My International Wishlist (by letter)
Since it's June and I'm trying to fill the gap between my last post and a significant family trip coming up, here's something light for the summer: My top 3 countries I'd like to visit by letter. Some letters are easier to rank than others, as you might imagine. To encapsulate a country in one photo is laughably impossible, but I've chosen a favorite for each from the wealth of the world wide web. So, without further adieu:
Honorable Mention: Antigua & Barbuda
Really, what traveler with a pulse wouldn't want to visit Australia? The exoticism of its million-mile glimmering coastline, inhospitable outback, wild rainforests, and pulsing cities. As cool as the others would be, it's Australia by miles (or kilometers) for me.
Honorable Mentions: Bahamas, Belize
What a diverse bunch of nations this is! While Brazil appeals to me moderately, I've heard great things about Belgium and its history, architecture, and of course, chocolate. However, going on safari in windswept Botswana takes the cake for me.
Honorable Mentions: Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus
2) Czech Republic
I've been to Canada 10 times, yet it still takes the bronze in a very tough group. Part of that is because I've never been west of Ontario. Czechia is a land that possesses some kind of magic in its medieval towns and landscapes, to say nothing of peerless Praha (Prague). Croatia, though, is a place to dream about with its miles of immaculate Adriatic shoreline, captivating cities, and checkered past. In some ways I think of it kind of like a Slavic version of Italy.
3) Dominican Republic
Not a heck of a lot of choices in the 'D' category. Darkhorse Dominica wins the gold for me, as it's one of the least-known Caribbean islands. Exotic tropical landscapes and relatively less tourism make it one of my favored spots should I ever get to the Caribbean.
Honorable Mention: Ecuador
Egypt would honestly be higher on this list, but for the revolting profusion of pushy hawkers that feed on tourists for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - or so I've heard. While that may seem a superficial reason to drop it to bronze medal position, I loathe fewer things more than crowds, let alone crowds full of pickpockets and folks trying to sell me overpriced goods. Ethiopia and Estonia are about as different as two countries can be, but both intrigue me considerably.
Amazingly, there are only three 'F' countries in the world, all of which sound incredible. In this case I've opted for the diversity of the French landscape and people over Finland's sweeping forests and Fiji's otherworldly lagoons. While I've technically been to France, it was only to Lourdes and Paris. Also, it was over two decades ago.
Honorable Mentions: Germany, Gabon, Guatemala
G is an interesting one. Germany would rank higher but for its language scaring the pants off me. Gabon is full of rich, relatively unspoiled landscapes and has one of the more high-functioning African governments. Guatemala intrigues for its volcanic mountain landscapes and Mayan history.
The top three could really go in any order. The Greek islands populate travel posters worldwide, and for good reason. However, I've heard that Athens is a smoke-clogged city with insufferable crowds, which bumps it down the list. Grenada is another underappreciated Caribbean gem known for its nutmeg. Georgia is a country that's pretty much totally under the tourist radar (at least for Americans). Its fascinating history, unique language, and awe-inspiring medieval architecture make it the unexpected gold medal winner among the 'G's.
Amazingly, there are only three 'H' countries in the world, two of which (Haiti, Honduras) I have no interest in visiting. That leaves Hungary and its fancifully-named cities such as Székesfehérvár and Hódmezővásárhely. And I complained about German? Yeesh!
Honorable Mention: Israel
Even though I've been to Italy, I'd love to go back. Multiple times if possible - it's that amazing. Ireland and Iceland are semi-realistic destinations that have appealed to me for years as well. From what I've seen in photos, the latter is a place that doesn't even look like it belongs on planet earth... sign me up!
For some reason I'm only lukewarm on all three of these. Jordan has fascinating history and the awesome ancient city of Petra. Japan has Mount Fuji and some incredible history of its own. Jamaica looks like paradise on earth, but the dangers tourists face adds reservations to my enthusiasm. None of these are super high on my overall list but there aren't enough J countries to be picky. In fact, these are the only three to choose from!
Talk about off the beaten path... do you know anyone who's been to Kyrgyzstan or Kiribati? I barely know anyone who's even heard of these places! Kenya, of course, is high on many folks' lists of African dream trips. Safari-ing here and/or in nearby Tanzania (see below) is a bucket list adventure of mine!
