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Filling Up a Bucket List

Submitted by Albie Johnson - January 26, 2008

If you live in So. California, you gotta love Hollywood and all the hype and pipe dreams people have. I grew up during the early movies and readily admit how much I admired the good guys and having crushes on those beautiful starlets that lit up the theatre screen. Now with TV I don't go to the movies so often, but a recent show called "The Bucket List" stirred my soul. I do like Morgan Freeman as well as Jack Nicholson so we went as it sounded like a movie us old fogies would like to see. The current shows are mostly for the young, plus the young usually have no idea how a Bucket List can become the impetus to travel

I never really made a master list of things I wanted to do and see because my Dad, a true Viking, loved to travel, although he never espoused pillaging and plundering. Prior to WW2 we motored several times back and forth throughout the 48 and Canada. It paid off for me because I always had pictures and stories to present during my Grammar School days. Dads travel loves stayed with me and that itchy foot syndrome plus marriage and children.

Marilyn and I were teachers and with summers beckoning we would load our station wagon with kids, tent and sleeping bags and then travel three different times across country. We still never were able to see all our Bucket List requests. We also managed to travel by plane and bus to Mexico a couple of times that were educationally designed to see the art, architecture and peoples of Mexico. Tijuana didn't really count, although I once took my Dad to a bullfight that he had always wanted to see.

Later, my wife and I returned to Mexico, visiting the major cities and the historical Incan Teotihuacan Pyramids. We included the touristy cliff divers of Acapulco, snorkeling, and buying Oaxaca ceramics. But, the most interesting site that still lingers in my mind was watching some older devout Catholic women crawling the length of the stone walks into the beautiful and historic Mexican cathedrals. This sobering scene is repeated at some Churches in France and Italy.

European cathedrals are often famous for their ancient "Relics". These items include crypts, bones and fabrics believed by the pious to be the bodies and personal items of early Christian Prophets and Saints. Even though baptized a Presbyterian, I was moved enough to light candles to help restore our Daughter's health after 2 brain surgeries.

Next came the touristy trips to Cannes, Nice, and Monte Carlo to help balance my psyche. And back again to history with Berlin and the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, bombed out neighborhoods and Death Camps where containers were filled with teeth and lampshades made of tattooed skin that beamed brightly!

Years later at Christmas time, I returned to Bastogne, Germany to observe and try to feel what my brother in law saw and felt that winter of 1944 and the Battle of the Bulge. It was wet, snowy and cold and I silently thanked all those Gis, including a cousin who fought and others who died there.

I will make no excuses for quickly brushing over all the popular and wonderful cities in Europe such as London (2), Paris (4), Florence, Pisa Lyon, Sienna, Venezia, Verona, Sirmione, Annecy, Sarlot, Albi, Roc-Amadour, Madrid, Barcelona, and other popular places in order to cover the wonders of Greece. A side trip took us to an Aegean island called Skiros where we stayed in a farmhouse with grape vines and goats and a young pregnant goat herder tending her flock as we scaled down the cliff to swim in the sea. Somewhat later we traversed the Island of Crete and marveled over the Minoan culture.

OH Yes! Then another bucket list showed up and it included Moscow and the Red Square, The Kremlin, a Ruski circus, and Lenin's tomb. Next, we moved on to Leningrad or Saint Petersburg. We took a sobering trip through the children's cemetery where the blockaded starved Russians buried their tiny dead. Today the mass graves are piled high with little children's toys and stuffed animals, and even candy. The juxtaposition to this sight would be the massive art treasures stored at the Hermitage and the Summer Palace. .

