The author, here at the Great Theater in Ephesus, Turkey, says, “I have been very fortunate to have visited all 28 places on the Smithsonian list. Accomplishing this feat required a good bit of planning and scheduling not to mention several doses of ‘luck’ in reserving seats on many foreign airlines to get me to remote places all over the world. But for me, achieving this goal was worth the effort, time and expense. It remains one of the most educational and rewarding achievements of my life.”

“We are all . . . resigned to death: it’s life we aren’t resigned to.” ~ Graham Greene

Barnes and Noble has an outstanding travel section. I enjoy going there and perusing books about places I would like to one day visit. Once I came across a book entitled: 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Skimming its pages, I was reminded of just how little of the world I had been able to see! I thought of a delightful film with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman entitled “The Bucket List.” Later, when I re-watched that film I had an idea: since I had just embarked upon my retirement, maybe I should construct such a list of places to visit before I “kick the bucket.”

The idea of constructing a list of places to see during a lifetime is hardly new. The basic concept has been around for at least 2,500 years going back to the writings of the historian Herodotus who encouraged his Greek readers to go to see Pyramids of Egypt. In more modern terms, you can imagine a more contemporary: Sip espresso at a sidewalk café in Paris, learn to speak a foreign language, take a safari in Africa, step onto the ice at Antarctica, see the Northern Lights, or ice skate at Rockefeller Center.

Most of us have goals and aspirations, things we have always dreamed of doing or hope we could experience in our lifetimes. Some people put together a kind of “mental” bucket list, while others actually commit their list to pen and paper. Either way, bucket lists are definitely in vogue, though some folks shun the term “bucket list” altogether because it is a reminder of their own mortality. The usual explanation for the origin of this phrase is that it arose from the Middle Ages when at the time of a hanging, the executioner would “kick the bucket” out from under the condemned in order for the noose to do its job. These folks prefer to refer to such list as a Life List, Dream List, or Amazing Experiences To Be Had, etc. Call it what you will, more and more of us are drawing up a collection of goals, dreams and aspirations that we hope to accomplish within our lifetime.

Travel experts advise avid travelers not to set goals too high because unforeseen circumstances may intervene and plans will have to be changed then disappointment and a sense of failure may set in. When I googled “bucket list,” I was amazed as the screen filled with page after page of websites that referenced books like Destinations of a Lifetime: 225 Places of the World’s Most Amazing Places and Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips. It turns out that a veritable “cottage industry” of websites has emerged to help travelers design their ultimate bucket list. One entry on the google list caught my eye in particular. It was the Smithsonian Institute’s list of “28 Places to See before You Die.”

The staff of Smithsonian, which is about as diverse and eclectic a group of travelers as you are going to find, set out to compile an exclusive list of the top 28 places that the Smithsonian reader might wish to visit before, well, before it’s too late. This was no simple task. Lengthy discussions and spirited debates took place behind closed doors.

Because I realized that 1,000, 500, or even 225 places were too many for my age and resources, the length of their list appealed to me. I read it with great interest, and it turns out that I had already visited 19 of the 28 places on the list, so my new bucket list actually consisted of only nine additional places to visit.

In typical Smithsonian fashion, the list is arranged into seven categories, each with four locations. Some of the sites are like windows in time that cast light upon past, ancient cities that have been so well preserved that visiting them is like stepping back into a previous century, e.g., Petra or Pompeii. Another category features marvels of engineering which point to not only the human creative spirit but also the ingenuity and skill of our ancestors, e.g., the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China. I find the category “in the presence of the gods” particularly fascinating. In this category are places such as Angkor Wat and the Parthenon.

Here are the seven categories:
I. Portals into the Past: Mesa Verde, Colorado; Pompeii, Italy; Tikal, Guatemala; Petra, Jordan
II. Feats of Engineering: Pyramids of Giza, Egypt; Taj Mahal, India; Easter Island; Great Wall of China
III. A Matter of Timing: Aurora Borealis; Serengeti, Kenya; Iguazu Falls; Machu Picchu, Peru
IV. Triumphs of Vision: Louvre, Paris; Zen Garden of Kyoto, Japan; Uffizi Gallery, Florence; Fallingwater, near Bear Run, PA
V. Scale New Heights: Yangtze River, China; Antarctica; Mount Kilimanjaro; Grand Canyon
VI. In the Presence of the Gods: Bagan, Burma; Parthenon, Athens; Angkor Wat, Seim Reap; Ephesus, Turkey
VII. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Venice, Italy; Amazon Rain Forest; Great Barrier Reef; Galapagos Islands

Beginning next time, I will start a series covering these 28 places that the editors and writers at the Smithsonian regard as absolutely essential places to see before one dies.

Next time: “Mesa Verde: A Genuine ‘Hillside’ Home”