Bucket List Entry #7: Opera in Verona, Italy #Opera #Aida #Verdi #Verona #Italy #Big5oh #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust


In the summer of 1992, my friend Lisa and I spent a month inter-railing around Europe, as lots of students do. We spent most of the first half of the month in Italy, travelling first to Milan, then on to Florence and Verona, Venice, Rome and Rimini.


Many people will know that Verona is largely famous for two things, being the setting of Romeo and Juliet and for its first century Roman amphitheatre, the Arena di Verona. It is one of the best preserved structures of its kind and is still in use today, including for an internationally renowned opera festival held each summer.


Back in 1992, I was captivated by the idea of watching opera out in the open air in a Roman amphitheatre but the tickets were horrendously expensive for two students travelling on a budget, especially at the beginning of their trip, and Lisa put the kibosh on us attending a performance while we were there (rightly so). We did later get to see a performance of La Boheme at the Vienna State Opera house for a massive 50 pence each by standing in the gods, and it was marvellous, but my heart has yearned ever since to return to Verona and see an opera performance in that magnificent arena. It was my very first bucket list item.


Fast forward twenty-eight years and my ambition has not diminished. But now, with a little more disposable income and a fiftieth birthday fast approaching, I am hoping that by dropping subtle (and no so subtle, ie basically spelling it out and telling my cousin to keep reminding him) hints to the Irishman that I would really LOVE to go to the opera in Verona for my big birthday trip, I will finally be able to tick this one off a mere thirty years after it became the start of my bucket list.

My fantasy of how this experience will go is quite specific. It will be a warm summer evening, I will be wearing a beautiful, floaty dress and pretty sandals. We will have been for a delicious meal in an authentic Italian trattoria, and the opera will be Verdi’s Aida. No other opera will do the trick, it has to be Aida. The thought of the Egyptian costumes and the dramatic scenery against that magnificent backdrop and the notes of the Triumphal March from Act II floating up into the dark sky makes me shiver down to my toes.

Now, if this dream-come-true visit to the opera in Verona happened to be followed up with a couple of days in Venice (when we weren’t staying in a youth hostel and it wasn’t raining) that would be the icing on the cake, but the opera is the important part. So now I’ve spelt it out. Niall, if you are reading this, no excuses. You’ve got two years to plan it and make the fantasy of a twenty-year-old impoverished student a reality.

Remember Vegas? Over to you. x

Bucket List Entry #6: Angkor Wat, Cambodia #AngkorWat #Cambodia #bucketlist #travel #wanderlust



I have to confess, I have never been to Asia and this is a great source of consternation to me as a professed travel junkie. And top of my bucket list of locations to visit in Asia is Cambodia, and the top of my dream Cambodian itinerary is a trip to Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat means ‘Temple City’ or ‘City of Temples’ in Khmer and is a Hindu temple complex 4 miles north of the Cambodian city of Siem Reap and is the largest religious monument in the world.


It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura, the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum.

The site is the pride of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.

The temple is celebrated for its bas reliefs and devatas. Over the years, the temple was neglected and large parts of it reclaimed by the jungle until it was extensively restored in the twentieth century, but it was never completely abandoned and has been a continuous religious centre since its construction.

I can never see images of magnificent places like this in remote places that have existed for thousands of years and marvel at the skill and ingenuity and determination it took to construct them in eras that did not have access to the modern technology available today. How were these buildings constructed in such a way that has allowed them to exist through the centuries? The devotion to their faith that compelled people to create these monuments to their gods is something to be marvelled at.

Whether you have a faith or not, a place like this has to be worth a pilgrimage to marvel at what human beings are capable of if they have the will, and I hope to get there myself in the not too distant future.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


(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?)


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


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


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.)


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.