Bucket List Entry #5: Palio di Siena, Tuscany, Italy @paliodisiena @VisitTuscany @Italia #PalioDiSiena @BleuViola #Tuscany #Italy #horseracing #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust

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A lot of my bucket list entries seem to be inspired by books, as you may have noticed if you have been reading them so far. This one is a little different, as my desire to go here has been partially inspired by my love of Italy and of horses, growing up in a town fuelled by the world’s oldest Classic horse race and seeing all the excitement and razzmatazz this brings with it, partly by the opening of a Bond film starring my favourite Bond (Kate Baker will know who I am talking about!) and partly by a young adult fantasy  novel.

How can a fantasy novel inspire a trip to a real place, I hear you cry? Well, have a read of  the second book in Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series, City of Stars, and you’ll understand. The books are set in a fictional world called Talia, which resembles sixteenth-century Italy, and this book focuses on a horse race called the Stellata, which is obviously modelled on the Palio.

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For those of you who have never heard of it, the Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice a year in the Siena, Italy. Ten horses and riders race around the city square, the Piazza Del Campo, bareback and dressed in the colours of the contrade, or city wards that they represent. A pageant or historical costume parade, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race and the spectacle attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.

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The length of the race is three circuits of the square and lasts only about 90 seconds. Riders often fall off on the steeply canted track, particularly as riders may use whips not only on their own horse but to disrupt their rivals, and riderless horses can finish and win the race, as it is the horse representing the contrade, and not the jockey that triumphs. The loser in the race is considered to be the horse that comes second, and not the last horse.

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The winner is awarded a banner of painted silk, known as a palio. Rivalry between the contrades is fierce and part of the game is to prevent rival wards winning, and celebrating the losses of historic enemies. The races date back to medieval times.

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If you are a fan of Daniel Craig as James Bond, you will have seen a filmic representation of the Palio, as the opening scene of Quantum of Solace takes place while the famous race is being run. It was my re-watching of this film over Christmas that prompted me to make this Bucket List Entry #4.

 

Merry ‘Twixmas! Looking back, looking forward @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets @lord_dodo @moleskine #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #readinggoals #writinggoals #blogginggoals

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It’s a funny time of year, isn’t it, the week between Christmas and New Year? No one knows what day of the week it is or what they should be doing. Everything seems to come to a standstill, the world taking a breath between the excitement of Christmas past and the promise of the new year yet to come. A great time for a bit of introspection, muse on the year past, plan for the one about to start.

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That’s what I have been doing the past couple of days, anyway. My girls were staying with their dad, the Irishman flew off to Dublin for a few days with his parents, I had the house to myself and some time for contemplation and organisation. I tidied up the Christmas detritus, got out my new diary and calendar ready to fill with blogging and writing goals for the year ahead, and had a think about what I want to achieve and how I’m going to do it.

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2019 was a very busy year on the blog. I did loads of blog tours, read a massive 165 books in total. Friday Night Drinks grew in popularity and I had some great guests and I increased my following. On the downside, my TBR grew ever more massive and out of control, I neglected the travel and writing areas of my blog and failed miserably to complete my two reading challenges because I over-faced myself with blog tour commitments and could not devote as much time as I wanted to free reading. My NetGalley backlog also grew to the point where I got turned down for a couple of books because of my abysmal ratio. Something needs to be done.

So, bearing all of this in mind, what lies in store for 2020 and what are my plans?

My Friday Night Drinks and Tempted by… features are both fully booked and planned to June, so they will be carrying on as before. I will be setting my Goodreads Reading Challenge target at 150 again, with the hope that I can exceed it as I have the last two years. I have decided against doing any other external reading challenges, as I don’t need the pressure. Instead, I will make a second attempt at doing my Desert Island Books (more detail on that to come in January.) I am also determined to be more diligent with the Travel, Bucket List and Writing areas of my blog and have diaried in some regular features for these. I’m looking forward to getting a bit more variety in to the blog.

