I thought I might try and make a list of the ten favourite places I’ve been to so far. This is what I came up with (not ranked in any particular order, probably some key omissions):
1. Colca Canyon, Peru
This was a bit of an unexpected one, as I have never had much of an interest in birds. However, rising at dawn to stand on the top of a cliff and watch giant birds swoosh past you so close you could practically touch them is quite an experience.
2. Priene, Turkey
We spent the whole day thinking that we would never manage to squeeze in a visit to this little-known Greek site on the western coast of Turkey. However, when we got there, we found that ‘closing time’ meant simply that the man collecting ticket money went home – so when we arrived just before dusk we had the entire deserted city to ourselves for an hour or so – free to wander round through all the buildings, and imagine the city at the height of its (modest) prosperity in the 5th century BC.
3. Akshardham Temple, Delhi
Potentially the calmest place I have ever been to, with lots of pools of water, an enormous mural carved of elephants and a general feeling of tranquillity. We didn’t stay for long but I could have sat there for hours looking at the reflections in the shimmering waters.
4. Aegina, Greece
An island a short boat trip away from Athens: I went there hungover after a party-night at the BSA with some other Classics students. Those who stayed back missed the clear water and revitalising ice coffees. Lying there with new-made friends in the sun, it is hard to think of a more stereotypical ‘happy’ day.
5. Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
I stayed for a night here with a friend: spartan-style rooms with rickety beds that could have been 70 years old. However, part of the charm was walking out in the morning and almost bumping into an elderly Orthodox monk dressed entirely in black, or stepping into the church where the bible is recited in rotation throughout the day through a thick mist of incense, and realising that you’re sort of intruding on a way of life that hasn’t changed in centuries.
6. Vondelpark, Amsterdam
A beautiful fairyland, a perfect place to play cards for a carefree afternoon.
7. Paestum, Italy
Still a favourite after many years.
8. Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Possibly one of the most terrifying moments for an animal-shy girl: being put on a horse and then riding at a gallop across the Mongolian steppes, quite convinced you’re about to be thrown off and so hanging on for dear life, but also aware that the only thing you can see is the horizon of the desert and the other horses and riders: strangely thrilling.
9. Pushkar, India
A night spent out in the open, star-gazing with my younger siblings and trying to ‘find’ animals in the sky, with only some camels for company.
10. Kotor, Montenegro
Not only is the water of the gulf beautiful and perfect for canoeing in, the town has an amazing festival called Bokoljska Night. First, a parade of floats on boats (most very bizarre), and then a night when the walled old town area is turned into a sort of giant club, with a different DJ in each square.
I’m sure I haven’t got the list quite sorted, but it’s a start and I’ll have to come back and revise it at a later date!