Travel destinations that’ll leave you uplifted for whatever life changes come your way
By Annette Brooks
In a hectic, tumultuous world, finding a place on earth that instills wonderment, if only for a few moments, makes an impression that lasts a lifetime. Spirit-renewing experiences are deeply personal and often happen serendipitously as you explore new destinations. A singularly still moment while touring San Antonio’s Spanish missions, witnessing a double rainbow emerge from stormy skies over Matthias Church in Budapest—you never know when and where it will happen. Although spirit-awakening experiences can’t be forced, there are destinations that serve as a backdrop for them. This month I’ve recalled a few that have uplifted my spirit in surprising ways. Where will your spirit-renewing experiences take place?
Just under 60 miles north of Mount Rushmore, Bear Butte rises from the prairie where bison roam. This small mountain of volcanic rock which has eroded away over millions of years remains a sacred site for Plains Indian tribes, such as the Cheyenne and the Lakota (Sioux).
Viewing Bear Butte from the road wasn’t necessarily as inspirational for me as some say it can be, but hiking the trail to the top offered a whole different perspective. Nearly every tree and bush is draped with lovingly crafted prayer cloths and tobacco ties—offerings left by indigenous people who have journeyed to this spiritual location. If you’re lucky, the sounds of ceremonial drums mingle with the rustlings of a breeze, and regardless of your religion, invite you to become immersed in the heartbeat of the mountain and the Native Americans who hold it sacred.
Having visited numerous gothic cathedrals before, the Cathedral Notre Dame at Chartres (located roughly an hour from Paris) took me by surprise. Perched on a hilltop, it is one of the world’s best-preserved medieval cathedrals. Whether you are Christian, practice another faith, or are a spiritual seeker who connects with the site’s Druidic roots, the cathedral can leave you awestruck by the devotion of the faithful who built it and who have made pilgrimages to it over the centuries.
One of Chartres cathedral’s most interesting elements is literally right under your feet. Many believe the beautifully preserved limestone circuit labyrinth set into the floor represents the long and tortuous path pilgrims would have followed to reach the cathedral in medieval times. Today, it is a symbolic path to peace and tranquility. Walking it in the cathedral, I felt the labyrinth was a metaphor for life’s journey and became filled with quiet joy when I reached its center.
Visiting Bangkok without touring a Wat (Buddhist temple complex) is like going to Paris without experiencing Notre Dame. Although it’s home to the famous reclining Buddha, I expected Wat Po, like the other wats I had toured, to be fascinating but not spirit-stirring. Yet upon entering the building where the Buddha lies sideways, head resting on his hand, I felt a sense of serenity pour over me. Perhaps it was the enormity of the shiny gold-leafed Buddha at 151 feet long and 50 feet tall, with his feet exquisitely decorated and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Or it may have been the saffron-robed Buddhist monks whose mere presence in the temple exudes an air of peacefulness. Or possibly it was just me, experiencing a spiritual place where time stands still.
At first glance it doesn’t look like much—a large, roundish, earthen-topped mound retained at its base by large keystones. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, Newgrange holds a secret inside. A 62-foot-long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with three alcoves aligned with the rising sun at the winter solstice.
It doesn’t take long before your imagination runs wild at this Stone Age (Neolithic) passage tomb. Building the passage graves was a mammoth undertaking. Who were these people who designed and then constructed Newgrange with tools made from stone, wood, and antler? What was the solstice event like? Was there really a pyramidal-shaped stone at the center of the chamber which has disappeared? Newgrange is a place where you lose yourself in ideas about the past, about how humans have evolved, and about where we are today and where our journey will take us.