In an attempt to get some control over my NetGalley ratio and TBR, I have decided to go back to the original aim of the blog as set out in my first ever blog post and buy no new books in 2020, or request any more from NetGalley. I’ll just be reading the ones I already have. Unfortunately, these means cutting right back on blog tours to free up reading time. I’m limiting myself to a maximum of two per month after January and February (where I have already committed to more than two!). I am allowing myself to receive my one Book Club book each month, and spend my monthly Audible credit. I have a few books on pre-order which I will let stand. Other than that, I’ll not be buying anything new, but reviewing what I already have, as randomly selected from my book jar. I’m actually looking forward to the challenge. I got a few book-themed Christmas gifts to see me on my way too.

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(Fear not, dear authors with books being published in 2020, I will be making a list ready for when the ban is lifted!)

I had a bit of an epiphany back in the spring when I had Bell’s Palsy and could not read for six weeks due to issues with my left eye. I had always been a little snobby about audiobooks not being ‘proper reading’ and had never counted them in my reading totals. Well, I have to say, audiobooks were my lifeline during those long boring days of illness and now I am as zealous a convert as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I am listening to them at every opportunity and, in fact, my favourite book of the year was consumed in audio format. So, in 2020, I will be listening to even more audiobooks and reviewing more of them on my blog.

After a couple of lax months at the end of the year, I also plan on making sure I review every book I read or listen to next year (unless I hate it) and being more engaged with other people’s blogs in the new year.

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for the third year, and I am determined that this is the year that I start submitting my book to agents and publishers. I’m planning on attending some RNA events again this year, including conference in July, so I hope to share some of that journey with you. My very kind and wise friends have supplied me with some lovely Christmas gifts to help me along, including this gorgeous Story Box gift from my lovely friend Mary-Louise and a Smithson notebook from the Irishman (a hint to get the book finished, perhaps?)

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As far as travel goes, I currently have nothing booked, which is unusual, but I have last year’s trips still to share and I am sure there will be things planned soon, so watch this space!

All in all, I am excited for the coming year, and all that it is going to bring for me, and for the blog. I hope you will continue on this journey with me, share the highs and the lows and, most of all, the book love. After all, it is fairly meaningless without all of you. Thanks for being here and

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Bucket List Entry #4: Across Canada by Train from Toronto to Vancouver @VIA_Rail @ExploreCanada #TheCanadian #CanadaByTrain #VIARail #ExploreCanada #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust

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It has been far too long since I have written any travel-related posts on the blog and I’ve been meaning to put this one up for a while as it links to one of my Desert Island Books entries from back in February so here we go.

This trip is absolutely top of my bucket list trips and has been for years. I mean, years and years. Since I was in my teens (which was a long, loooong time ago), when I first read The Edge by Dick Francis. It was the plot of this book, set on an exciting transcontinental train journey across Canada, that made me first yen to cross the continent on the rails. (You can read more detail about the book in this post.)

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There is something romantic about the idea of travelling by train, isn’t there? It’s not a coincidence that Murder on the Orient Express is Agatha Christie’s most popular novel. Unfortunately, our little island is too small to afford the opportunity for any long, romantic train journeys and our railways leave a lot to be desired but the opportunities abroad are endless. Any seasoned travellers and railway aficionados will be familiar with the names of the most famous – The Eastern & Oriental Express, The Ghan, The Trans-Siberian Express, The Blue Train, The Maharaja’s Express, The California Zephyr, The Glacier Express. A trip on any of them would be a treat.

Unfortunately, my only experience of sleeping on trains was in 1992 during a month spent inter-railing around Europe with my best friend, Lisa. Not glamorous and, at times, scary (we stopped one night at the border between Hungary and Czechslovakia at a point where no station was in sight and watched from the window as several young people were marched off into the darkness by border guards, never to be seen by us again), this was nothing like the alluring train travel featured in novels!

Of all of these trains, The Rocky Mountaineer is the one which has most firmly grabbed my imagination. Picture climbing from the wide, sweeping plains of Canada’s heartland into the majestic, glacier-covered scenery of the Rocky Mountains for a stay in the fabulous hotel at Chateau Lake Louise. This is the part of the trip which first drew me to the idea of doing Canada by rail, but I think going coast to coast by train would be an amazing way to see this vast and diverse country.

