Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Road to 500

It is hard to tell when I first learned about UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Probably at some point before our trip around the world, and then, as we decided our destinations, it was a secondary factor in our decision making process. 

Our trip didn’t really have a theme. Probably the best way to describe what we wanted is to go back over and over to Maria’s first post. But at some point it turned out that our interests and UNESCO’s mission overlapped significantly. As we tried to discover various countries, learn about their most special features and visit famous and unique cultural and natural sites we invariably ended at one or another World Heritage Site.

For those of you who need a refresher, 50 years ago the General Conference of UNESCO adopted a “Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, a unique international treaty linking for the first time the concepts of nature conservation and preservation of cultural properties - recognizing the way people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.”

In 1978, Galapagos Islands  became the first of the first 12 sites inscribed on the World Heritage list. In 2012 there were 936 monuments and now, in 2022, there are 1154.

During our round the world trip we missed a couple sites in ways in which I cannot explain, like the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates  or the Old Historic Cairo. By far the hardest to explain miss was the Barcelona Music House, we were in line for the tickets and we still didn't know we had to get in, our sister bought tickets for herself and her family and the lady closed the ticket counter for lunch in front of us. But, nonetheless we visited 75 world heritage sites on our trip. They included the most amazing sites you all heard about and some just as good that you never knew that exist. And at some point in the following years it really made sense to start planning a trip from the UNESCO list. We did it first in Portugal in June 2015, and again in Japan when we returned in 2015 and so on.

Fast forward nine years later, I mentioned to Ileana Ruxandra that some time before our trip I saw a web site about some people who traveled to a lot of places, I had a very vague recollection and it was a pity that I lost track of the whole story. One day I decided to search for it and after a few hours I found what I was looking for and discovered that it evolved into a much larger group, a great website and a fantastic phone application: most traveled people (MTP: The Extreme Travel Club )! The MTP Apps: iPhone and iPad and Google

“MTP challenges its members to expand their horizons, by dividing the land area of Earth into 1013 distinct regions, including countries, states, territories, islands and enclaves. We also track … all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For many, adding to their MTP totals and turning their personal map from red to green is their life’s work. No one in history has ever completed the list!” They have an annual meeting and vote on what is an MTP place. More importantly they also keep track of all the world heritage sites and sub-sites in a much easier way than even UNESCO or Wikipedia. Registering and checking boxes, I got to a little over 150 but digging deeper I learned that we didn't quite reach the formal boundaries so we had to eliminate Mapungubwe or AmbohimangaSome sites are represented by one building and some have multiple subsites distributed over a large area or even across countries or continents. It is a dynamic list, a couple of sites had to be delisted as they were destroyed, but the list is slowly expanding through a very elaborate system. Countries sign up to the UNESCO charter, propose sites on World Heritage Tentative Lists and after they meet some of the criteria and the local government does a lot of protection work, would be voted for and listed. We could visit a place that is interesting or famous and many years later learn that it has become a World Heritage Site. So this is how I got to see my 149th site, we visited Madrid in 1990 and again in 2020, but it was only last week that I learned that in 2021 UNESCO listed Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro

Anyway, it is not about lists and counts, but this is a really big world and the more we see the more we realize how much we haven't seen or learned about. It can be quite depressing to really understand the enormity of it all and how little we can actually do, see or learn. It is also liberating to accept that we cannot do it all, that each and every trip, site, day or even moment is valuable in itself and we don't have to worry about the whole of it.

But it is both fascinating and pragmatic to use the whole knowledge of the world and the consensus of a bunch of experts to get some direction of what is really special and worth visiting on this planet. This happens to be the stuff we really care about (and museums!), not some fancy hotel, bar or restaurant, not some private island or a fun filled cruise or an amusement park. 

I was looking again and again at "the list". There are 1000 more and we'll never see them all, and some might not even be worth seeing, but we can die trying. At this pace it would take many lifetimes, but can we aim for about 500? That could be realistic if we are really determined and organized and aim to see 10-15 a year over the next 30 years!

Not surprisingly, Ileana Ruxandra is just as interested as me in this topic. She went further to discover the World Heritage Site for World Heritage Travellers at started by a lady in Netherlands who dedicates her life to visiting all the sites and offering a platform for advice to fellow travelers. Together with MTP we now have all we need.

So starting in May 2022 the "race" is on!  Follow me at We'll update here as we can the next 351 world heritage sites that we visit and if it happens, the ones we revisit or complete (some of these listing have multiple sites and they could all be meaningful).


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