Places I Want to Visit Before I Die (Part 1)

I like travelling.

Some people don’t really like to travel, and this includes the people who have been to every country in Europe. It’s not a bad or good thing, it’s just they way some people are. Much has been said about the difference between the traveller and the tourist, and although the differences are not simplistic at all, there is a basic distinction. The desire to ‘travel’ is not about money, class, art, culture, or even intelligence. To love travel, you simply have to have an imagination. You have to have a mind that sustains on the allure of the unknown, that wants to see more than it knows, that is perpetually dissatisfied with the reality of life. Every destination is a fantasy, and therefor inevitably as disappointing as it is exhilarating. So the moment the fantasy of one destination is replaced with memories of it you create new fantasies. No matter how many places you visit how many times, if you are a traveller, you will always be restless. And conversely, you can be a traveller  even if you have never left your hometown.

You know the old adage: it’s a state of mind.

These are the places, in no particular order, that I want to visit before I die:

1) New Zealand

I have wanted to visit New Zealand since I was, what, 11? That was when I saw that scene from the movies where Gandalf makes Pippin light the beacons in Minas Tirith, and the call for aid travels across the mountains to Rohan. It is a breath taking piece of cinematography. Among the many things the Lord of the Rings movies nailed, the setting for Middle Earth is certainly in the top five. The fact that New Zealand was just undiscovered and not-hipster enough to embrace their Middle-earthness, and make it the headline of their tourism, is the cherry on the cake. It means that any time I travel to New Zealand in the next hundred years, I will be guaranteed a trip to Middle Earth as well. I can run (for 2 minutes, at least, and then be dragged by my friends the rest of the way) on the mountains and pretend I’m with a man, a dwarf and an elf, tracking down hobbits. I can find the lakes and the forests and the rivers they used for Rivendell and Lothlorien and pretend I saw Galadriel through the trees. They still have parts of the sets of the Shire complete with the cute little hobbit holes and a sign:

 

 

I’m sure there will be some disappointments (like I’m 99 percent sure Lembas bread isn’t their national dish). But from what I hear, New Zealand has pretty fantastic scenery even without the LoTR fansquealing. And adventure sports, which I actually like to do, when I’m not terrified out of my mind. And here is the kicker:

THEY HAVE NO SNAKES EXCEPT IN ZOOS!

They should really sell that little-known aspect a lot more to get people to visit them.

2) Azerbaijan

I mean what? Just look at that name. Look at it. It is this strange mixture of western and eastern syllable sounds. If someone told me this is what they named the magical realm in their fantasy novel, I would advise them to change it because it sounds pretty ridiculous. The location is completely and utterly landlocked, in the middle of Eurasia (though technically a part of Asia, it was once a part of the USSR). Look at what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion, and all major political forces in the country are secular nationalist, but the majority of people and some opposition movements adhere to Shia Islam. Relative to other Eastern European and CIS states, Azerbaijan has reached a high level of human development, economic development and literacy, as well as a low rate of unemployment and intentional homicide.

It sounds kind of idyllic if you ask me. And yet, who goes there? What happens there? It is a mystery in the well and true mysterious way that very few places can be in our internet-enabled age. Apparently, it was a tourist spot in the ’80s, and is now increasingly popular with ‘health and spa tourists’. Well, I never heard of anyone who went there. Can you imagine having that sticker on your passport? It would be an adventure worth having. Backpacking across Azerbaijan would be one of the few ways you could feel like Marco Polo in this day and age. And it actually has a lot of interesting things to do and see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Azerbaijan

I know I am totally making this country a symbol for all undiscovered places my own ignorance is excited by, and maybe this country does not deserve the severity and limitedness this symbolism places on it. Be that as it may, I will never be able to fully explore all of those tiny little island nations in Oceania, AND each and every country in Africa AND all the counties in Russia. I don’t have enough time to know each and every one of those countries inside out. So I will settle for this remote little nation, so totally different from anything I know, and hope that I can find a way to explore it thoroughly before I die.

To be continued…(I’m going to pretend there are a billion people waiting with bated breath to know numbers 3, 4 and 5 on this list. Wait, imaginary people, wait!)

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