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!

The Best Part About Joining A Monastery Is The View

The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece
The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

I’m not big on the idea of joining a monastery. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about self-sacrifice, devotion and the return to a simpler lifestyle. I just have a real issue with the idea of wearing a robe all the time, and in my case, would find it physically impossible to fulfill a vow of silence of any length over two minutes. Well, maybe two and a half if I’m thinking real hard.

But if circumstances ever required that I run off to join a monastery – such as evading an angry loan shark or testifying against a mob boss – I know exactly the place where I would join: The otherworldly monasteries of the Meteora, in Thessaly, Greece.

I know. Most people conjure images of boxy whitewashed houses overlooking the sapphire blue of the Mediterranean when they think of Greece. Either that or pockmarked marble pillars such as at the Parthenon or Delphi, which serve as reminders of the faded glory of one of the world’s greatest empires; one that endowed us with gifts such as theater, democracy, and an alphabet that is essential to fraternities everywhere. But there is more to Greece than just the usual suspects, and the Meteora is the quintessential poster child for the ‘other’ history that played out in this ancient land.

Reachable via a three to four hour drive from Athens, the principal town for this World Heritage Site is Kalambaka, which is nestled at the base of the enormous pillars of rock that provide both the backdrop and namesake for this unique landscape. From a term meaning ‘suspended rocks’, the Meteora are towers of erosion-smoothed sandstone jutting out of the fertile plain, and are dotted with several still-active Greek Orthodox monasteries perched precariously on top of their impossibly sheer-sided pinnacles. Originally the site of a religious retreat founded by a cave-dwelling hermit in the year 985, the first of over twenty monasteries was built in 1382, though today only about six remain active.

Sure the climb's a strain, but what a view!
Sure the climb’s a strain, but what a view!

Interestingly, it wasn’t until the 1920’s that anyone bothered to install stairs to reach the tops. Before that your only option was a harrowing ride in a winch-drawn basket. Though I can’t even begin to fathom the kind of faith it takes to make that ride (not in God but in the power of monk-made ropes) if you think about it, it all kind of makes sense. What else could make you more aware of your own mortality and draw you closer to your Maker than a basket ride up a towering cliff side? I’m sure I’d be contemplating the meaning of life if I were in such a position where I might not have much of it left.

The Great Meteoron
The Great Meteoron

The biggest, oldest and highest monastery is the aptly named Great Meteoron, situated on a peak at 2,045 feet. The day that I saw it, the clouds above conveniently parted just enough to allow a few shafts of light to surround it like a halo. I mused that regardless of the beliefs of its occupants, the setting alone truly lent itself to a search for the divine.

What is perhaps the most photogenic of the monasteries is that of Moni Rousanou. Capping a narrow spire of rock, it is dwarfed by an even larger pillar of stone situated directly behind it, thereby providing a sense of scale that is hard to grasp elsewhere. And if you care about such things, that’s the one that always makes people say “Oooooooh” when they see it in my photo album.

Moni Rousanou
Moni Rousanou

Along the winding road are various lookout points, allowing for some tremendous views. My personal favorite was one accessible only by scaling a slightly-sloped rock face with what I felt were God-given footholds, so that even an amateur, unequipped rock climber like me could observe the awe-inspiring view of this forest of rock and the cluster of Kalambaka town far below. My friend Paul and I had made sure our wives weren’t watching when we climbed up, and as Paul – blonde-haired and dressed all in black – was splayed against the rock in an attempt to lower himself down, I just could not resist asking him if he had six fingers on his right hand. If you don’t get the reference, well . . . then maybe you belong up there with the monks.

With Paul at the divinely-positioned lookout point
With Paul at the divinely-positioned lookout point

Given its remote location and the distances (not to mention steep climbs) between monasteries, if you plan to visit the Meteora on your own, I recommend that you rent a car. However if you’ve come to cast off the shackles of modern society and renounce all worldly comforts, then skip the car and get ready for the calf workout of a lifetime. It’s just a shame that the robes won’t allow you to show them off.

Depending on how interested you are in frescoes, icons and other Orthodox paraphernalia, the Meteora can be comfortably seen in just a day, though an overnight in Kalambaka (alternately spelled Kalampaka) will allow you to do so at leisure and with greater opportunity for some great souvlaki and baklava. And if the former doesn’t convince you of the existence of a deity, the latter certainly will.

Of course, if you really need a place to crash, you could always join one of the aforementioned monasteries. The lifestyle might be hard to swallow, the robes may be itchy, and the images rather creepy, but the view from the Meteora is just shy of heaven. And if you decide to run off there, take solace in the fact that you’re not the first to do so, and you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate life’s big questions as they’re hauling you up in the basket. Amen.

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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Miles

One of the most frequent questions I get asked when people peruse my travel photos is: “What made you go there?” followed by the inevitable: “How did you even hear about that place?” The response is the same for both: “I saw it in a picture.”

Yes, just as the beauty of Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, so too a few travel photographs have sent me on a chase of many more than a thousand miles, just to witness the scenes depicted in person. My earliest recollection of this was an old book my parents had on a shelf in the crude entertainment center my dad built on his own when I was still a young boy. In it was the iconic scene of Machu Picchu, and I knew then and there I wanted to see it for myself. (I made the attempt to do so back in 2010 but was denied due to mudslides, so that goal is still pending).

Is it a sign of weakness that my mind (and wallet) are so open to suggestion? Perhaps. But there’s no doubt I have consistently had my expectations either matched or surpassed when I finally got to see the real thing. Below are just a few examples.


The Meteora, Greece

The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece
The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

The first time I saw the image of ancient monasteries dwarfed by enormous pillars of stone, I thought I was looking at a scene from a video game (specifically something out of MYST). When I found myself in the general neighborhood of Greece I made visiting this otherworldly setting a priority and was thrilled when I was able to add hundreds of inspirational pictures to my own collection.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey
Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

This surreal landscape captivated me at first glance. I mean, where else can you wander entire villages of sculpted rock right out of a Dr. Seuss book? Add to that the opportunity to stay in an authentic cave hotel (the coolest thing ever, btw) and I knew that despite being literally in the middle of nowhere (well, Turkey actually) it was worth the effort. My photo album is in complete agreement.

Jodhpur, India

Partial view of the Blue City


While India had always been a dream destination of mine, nothing stoked my wanderlust quite as much as a picture of Jodhpur, The Blue City as seen from the imposing Mehrangar Fort. Other than the intriguing color, the warren of flat houses, alleyways & staircases seemed a real-life M.C. Escher drawing. Considering its use as a setting in the Dark Knight Rises installment of the Batman series, apparently I’m not the only one to consider it as worth the trip.

Parati, Brazil

Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil
Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil

It was in a book of travel photography that I first caught sight of the cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses of Parati. Having always wanted to go to Brazil anyway, I not only included it in my itinerary but also decided to spend the bulk of my time there. Sure, I had read up on all its fine attractions, charming pousadas and artistic vibe, but it was those first pictures that made me say “I have to go there” and made me feel so very glad that I did. In fact, very shortly I will be posting about what a marvelous place it is.

These are just a few examples but by now I’m sure you get the point. So the tip is: If you’re lacking in inspiration or have always taken the road most traveled, do yourself a favor and go down to your local library, take out a book on a destination that intrigues you, and flip through the pictures (or alternately, view my photo gallery.) Inspiration is never far away so long as there are pictures, and so long as there are pictures, there will always be a reason to travel.