Have you ever sat down and thought up a list of the places that you want to visit before you become old and wizened? Here at Exploration, we spend most of our lives doing just that. Now we’re turning our thoughts into text: our writers have been given a sack of imaginary cash and told to go and plan where and how they’d spend their five dream days abroad. This is Jess Collett’s Bucket List.
1. The Orkneys
Of course, being Exploration’s resident historian I’ve stuffed my bucket list with historical sites I have yet to visit and am desperate see for the strangest reasons. That’s the way my mind works unfortunately: offer me a ticket to see a town that is historically famous for being, say, the world capital of halibut fishing and I’ll set off the happiest woman in the world. At the top of my ever expanding bucket list – from which they will only let me choose my top five – are the Orkney Islands. As I’ve said already in a previous Hidden Histories article, the islands boast some of the best preserved prehistoric sites in the world, which give visitors a fascinating look at the pilgrimage sites, homes and even the furnishings used by our prehistoric cousins. Stone age cabinets? Brilliant.
2. Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
The Rila Monastery was built in the tenth century and has seen countless years of academic and religious activity. It is a beautiful complex, rebuilt extensively throughout the nineteenth century and epitomising the links between spiritual and social daily life in Bulgarian history. It also stands as an ongoing symbol of subversion: here you can learn about the continued survival of the traditional Slavic way of life, even after Bulgaria had endured centuries of occupation and oppression by different groups of people, from the ancient Ottomans to the 20th century Communist party. I just like the idea of rebellious monks, okay?
3. Ostia Antica, Italy
Between them, Pompeii and Herculaneum attract a lot of visitors and get a lot of acclaim. But while I do aim to visit them both someday, it’s Ostia Antica that’s made it to my Bucket List. As well as being Ancient Rome’s foremost seaport, this is a well-preserved site that paints a remarkable picture of a place that had to evolve a great deal over its four hundred years as an important Roman town. Ostia Antica has faced sacking by pirates, been turned into a country retreat for the aristocracy and seen several of its neighbourhoods rebuilt by some of Rome’s most notable figures. I think I may also be attracted to it because I loved reading about it in the Roman Mysteries series.
4. Saint Petersburg
There are so many sites across Russia to see, but Saint Petersburg deserves to sit near the top of anyone’s Russian bucket list. Do I even need to justify why I want to travel there? Ok: it boasts beautiful architecture, amazing theatre, wonderful music, links to fantastic works of literature and – of course – a long and fascinating history. Different Russian regimes have come and gone, but the city has remained as great as it ever was.
5. Craco, Italy
Craco is an abandoned commune and village in Matera. Abandoned buildings and places always inspire strong feelings in me. I love to explore towns and buildings that are frozen and preserved, though they sometimes fill me with such a sense of sadness and loss that it’s quite difficult to balance the emotions I feel when I’m walking amongst them. But they’re always worth seeing, and to that end I’d say that Craco really is my cup of tea. For starters, as you arrive there you see that, because it was built on a steep hill, the town sits on the skyline and has a really striking profile that leaves an impression all on its own. Few people still live in the city – most of the locals left long ago because of famine and the threat of landslides – which has left the village to be devoured by time. Imagine it. Death and life being maintained in a village and is slowly destroying itself. Rather poetic, isn’t it?