Honorable Mentions: Lichtenstein
Weirdly, every country on my 'L' list ranges from small to downright minuscule. Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Latvia are tied for the silver - while I'm sure they're very different (believe me, I'm one for appreciating nuance), I've lumped them together here because any trip to one would likely involve sticking a toe into the other.
Honorable Mentions: Mauritius, Mongolia, Montenegro
What a motley collection of countries this is! Malaysia ranks very high because of its proximity to Singapore (see below), and its relatively unspoiled rainforests. Madagascar is one of my top 10, or even top 5, overall destinations due to its magical mix of flora and fauna that live no place else on the planet.
Honorable Mentions: Nepal, Netherlands
1) New Zealand
N is another letter with a wealth of possibilities. Norway and New Zealand are basically tied in my mind, both utterly magnificent countries with soaring mountains and bright seascapes. I suppose I gave New Zealand the slight edge because of Lord of the Rings fame
Oh, man, there's only one 'O' country? Meh, I guess I'll go. In all seriousness, it is one of the more intriguing middle eastern countries to me for some reason. Maybe because I seldom hear of it being wracked with violence?
Honorable Mentions: Panama, Papua New Guinea
Amazingly, I've been to both Peru and Portugal, but 16 and 22 years ago, respectively. It goes without saying I'd return to either in a heartbeat. While Portugal is far smaller and less diverse landscape-wise, I also saw much less of it and would love to spend several days in Lisbon and/or Porto, not to mention the countryside and its pristine beaches. Poland takes top position due to it being the birthplace of my grandfather. Any trip there would have to involve some compelling genealogical research.
See O, "Oman"
Amazingly there are only four R countries in the world. I can't in good conscience add Russia to the list, however. While there's undeniable history there, I don't think I could ever visit with such a tyrant in charge. Not that I'd be safe there anyway. Romania is known as a surprisingly captivating land in southeastern Europe, but Rwanda- the "Switzerland of Africa" takes the prize due to its superb fauna, and the fact that it is quickly becoming a relatively sophisticated country despite the horrors of the genocide less than 30 years ago.
Honorable Mentions: Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain
2) South Africa
Whoa. What an unfathomable wealth of magnificent places fall under S! In fact, Slovakia and Slovenia would likely make my top 3 in just about any other letter, the former for its being the land of my surname, and the latter for being "the New Hampshire of Europe". Slovenia punches significantly above its weight, featuring dramatic mountains, fertile greenscapes, culture, and even an Adriatic coastline in a tidy package that is literally smaller than NH!
Singapore is a bucket list destination for many reasons, but having a dear pen pal/friend who I've now known over a decade living there ranks high among them. South Africa is another place I've dreamt about for many years - they also happen to have my favorite national flag. Switzerland, however, has to take gold medal position, even in this tough group. A country so craggily beautiful that it seems otherworldly. It's not just the mountains though - it's the cleanliness, the orderliness, and the fact that everything is on time that appeals to your OCD blogger more than words can say.
2) Trinidad & Tobago
Thailand and Trinidad are places whose stunning beauty and intriguing cultures get them on my list, but Tanzania is the true gold medalist here, the stuff of African daydreams. The vast plains, animals straight out of The Lion King (minus the chitchat), and general feeling of being our ancestral home speaks to me...
2) United States
1) United Kingdom
So I know it's kinda weird to put my own country on here, and in silver medal position no less. While I've spent 99.7% of my life in the US, I've seen 9.97% of it... maybe. Uganda is appealing for its wonderful national parks, including the delightfully-named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and of course its rich culture.
The UK remains very high on my list, and I hope to get there within the next five years. London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and the Scottish highlands would be first on the list, but there are many, many more places that I'd love to hit on a return journey.
Now we're scraping the bottom of the barrel - alphabetically at least. If you've made it this far, you probably realize I have some eclectic likes and dislikes when it comes to travel. I generally wouldn't want to visit anywhere where political upheaval is a distinct possibility, but all three of these have incredible natural features (i.e. Victoria Falls, pictured above) that I would love to experience.
What a world we live in, right?!
So there you have it. Some exciting news is that I will be traveling to one of the countries mentioned above in two weeks' time. I can't wait to share my experiences from this family trip, the last one before my milestone birthday in late July. It will be my first time abroad since 2009, and Julia's first time ever! Stay tuned...