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Over the years I have done a lot of road trips in the USA and, whilst I love the freedom of the open road, I think the train would give a different perspective and dimension to a trip. It is putting the itinerary in someone else’s hands and then sitting back to enjoy the ride, after all, on a train, you don’t get to pick the stops! For someone who is always in charge of planning our trips and map-reading, I think this might be quite refreshing. In a car, you are hermetically sealed into your own bubble, cut off from the outside world and other people unless you choose to step outside. On a train, you are part of a community and would have to engage more with people around you, especially on a long journey, which would have a certain novelty. You can relax, take in the scenery, have meals brought to you, be lulled to sleep by the sway of the train and the clatter of the rails beneath you. Be snug in your own little compartment, a tiny, moving hotel, and cover much greater distances in a shorter time.

That is how I imagine it, anyway. However, it seems my children are less enthralled by the idea, so I think this might be one I save until they have flown the nest and the Irishman and I are pleasing ourselves. But one day, I will make this trip. Until then, I have this poster on the wall at home to fuel my daydreams.

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Bucket List Entry #3: Aurora Hunting from a Glass Igloo, Saariselka, Finnish Lapland @kakslauttanen @DiscoverFinland @TillyTenWriter @DarcieBoleyn #NorthernLights #Lapland #Finland #glassigloo #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust

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It’s that time of year when the temperature drops, the decorations start to come out and all of the Christmas books hit the shelves and maybe this has inspired today’s entry on the Bucket List. I recently reviewed Tilly Tennant’s The Christmas Wish here on the blog and have Darcie Boleyn’s Love at the Northern Lights coming up, both of which feature a visit to view this natural phenomena, so today’s addition to the wish list is hunting for the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

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I know I am not alone in having the desire to see the Northern Lights on my list of must-dos. Until recently, I was engaged in selling travel and the demand for trips to see this phenomenon has grown exponentially year on year. You can view them from cruises which guarantee a free return trip if they aren’t spotted during your voyage. You can see them from 40,000 feet on special flights taking off in the UK with an astronomer on board to give you all the scientific background. You can see them on a city break in Iceland. However, my dream Aurora hunting trip is very specific and involves lying back, snuggled in a warm bed and staring up at them dancing across the sky through the roof of a glass igloo at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort near Saariselka in Finnish Lapland.

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The minute I saw the images of these ethereal buildings gently glowing in the darkened, snowy forest nestled in Urho Kekkonen National Park, my romantic heart was stirred and I was determined that one day I would be burrowed under furry coverlets (I don’t know if they have these, but this is my fantasy so I’m going with it) with the man of my dreams as we stare up at a sky alive with vibrant rippling colour, just for us. That would definitely be the makings of a night that you’d look fondly back on from your dotage when you limbs are frail and the only travelling you can do is through the memories in your mind.

It sounds kind of lazy to view the lights lying down, but I am sure I would be partaking of the multitude of active outdoor excursions on offer in the area, Downhill skiing & snowboarding, snowmobiling, reindeer safaris, ice fishing and husky sledding are all available, some of which I was lucky enough to have tried before and would do again. Husky sledding in particular is one of my top five favourite things I have ever done (maybe the full list will appear in another post) and I would absolutely love to repeat it, but there are some other experiences on offer that I’ve never tried before. Riding safaris in the snow? Yes, please. Icebreaker Sampo? Absolutely! Cross-country skiing? I’d love to try it, especially with the promise of a sauna, warm bed and the prospect of all-night viewing of one of the world’s most fascinating and beautiful natural phenomenon on offer.

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Kakslauttanen is open outside of the winter months and there are a lot of activities available through the year that also sound appealing. Hiking and mountain biking. ATV and horse safaris. Canoeing and whitewater kayaking. Panning for gold and foraging for berries and mushrooms, And, of course, the summer has the virtue of long daylight hours in which to enjoy the outdoors. But the best time to see the Aurora Borealis is late-September to late-March, so this is when you’ll find me there – one day.

