For the 50+ Traveler

Art and music have long been my inspiration for travel. In high school, I loved the study of humanities, an academic discipline that explores aspects of human culture. It was so interesting to study a work of art or literature in relation to what was going on in the world at the time. My love of art and music goes back even further to when I discovered a book devoted to that topic on a family bookshelf.

The Bookshelf For Boys And Girls (Art And Music, Volume 6)

Before the days of the internet, our computer was a set of encyclopedias that my father had invested in for our family. Our set came with The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls. I was an obsessive reader and was constantly looking for something new to read. I had passed over Volume 6 many times, but one day I picked it up, and I was enthralled. The volume included two books, “The Story of Art” and “The Story of Music.” I focused purely on art. I poured over each photograph and story, learning about each work.

“The Story Of Art”

The word to parents in the foreword shares that the purpose of “The Story of Art” is to show children how to look at art intelligently. I learned about Greek art and architecture and minute details about the different types of columns. Or how religion inspired many famous buildings such as the Parthenon in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome. The book delved into the art of the Middle Ages and then transitioned into modern times. I was fascinated by each work of art and promised myself that one day, I would go see each one on my list.

The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

The List Inspires Travel

I have been blessed to have a well-traveled life. Over the years, I have been able to visit quite a few of my favorites from my list. Some of these trips were quite an adventure. One of the most challenging was seeing The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. I toured Italy by bus, and when we visited Florence, this gallery was not on the itinerary, but we had about one hour of free time. I was not leaving the city without seeing this painting. I literally ran through the streets of Florence to reach the museum, tearing through the halls until I reached the painting. I was able to spend about 10 minutes while catching my breath and taking it all in. It was lovely and so much larger than I expected. Botticelli’s colors were vibrant even after hundreds of years. It truly is a masterpiece, and my heart was full. Then I ran back to the bus.

I wept when I saw the Parthenon for the first time, and I still can’t believe the emotional response I experienced. I know it sounds hokey, but I had dreamed about seeing it for so long. This was a totally unplanned trip. I was stationed in Germany on an army airfield that houses the planes used to ferry senior officers around Europe. If any seats were open, soldiers could take a space-available flight. My roommate called me at work and said if I could get a pass, we could fly to Athens tomorrow. I dropped everything so I could make the trip. We arrived at the U.S. military base in Athens with just enough time to get a taxi to the Acropolis before it closed.

The Ghent Altarpiece was painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck and hangs in St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. This artwork has a storied past that makes it worthy of inclusion on a bucket list. The Ghent Altarpiece consists of 24 wooden panels and hangs in the location it was designed for. NPR calls it the world’s most coveted painting. It has been stolen numerous times, looted in wars, illegally sold, and one panel is still missing. At the time I saw it, I only knew it as a famous work of art, but nothing about its elaborate history. Now it is even more well known from the movie The Monuments Men, where the main characters search for it across Europe after the Nazis stole it.

Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses in the Basilica of St. Peter.

Lessons Learned

I take all kinds of trips as a travel writer, but my favorites are those inspired by art and books. A themed trip is a great way to plan a visit to a destination. I love books that are set in small towns. It is so interesting to visit the places the characters liked.

An artist can be a great inspiration for a themed trip. Visit their birthplace, places that inspired their work, and tour the museums that exhibit their masterpieces. This can take place over several trips, if necessary.

Michelangelo's David at the Accademia Gallery Museum in Florence.

An Itinerary Idea Based On Michelangelo

Michelangelo is one of my favorite artists because he was a true renaissance man. He is renowned for works of painting, sculpture, and even architecture. Begin your trip in Florence, where he was raised as a child. Begin at the Casa Buonarroti, where you can see some of his early works. Don’t miss David, one of his most famous sculptures at the Accademia Gallery Museum.

Next stop: Rome and the Vatican. The most moving of all his works, in my opinion, is the Pieta which is the only work he signed. It is in St. Peter’s Basilica, where Michelangelo served as the last architect and designed the dome. He painted two frescoes in the Sistine Chapel: scenes from Genesis on the ceiling, and The Last Judgment on the altar wall. Both the Pieta and the frescoes can be found in Vatican City. Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses is a dramatic work of art housed in the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains in Rome.

Lastly, head to Bruges, Belgium, to see his Madonna and Child, also known as the Bruges Madonna. It hangs in the Church of Our Lady. It is the only Michelangelo sculpture to leave Italy. This sculpture was also featured prominently in the movie The Monuments Men. This is an optional step, as it is far from Italy, but Bruges is definitely worth a visit when touring Europe. It is one of my favorite towns and is so scenic.

So, the next time you are looking for an idea for a trip, pick up your favorite book. Who knows where it will take you?