The wow factor

The other night I was out to dinner with some friends, and I found myself completely and utterly distracted the entire time. Usually a pro with eye contact during conversation, I was as distracted as the squirrel in Ice Age chasing the Acorn. No, the people were not boring me to death. I found myself completely enchanted with my surroundings. Strings of lights hung from the dome-shaped ceiling making you feel as though it was going to begin raining diamonds at any moment. The lighting played off of this in conjunction with ivy plants growing up the walls on the inside. I felt like I was sitting inside a fairytale and all I could think was ‘wow.’

For me, this is the exact feeling I yearn for when I’m on vacation. I don’t need to be surrounded by diamonds (although I wouldn’t mind it) but something as simple as seeing something truly breathtaking, having the best gelato you never knew existed, sipping a cappuccino that makes you now realize what the phrase ‘you’ve been missing out” truly means. These are the all the small things that we remember from trips.

As time moves on it can become increasingly hard to remember every little nuance of what happened when you visited a place. Remembering how we felt when we were somewhere, however, generally never leaves our mind. I could spend days talking to you about my top ‘wow’ places that I’ve visited, but today I’m going to share with you the ones that are at the top of my list. With 2017 nearly half way over, consider blazing your trail in these locations and create your version of “wow.”

♥ Petra, Jordan:

Those of you who have been a follower of my blog know that it’s no secret; I love Jordan. Because of that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that Petra is the first place on my list. Petra sits on the southern end of Jordan and is famous for its rock cut architecture and its water conduit system. Aside from being one of the seven wonders of the world, Petra is also known as ‘The Rose City’ due to the color of the stone that makes this place what it is. Roughly a one-mile walk from the main entrance, once you make your way into where it all truly begins you will meet your first wow factor; The Treasury.

The Treasury
The Treasury, Petra, Jordan

Continue to stroll through the city with your head on a swivel; there are things all around you. Be sure to have comfortable clothing and footwear on so that you can create your second wow factor; The Monastery.

Petra wow factor
Part of the 850 steps leading to The Monastery

Getting to The Monastery is not the easiest day you’ll ever have; it will take you 850 steps to get to where it is. But it is worth every. Single. Step. Once you reach the top, there is a small cafe and sitting area for you to marvel at what it in front of you.

The Monastery, Petra, Jordan
The Monastery, Petra, Jordan

Take note of the fact that people still live in Petra! Bedouins have begun returning to the caves of Petra to set up their homes, some of which you will walk almost straight through; third wow factor. TIP: Petra takes up roughly 264 kilometers (or 164 miles) It is virtually impossible to see everything in one day. Consider setting up shop overnight at either The Marriott or Movenpick properties that are near this area.

♥ The Taj Mahal:

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Located in the city of Agra, The Taj Mahal is breathtaking. Before visiting it myself, I had seen enough pictures of this ivory-white marble mausoleum, whether in history books or tabloid magazines with celebrities and royals alike posed in front of it. Nothing though could have prepared me for what I would feel when I saw it myself.; the ultimate wow factor for me. I found myself incapable of moving; I could not take my eyes off of it. The best times to travel to this location are in the winter months, October to December and February to March. During this period the weather, as well as the temperatures, are pleasant. After you’ve unglued your eyes from this structure and your feet begin moving again, be sure to take the time to wander around the grounds surrounding The Taj Mahal.

The grounds surrounding The Taj Mahal
A beautiful space around a beautiful place.

These will also, undoubtedly, leave you with a wow factor. I had not seen so much greenery in one area in a very long time. TIP: Make yourself be an earlier riser when you visit The Taj Mahal and get here for sunrise. The way the sun reflects off of The Taj Mahal will give you your third wow factor for this location.

♥ Paris at Christmas Time:

Now when it comes to Christmas, Europe knows how to do it. The Christmas markets of the Eastern European countries transport you back in time. What you may not realize is that, while you may not feel like you’ve traveled through time, Paris at Christmas will make you feel like you aren’t anywhere you’ve ever been before. The first wow factor for me when I arrived here was the subtleness of it all. Christmas was not attacking you from every street window; you had to work to find it. When you did find it, it was on display in a manner that I feel only the Parisians could pull off. Your first wow factor will come at The Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, Paris, France
Notre Dame, Paris, France

Tastefully adorned with just enough of that Christmas feeling both inside and outside you’ll feel Christmas but not overwhelmed by it. Take note of the mass times during the holiday season so you can attend. Your second wow factor will come from the famous Champs Élysées at night. Food stands, mulled wine, shop owners, ice skating rinks and Santa Claus (or Père Noël) flies through the sky in his sleigh.

Your third wow factor will come from pure indulgence to lunch or dinner cruise on the River Seine. A boat enclosed entirely in glass, live music, stunning views and an excellent representation of why Paris is known for its food; these will not disappoint. While there are many options out there, My favorite one is with Les Bateaux Parisiens.

River Seine Cruise
River Seine Lunch Cruise, Bateaux Parisiens

TIP: Be sure to make reservations in advance for whichever lunch or dinner cruise you choose. You also do not need to spend the extra money to sit near the window on these. The middle seats are just as good because the entire boat is, essentially, one big window!

♥ The Sistine Chapel:

While my love for Rome also runs deep, The Sistine Chapel within The Vatican Museum is in its category. Painted by Michelangelo beginning in 1508 the ceiling fo The Sistine Chapel is the wow factor you thought it would be. Don’t just be taken in by the ceiling; pay attention to the walls around you. The ceiling itself represents nine scenes from The Book of Genesis, the first book of The Bible. Another famous work by Michelangelo is The Last Judgement which is a large fresco on the sanctuary wall. No photographs are allowed once you are inside the Chapel so be sure to have your mind clear as a bell to absorb all you’re about to see. While this area is breathtaking, be prepared to be tightly packed into the area of the chapel (see TIP below). You also cannot visit the chapel on its own; it is part of The Vatican Museum.

The Vatican Museum
The halls of The Vatican Museum

TIP: During peak tourist season as many as 2,000 people will be packed into the chapel at the same time. Yes, it’s a bit of a nightmare. The Sistine Chapel Express allows you to enter the chapel 30 minutes before other tour operators and 90 minutes before the general public making this option a win and a wow factor.

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