Sunday

My top Three Bucket List Destinations

I spotted a competition a while back to blog about your top three travel bucket list destinations for a chance to win a holiday with Transun and see the northern lights. As tomorrow is my birthday and I've already tried unsuccessfully to see the northern lights I thought I'd indulge in a little virtual day-dreaming and share my top three destinations.

Each one I've been dreaming about for so long that I already know quite a lot about them from films, books, tv and Pinterest.

Most frustratingly I've been pretty close to all of them, some on more than one occasion, even glimpsing one at a distance, across traffic, yet still out of reach.

Florence


My dream desto - straight away Puccini's aria starts to play in my head. Think Room with a View, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Santa Croce and Miss Honeychurch. Think that kiss in the stifling heat and the poppy field. I have watched this film over and over and am transported every time to the banks of the river Arno and the art of Michelangelo.


There is so much art to see, and so many historic places and beautiful piazzas to visit that I'll name just one highlight that I'd love to see when I go there.

Hidden behind an unmarked door in the Uffizi Gallery is the entrance to the Vasari Corridor. It is closed to the general public and runs along the top of the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge across the river). Built in 1565 it gave the ruler Cosimo de Medici safe passage, which became indispensable after he escaped countless assassination attempts. For 200 years it continued in private use before becoming an art gallery of 16th and 17th century art and only open for private tours.

Versailles


The French palace built by the sun King Louis XIV and inhabited by royalty, aristos and all the rest until the women of Paris got fed up of starving and decided to go see Marie Antoinette. And that is possibly the worst summary of 100 years of illustrious history that you'll ever read regarding one of the most spectacular, lavish, ornate and enormous palaces ever built.

From learning about Louis XIV at school to becoming fascinated by the story of Helen Maria Williams and the French Revolution a few years ago, Versailles has kept coming up. I've travelled to Paris three times; once with my family, once on a charity hitch hike as a student and once on a conference to find out about Miss Williams.

The hitch hike from Cardiff involved hitching a ride with a lorry driver who told us he didn't like students, the Irish and wasn't keen on women. I didn't feel comfortable. Another ride, this time in France was with a lady with very long finger nails who drove erratically down a hill with bends in the road that made us silently hold our bags very tight and stare ahead rather nervously.

Rue des Hospitalieres, Saint Gervais, Paris
Rue des Hospitalieres, Saint Gervais, Paris

Arriving in Paris, as students do, we skidded across the floor of the Louvre and stood in the fountain for our photo op before the security guards shooed us away.



Notre Dame, Paris
Notre Dame, Paris
Place de la Republique, Paris
Place de la Republique, Paris
On my more recent trip I stayed in the Marais district beside the canal. The sun shone as I wandered around Paris passing Notre Dame, the Conciergerie and the Luxembourg. All places that have connections with the French Revolution, but the one place I did not see was Versailles.

Northern Lights


This almost-nearly-oh-so-close item on my bucket list involved a trip to Iceland in winter to see them. Although we didn't see any, I did learn a great deal about Iceland and found the place fascinating. I definitely recommend a trip there and although the light show is not guaranteed you can still go thermal bathing with the locals and enjoy the art and architecture in Reykjavik.

Solfar, Viking boat sculpture, Reykjavik
Solfar, Viking boat sculpture, Reykjavik
Harpa, Reykjavik
Harpa, Reykjavik
Aerial view of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja
Aerial view of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja

What I found out was that it is possible to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights by taking note of the following:
  • You are more likely to see the northern lights in autumn or spring (rather than mid-winter)
  • Avoid booking around the time of the full moon
  • You're most likely to see the northern lights between the hours of 9 pm and midnight than at any other time
  • Book at least a four night stay, so that if your tour is cancelled on the first night you have three more chances to join the tour
  • Book a northern lights tour (I thought we'd just see them from our window), but as the tour guides can track information, which means they can drive you out to where there is a greater chance of seeing this natural wonder, a booked tour is worth while.

For more info on entering the competition click on Transun to find out.

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