A modern hotel near the Baltic Sea was where we witnessed a circular rotating lasek eye surgery table where a dozen or so patients awaited the removal of cataracts as they passed by. It was here that I was smitten with a bug and sidelined for a day or two. Moving on to some other wonders of the world, one must include China. Historians believe it is one of or the oldest civilization in the world. A billion people seem to eke out a living while only recently has the country become a major economic power. It has been a few years since Tianiman Square but when we were there, it reminded us of the Red Square in Moscow. Other similarities were that much of the construction was done by and similar to the Russian work. But to see bamboo ladders and scaffolding surrounding buildings was different. Other sights were 55-gallon drums being carried by 2 men one on each end of a bamboo stalk. At least no cars were around then, but bicycles complete with the old fashioned metal bells that the biker operates by pushing a lever, The streets were full and we wondered when to cross a street, but soon saw the watch towers that controlled the flow that only solved one worry and led us to worry as to how they found their own bikes when they are all the same build, color and size. Maybe it didn't matter!

It would take weeks to see all China has to offer or better yet to study how they live and exist in such a clamorous society. We visited schools, hospitals, theaters, factories and work places and always found a generous and smiling population. Walking the ancient Wall is a must as is visiting the Forbidden City, the terra cotta soldiers at Xian and sailing the river at Guilin are included. The highlight of China was walking along a rice patty to visit and see a tiny village of people, animals and relatives all living in harmony while they create the brown paper used to wrap Chinese fireworks. Smokey trains will deliver you to most places in this country and each one opens new joys of being with such a fascinating people. Next, obligatory visits to Hong Kong, Kowloon and on to Bangkok, Singapore, and Tokyo and will give you enough to contemplate for months. In these Asian countries, the People and their Faith and will to live take precedence over most any of these popular sites.

Back to the list of "Wonders of the World". Near the top of the list is Egypt. If I had only two places I could visit, Egypt would be one of them; So much of their ancient history has been uncovered and open to see. Wander the tombs, pyramids, edifices, ancient cities, museums, bazaars, the Nile, the slums, the poor, the desert, and the Train depots. See the various Religious practices and especially, the common people who eke out a living along the river as their predecessors have done for many many years. Buy a jalabi, some perfume, smoke a water pipe and drink a gin & tonic at an English bar as well as some water from the Nile and if lucky, stay long enough to partake in a Ramadan celebration.

Ah, A must Bucket wish, Jerusalem!! My money says it can be the most glorious, obstinate, progressive, armed, ancient, smallest, complicated, loved, despised and influential country in the World. You will not visit and leave this diverse assemblage of religious history and wonder without a whole bucket of notes asking HOW, WHEN and WHY people do or don't live there and if this is the real meaning of religious faith.

My top personal "always wanted to visit and finally did place" is India. It is one of the most diverse and populous countries on Earth. It is a place of severe poverty, disease ridden and with diverse religious beliefs. It is also becoming an expanding progressive electronic, medical, and scientific country that still has impure water to drink. This nation has a religious caste system that determines the destiny of the vast human population. How do you define a country where feral dogs run wild along with monkeys jumping from bat hung trees onto phone poles and stealing items from passing shoppers. Or noting how the sacred cow must not be harmed while beggars are beaten. Where cow dung is gathered, formed into patties and stuck to the sides of homes, dried and then used for fuel. Or perhaps a snake charmer at a cross walks coaxing his pet cobra out of its basket. There are parading elephants with silver lined tusks and beautiful hand woven cloth draping their back while half naked men crawl or roll along the streets. It is a land of extravagance and poverty, but always a wonder. See the Taj Mahal at dawn with its walls covered with precious and semiprecious stones. Again later at dusk and see thin old men in dirty dhotis who are kneeling on the lawn cropping the grass using common household scissors. But don't leave India until you board a small boat in Varanasi and be rowed down the Ganges river at dawn so you can see rich and poor, sick and dying, men bathing and praying and women scrubbing and pounding their laundry on the rocks while priests prepare bodies for burning and burial. You will see men in expensive clothing and jewelry along with those completely nude wading and praying in the sacred Ganges waters. There is no other place like India!

What travels and destinations are lingering in your Bucket asking:
When you will explore the world?
It is never too late!