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Bucket List Entry #2: The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, USA @StanleyHotelCO @VisitTheUSA @StephenKing #StanleyHotel #VisitTheUSA #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust #StephenKing #TheShining

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My second bucket list entry may again seem like an odd choice, but I think I have been inspired by the approach of Halloween and the fact I am currently reading a book set in another creepy hotel. Bucket List Entry #2 is The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The hotel, with 142 rooms, opened in 1909 and has been popular ever since as it stands only five miles from the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park and has beautiful views over Lake Estes and the Rocky Mountains. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

That all sounds very lovely, Julie, I hear you say, but what is so special about this hotel to make it worth flying thousands of miles to see? Well, I am sure most you will already know – it is because this hotel was the inspiration for The Overlook Hotel in one of the most famous books by one of my favourite authors, The Shining by Stephen King.

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Any Stephen King fans are probably already familiar with the story behind the inspiration for The Shining. In the autumn of 1974, Stephen and his wife, Tabby spent one night at The Stanley Hotel. The hotel was just about to close down for the winter and, on check-in, King and his wife found they were the only guests and had this huge hotel to themselves. They wandered the long, echoing empty corridors and ate dinner alone in the vast dining room, where all the other tables had the chairs put up on them. Their dinner was accompanied by recorded orchestral music. That night, King had a dream in which his three-year-old son was running through the corridors of the hotel screaming. He was being chased by a fire hose. The dream woke him with a jerk, in a sweat, and he sat in a chair looking out at the Rockies and smoking. “By the time the cigarette was done,” King says, “I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”

The Shining was published in 1977 and was a huge success, being made into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. Room 217, the room occupied by King that night, features heavily in the book and is now the most requested room at the hotel.

So, The Stanley Hotel has become a place of pilgrimage for Stephen King fans, as well as standing in a US State that I have yet to visit and is high on my bucket list. Then, earlier this year something else happened at The Stanley which made me want to visit even more. To see what that was, check out the video below:

Imagine being in a place where you have wildlife that close to the doorstep! The opportunity to possibly see wildlife so up close and personal adds even more to the lure of the area. I’m not sure I can sell ghosts and black bears to my other half as appealing holiday attractions so this one may need a little more work, but I’ll get there one day!

Is there any destination that has inspired a novel that you would like to visit? I’d love to hear your literary destination bucket lists.

For more details about The Stanley Hotel, please check out the hotel website.

Bucket List Entry #1: Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, USA @fallingwater @WesternPAConservancy @VisitTheUSA #fallingwater #VisitTheUSA #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust #FrankLloydWright #architecture #Blogtober18

So, this is my first entry in my new Bucket List blog category, and I’m going off piste for the first one. It’s Fallingwater in rural Pennsylvania.

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Perhaps not the most obvious choice for my inaugural entry but I’m not adding these in any particular order and I have just been reading a fabulous book on the background of this house, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: The House and its History, so it is at the forefront of my mind.

Fallingwater is a house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright as a weekend retreat for Edgar J. Kaufmann, owner of Kaufmann’s Department Store in Pittsburgh, and his wife, Lilane. It was built partly over the waterfall at Bear Run, in a isolated area of western Pennsylvania and is considered the finest example of Wright’s ‘organic architecture’, which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural surroundings in which they sit.

The house was constructed between 1936 and 1938 and used as a rural escape by the Kauffman’s until 1963 when they donated it to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. In 2007 it was voted the best all-time work of American architecture by the American Institute of Architects. In has been open to the public since 1964, and since then has been visited by more than 5 million people, despite its remote location.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed another one of my favourite buildings, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue in New York, which I know you will all recognise.

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Aside from being aesthetically striking, the interior layout of this building, which curves around like the inside of a snail’s shell makes for a stunning and exciting way to view the art as you take a lift to the top floor and follow the curved slope down through the inside of the building. A fine example of the design of a building enhancing the experience of the people using it.

A lot of people seem surprised when I tell them I am interested in architecture but, if you have ever been anywhere to admire a specific building – the Pyramids at Giza, the Colosseum, Westminster Abbey, the Empire State Building – then you are interested in architecture too. The many magnificent, adventurous and imaginative ways that people have invented to put up buildings over the centuries astounds me.

