1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa – Okay, I know, it leans.  I get it.  I have seen it in photos my whole life and have heard all of the stories about why, and all of that.  It’s really, though, just a building that was constructed in a rather bad location.  Well, I wasn’t expecting much.  Mostly because I figured that, really, being just a building in an unfortunate location, the hype is probably pretty exaggerated.  Let me say this, first:  I saw it *only* at night, while it was in the process of being propped up with wires, so I didn’t see any of those in the pitch dark.  There were lights in it that were glowing, but only slightly.  Really, just enough to let you know that the tower is actually there.  Couple that with the fact that I was there when there were only a handful of others around (which naturally detracts from the whole “touristy” feel of the place) and one Australian guy who happened to join me from Florence to Pisa, since he was headed that way eventually anyway, and you have the makings for a very positive experience.  Quoting my actual words when I first saw it:  “Fuck me.  It really leans!”  (I told you there would be colorful language, so it’s your own fault if you are offended, sorry).  That sucker, for all of the hype, and all of the “touristy” schtick surrounding it, really does, completely, visually, incredibly, lean!  It’s great!  It was the most underrated thing that I saw during my whole trip to Italy.  Cooler than Venice (which smells), cooler than Florence (riddled with tourists), better than Rome (I think that I am still disappointed that I didn’t get to ride a vespa – still want to do that just once, by the way).  I loved it.  Highly recommend it!  Just, you know, try to see it at night.  The lighting is better, trust me.

2.  Inis Mor – I had already been in Ireland for a good couple of months when a friend invited me to join her for a trip to one of the Aran Islands.  We travelled up through Galway and to a ferry that took us to the largest of the islands, Inis Mor (or Inishmore, if you must).  Now, I am aware that Ireland is famous for being green, and rainy and rich-looking (due to the fact that that place rains like it’s going out of style, with gale force winds to boot).  And I had heard that the people on the Aran Islands still spoke Irish <sigh> Gaelic (if you must) and not much English.  And I guess that a part of me never really believed that to be true, or at least not to the extent that people told me about.  However, I have never, and I mean never, seen any place in the word so utterly, completely green in my life.  Every square inch of the island that wasn’t a gravel or stone road was green.  Shades that Crayola couldn’t even replicate!  The air was so fresh smelling that you almost never wanted to exhale, because you would be afraid on not being able to smell the freshness for half a second.  The people literally spoke minimal English.  and not just because they wanted to hide it from us tourists.  Some of them spoke English well, but in the one loan pub that ran were in, the older gents in it…nothing.  Not more than a handful of words.  They as much English as I do Russian.  And I can basically just swear in Russian, if that tells you anything.  Anyway, back to the point.  The point is, Inis Mor is amazing.  Utterly.  I don’t even need to get in to the Cliffs of Dun Aengus (which I will, though, eventually, in it’s own post).  It’s just the quintessential Ireland.  In every respect.  Complete with the giant crucifix in the bedroom at the B&B that my friend and I stayed in.  Along with a Celtic cross.  I mean, you might as well cover your bases, right?

3.  The Temple of Karnak, Egypt – Talk about monumental!  This temple was the last one, actually, on my trip through Egypt.  I had already been Luxor and Deir-el-Bahri, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut and was duly, though slightly less than I would have predicted, impressed.  Karnak, however, is on a whole other scale.  We were there on a perfect day, too.  There were clouds, but plenty of sun, and that let the light shine down into the temple – there was no roof – and highlight the hieroglyphics on the walls and the paint that was left on some of the columns.  The temple itself is more imposing than I ever could have imagined.  It dwarfs anything else, not necessarily in size, but in proportion to everything around it.  And it was meant to be that way, too.  And you feel about the size of an ant.  At one point, I broke my own rules of not touching anything, and just sat down on the foot of a column and just took it all in.  It was the most small that I had ever felt in a temple or ancient construction of any kind.  And I loved it for that.  What’s more, over time, nature had taken its course and trees and flowers and other plants had taken over part of the area, even though the government tried to keep them at bay.  It made it all the more impressive with those, though, because the juxtaposition was incredible.  Hard stone, stories tall, paired against green, beautiful foliage.  It’s hard to even know how to describe that feeling of at once being so a part of the past, and yet so removed from it that that temple gave me.  I will never forget it.