships Crossing

Get a sense of scale courtesy of the cruise ships
Get a sense of scale courtesy of the cruise ships

When speaking of the fjords, most are impressed by the sheer-sided mountains, the innumerable waterfalls trickling (or gushing depending on the season) through the greenery and the model railroad-looking villages nestled in the valleys. What often goes overlooked are the cruise ships wending along these channels that are in many cases over a hundred miles from the nearest ocean (Sognefjord for example is 127 miles at its furthest point).  To put that into perspective, imagine a ship pulling up into Boston Harbor, then gliding on all the way to Hartford, Connecticut. Besides bringing tourist dollars to these remote and tiny locales, they offer passersby the opportunity to grasp a sense of scale in the scenery before them. Only when presented with an object of previously-conceived dimensions can one truly appreciate the size and grandeur of the setting around it. And when aboard one of the many vessels that run the fjords, watching the natural panorama unfold around every bend is reason enough to go beyond the nutshell.

Geiranger: The Journey And the Destination

Feeling reflective on the way to Geiranger
Feeling reflective on the way to Geiranger

The greatest disadvantage in my opinion of just staying on the “nutshell” itinerary is that it does not include a stop in the breathtakingly beautiful valley of Geiranger, which lies a good six hour or so drive to the northeast of Bergen. The drive from Bergen is arguably the most scenic in the whole country; a nonstop parade of mountain passes, crystal clear rivers, raging waterfalls and tranquil lakes that are so still that it’s hard to distinguish the reflections from what is real. And that’s before you even get there.

Traveling by car or bus, an approach to Geiranger will likely require traversing a mountain pass where steep and winding just don’t accurately convey what the drive is like. Neither does spectacular. Seeing the little hamlet nestled deep in the valley below is a thrill indeed, as is a visit to the Dalsnibba lookout, which really makes everything appear as a model train set. I hope to write more shortly about this incredible spot, but for now suffice to say, Geiranger alone is worth the extra time and expense not only to get there, but spend a day or two enjoying a setting that is exceedingly rare to chance upon.

What you Ought to Know

The amazing setting of Geiranger
The amazing setting of Geiranger

While breaking out of the nutshell is a worthy cause, there are some caveats you should be aware of. First, with the exception of the areas immediately surrounding cities like Bergen and Oslo, most roads – even if they are highlighted in bold as national highways – are no more than one lane in each direction. Coupled with the meandering nature of the routes, this translates to longer driving times than one would expect from just looking at a map. Factor in road construction, slower drivers, camera controlled speed-traps and an overwhelming urge to pull over and take pictures of the panorama before you, and you can easily spend a full day driving between destinations. For further information about the differences between the journey and destinations, please refer to paragraph 2 of this article.

While on the subject of roads, be aware that due to the mountainous terrain that characterizes the country, you will be passing through a lot of tunnels, ranging from a few meters to a few miles (the longest being  the Laerdal Tunnel which runs for just over 15 miles and even has colored lighting just to break up the monotony). So if you have a fear of such things, stick to the boats, because you will be spending quite a bit of time underground.

Cost is another factor to consider, especially for travelers from the U.S. While lodging and gas are proportionately more expensive than back home, the biggest surprise is the cost of food. A simple hamburger platter can (and will) run you nearly twenty bucks, with other dishes of simple fare in the same general neighborhood. If you’re on a budget, you might want to stick to the ubiquitous hot dogs wrapped in bacon that are available at nearly every gas station or roadside mart. It’s not gourmet, but it’s a lot easier on the wallet.

One last point: If you’re a fan of sunsets, night photography or stargazing, DO NOT come in late June/early July. The high latitude means very little darkness, which is great for touring, but bad for any of the aforementioned activities. You can also forget about seeing the Aurora Borealis – there’s way too much light. If these things are an issue for you plan on coming during a different Solstice.

The Final Word

Norway is one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth, ranking among my top destinations of Thailand and New Zealand (still have to give N.Z. the edge, though). It’s expensive, time consuming, and in summer “well-lit” but the payoff in natural splendor blows away any inconvenience. Not only is it worth seeing, but it is worth seeing beyond just “the nutshell”. Cliche´ or not, this is one destination that is just as appealing as the journey.

Have you been to Norway? Share your thoughts by commenting below

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