I’ve visited Pittsburgh before, on a whirlwind work tour, but never made it out to Fallingwater. One day, I’d love to have the opportunity to go and see this ambitious house, so modern in design but that sits so quietly in its rural setting, and take a tour for myself.

What is your favourite piece of architecture and have you ever visited it in the flesh? Have you been to Fallingwater? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“The Time Has Come,” the Walrus said … @gilbster1000 @RNAtweets @NaNoWriMo #Blogtober18

of-dodos-karma-free-software-in-the-library-3-728Hello and welcome to the first day of October! Anyone who has read my blog religiously (probably no one, but one never knows) will recall that this is my favourite time of year. I just love autumn and everything that goes with it. It is also a time of year that feels like a new beginning for me. Odd, I know, when this is traditionally the time of year when things begin to die off but it you read my post Hello, Autumn from last year, it will make a lot more sense.

In the spirit of new starts and new adventures beginning in the autumn, I have a few new projects on the go. I have recently taken the big decision to change careers and I am embarking on some training to take my career in a different direction which will lead to more involvement in the publishing world, I hope. I am, with some sadness, leaving behind the world of travel, but only in a career sense, and have more trips planned, both actually and in my dreams, but more of that to come. I am also pushing on with my own writing plans, eagerly awaiting feedback on my manuscript from the Romantic Novelists’ Associations’ New Writers’ Scheme so I can improve it, whilst also prepping for starting work on my second novel for NaNoWriMo.

I also have some new plans for the blog. Some of you may have noticed that the format of the blog has changed slightly over the past week – that’s right, pay attention at the back there! – and I have some new categories set up. Truth be told, I have found myself a little jaded over the past few weeks. I made the rookie book blogger mistake back in the spring of getting over-excited and taking on way too many blog tours. This all came to a head in September, when I was just so over-extended that I found myself really not enjoying my book reviewing, or reading constantly to a deadline. I got to the point where I felt like I had nothing original or interesting to say about the books I was reading and I was boring myself, so heaven knows what I was doing to you lot! My blog stopped being fun, which is the really the whole the point of the thing. I was suffering from the dreaded blogger burnout. So, I have made a couple of big decisions regarding the blog which I hope will shake it up and make it fun for me again, which in turn I hope will make it more fun for you to read.

Books will still be at the heart of the blog, because that is why I set up the blog in the first place and they are fairly central to my life. Also, I just love talking about them with other book lovers and helping to support and promote all the great authors out there. However, I have decided to cut back on the number of blog tours I am doing, limit them to one, or at most two per week and be really choosy about which ones I join. (I can hear Rachel Gilbey laughing like a drain as she reads this, given how rubbish I am about turning down her tempting tours. Rachel. I’m serious. I really mean it this time, cross my heart and hope to die!). This will hopefully give me time to read some of the other books I have on my TBR which I have been dying to read but have had no time on my schedule to get round to.

Along with the books, I am going to write about some other topics that interest me. Travel is a big one, both in the UK and overseas, as that is something I just love to do. I’d like to share more about my own writing journey and how that is progressing, and I am sure bits of stuff about my family life might creep in. I’ve also decided that, as i approach my fiftieth birthday, I’d like to draw up a bucket list of things I’d like to do and, what better place to explore this and keep a record than here?

I’ve decided to kick the new look blog off by taking part in Blogtober, with a new post every day on a mix of the new topics, starting with this as number one. So, I hope you will come along with me on my new journey and pop back each day this month to see what is happening, and maybe link me in to your blogs if you are doing Blogtober too. Hopefully we can learn a bit more about each other, outside of a mutual love of books. Maybe you lovely folks might have some comments or suggestions on the things I plan to do that will help me along the way. Feel free to chip in any time, I love to hear from you all.

Happy Blogtober then, to all my lovely followers and thank you for supporting my little blog. I really do appreciate you taking time to visit my tiny corner of the internet and interacting with my inane ramblings and I hope you will like where it is going.