This has been an interesting year for me. I mentioned at the beginning of the year that this would be a dark one, visiting sites beyond cemeteries associated with death and disaster. It turned out to be darker than I envisioned, as I visited places considered to be the “darkest” of dark sites – Auschwitz, Majdanek, Płaszówand Halabja were sobering memorials of genocide, and Chernobyl, Ishinomaki, and Fukushima were reminders of not only the folly of human hubris about the kind of control it has over nature, but also of hope, in the way that people and nature adapt and thrive in the spaces left behind after such harrowing disasters. Other places, such as the Jewish cemeteries in Poland, were somber, empty places that reflected not only the once thriving communities that had lived there, but also the terrible events of WWII that decimated them.
At the other end of the spectrum, I also visited some truly beautiful places, mostly mausoleums, across Central Asia. Whether heavily restored (as in Uzbekistan) or in a state of ruin (Turkmenistan), the mausoleums in this region were beautiful in their symmetry and minimal decoration. I wish I had been able to visit a few more of the local cemeteries in this region, especially Kyrgyzstan, as they looked so different to what I’ve been used to. The combination of Muslim and nomadic preferences made for some very interesting cemeteries (as seen from the car window); unfortunately there never seemed to be a good time to stop and visit one.
It seems strange that cemeteries that have been on my bucket list for some time were the ones that I least remember about the past year – not that they weren’t spectacular in of themselves, but this was such a big year for me, both travel- and cemetery-wise, that they sort of got lost in the shuffle. But the First Cemetery of Athens, Rome’s Verano and Non-Catholic Cemeteries, and Warsaw’s Powązki Cemetery were all highlights and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them here. I’m always amazed by some of the stunning statues and memorials I find in cemeteries – even the well-known ones had monuments that were new to me, which goes to show that there’s nothing like exploring in person.
From Rome and Athens:
And from Warsaw:
I was really pleased with this year, having visited so many places that have been on my bucket list for so long. The problem with lists (and cemeteries) is that there are always so many more to explore. I’m already putting together a tentative list for 2020, but that’s for another post.