As every artistic soul knows, creativity can be as elusive as Macavity the Mystery Cat with a Eurail Pass clasped between his paws. So we’ve spared you the agony by seeking out places where the Nine Muses of classical mythology have struck before.
A visit to one or more of these destinations is sure to fire the imagination and provide inspiration to travellers far from home.
Be inspired by the natural world with Euterpe, Muse of song and elegiac poetry
Travellers can be hopeless romantics. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge ignited the Romantic Period with their elegies and exaltation of the natural world. At the end of the 19th century, they led a group of poets to revel in the tranquility of England's Lake District, predating the current trend of visitors who find glimpses of inner peace in its slate-capped peaks.
The beatnik trail began in Tangier. American writer Paul Bowles moved there in 1947, then William Burroughs drifted down to the gateway of Africa in 1953 (after shooting his wife) and inspired a wave of writers to follow him. Known as the 'Interzone' for its status as a loosely governed region controlled by different nations, Tangier slid into disrepute for part of the 20th century; since then, though, over a decade of investment has seen the hot Mediterranean port enjoy a renaissance as a starting point for misadventures around Morocco.
Chronicle heroic deeds with Calliope, Muse of epic poetry
Travellers love an epic tale – often their own – about the perils of life on the road. None trump Homer's Odyssey. In the aftermath of the Trojan War, Homer pioneered a 'gap decade' and visitors to modern-day Troy (Truva in Turkish), on the Aegean coast of Turkey, now pay homage by the busload. A new museum is in the making.
In Kyrgyzstan, the Epic of Manas has enjoyed a lasting influence in Central Asian culture. Heroic Manas battled various enemies, united warring tribes, and then passed on the legacy (and the verse) to his descendants, the Manaschis. These devoted keepers of the epic can still be found reciting the 1000-year-old story across the grassy jailoos (summer pastures). Settle in for the long haul; if you don't have a good idea by the time your storyteller is done, Calliope has passed you by.
Understand the past to foresee the future with Clio, Muse of history
Clio is always up to something. Unrest often leads to renewal. The youthful flamboyance of the so-called Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong's Kowloon district last year attracted interest across the globe, not least from thousands of travellers who posted messages on physical and virtual walls. Meanwhile armchair activists, celebrities, and governments as far as away as Germany and as close to home as Taiwan have chipped in their two cents’ worth.
Only the odd spark has flown outside the retail stores of Mong Kok, but the scrolls of the future may record this civil disobedience at the start of something big. Not quite business as usual.
Compose a verse or master a haiku with Erato, Muse of lyric poetry
Shiraz, the former Iranian capital in the southwest, is known (among other things) as the 'city of poets'. Iran has a long legacy of them, none more influential than Rumi, the Mowlaana, or 'master'. This 13th-century Persian mystic is famed for translating sufi wisdom into ethereal prose. His work endures in the Western world and lingers in many travellers' minds. A more modern inspiration, Simin Behbahani, who died last year, was known as the 'lioness of Iran'; a passionate advocate for women's rights, her love poems feature in pop songs across her native land.
Three hundred years after her first appearance in Shiraz, Erato descended on Japan. Near Kyoto, Matsuo Bashõ mastered the haiku, that mainstay of the school poetry class (let's have a go, children: Sprung near Ueno / The greatest of the Edo / Winter in Osaka). Spring can rouse the senses and sitting in the shade of the cherry blossom, a national obsession in Japan, feels irresistibly wholesome.
Reveal your tragic flaw to with Melpomene, Muse of tragedy
While New York’s Broadway and London’s West End are synonymous with high drama, Athens is where Melpomene's sense of tragedy rings truest. Hundreds of small playhouses still honour the Ancient Greek tradition of the stage. The outdoor Lycabettus Theatre is a memorable place to experience high-class drama and be inspired to pen your own.
For budding playwrights outside Europe, each summer for two centuries in Grahamstown, South Africa, the National Arts Festival (nationalartsfestival.co.za) has attracted cutting-edge talent; for Latin American thespians, Bogota has emerged as a destination en la moda, in particular during the Ibero-American Theater Festival (festivaldeteatro.com.co) each April.
Pen a paean with Polyhymnia, Muse of hymns
Drive 500km east of Darwin and you'll hit Arnhem Land, part of Australia's Northern Territory. Each winter, a number of indigenous communities gather for a mass corroboree (dance ceremony) for a limited public audience. The connection to country, spirit, and Aboriginal Dreaming is palpable. Pen your hymn in the red dust.
Polyhymnia also peeks out from her veil at Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, a wonderful Benedictine monastery near Asciano in Tuscany where you'll hear monks chanting to invoke their muse. Currently postponed due to political unrest, the Timbuktu Music Festival in Mali is another spiritual gathering of world music maestros; once peace returns, expect songs to flow.
Contemplate the stars with Urania, Muse of astronomy
In this dawning age of galactic tourism, it is important to remain grounded. The Mayans were the first great astronomers, and the ruins of Tikal, half-hidden in the Guatemalan rainforest, are a reminder of our long fascination with the great ocean of emptiness above us.
In the salt flats of Chile's Atacama Desert, there is enough space to launch a rocket ship and a sky wide enough for more than one VLT (Very Large Telescope). Some of the world's leading observatories are based here, including Cerro Paranal, which welcomes visitors; amateur stargazers need only summon Urania and look up.
Get the joke with Thalia, Muse of comedy
The funniest sounding place in the world may be Hell (Norway) or Anus (France), but two of the world's biggest comedy festivals take place in the more mundanely named (and significantly larger) Montreal and Melbourne.
The French-Canadian capital has been hosting the world's most prominent funny men and women for over 30 years, running a simultaneous Juste pour rire (Just for Laughs - hahaha.com) for the Francophone crowd. 'Marvellous Melbourne', as it was known at the height of the Gold Rush, has built its comedic reputation on receptive audiences, gorgeous laneway venues and, because even Thalia needs to unwind, all-night after-parties.
Succumb to the rhythm with Terpischore, Muse of dance
For 25 years the island of Ibiza (Ibi-tha to Brits) has drawn like-minded music lovers. While the glory days of the late 80s persist in the misfiring synapses of some ageing European geezer-DJs, if you like to dance to electronic music, in the sun, with beautiful people around you, then visit the Balearic wonderland while you're still young.
Terpischore carried a lyre, but at the Goroka Show (gorokashow.com) in Papua New Guinea's Eastern Highlands, percussion rules. This giant 'sing sing' dance-off takes place around October each year. Hundreds of tribes descend on the town to shake their backsides and beat Kundu drums like crazy from behind eerie masks, then retreat to the hills and wait for their muse to strike again the following year.