Tag: As Seen on TV

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Northern Iceland Itinerary

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Northern Iceland Itinerary

Iceland’s Diamond Circle

A Lesser Known Tourist Route

A search for things to do in Iceland will inevitably return pages of posts about Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. Far more information than you need, and most of it incredibly redundant. (This is why I chose not to write about the Golden Circle, and wrote about what you need to know about Iceland that other bloggers aren’t telling you instead.) Today, seven months after my trip to Iceland, I discovered something else that most people don’t write about: Iceland’s Diamond Circle. How I wish I had found out about this earlier!

Map of Iceland's Diamond Circle

My loss is your gain. Here’s what you need to know about all of the stops on northern Iceland’s Diamond Circle:

Húsavík

The town of Húsavík has a population of about 2,100 people. It is situated on the eastern side of Iceland’s northern coast, and is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Whale watching is one of the main activities for tourists in Husavik.
Husavik is the whale watching capital of Iceland.

The town even has a whale museum, which offers visitors exhibits on North Atlantic whale species, the whaling industry, and whale habitat and ecology. It also serves as a center for whale research and data collection.

Húsavík has two other museums as well. The Exploration Museum highlights the history of human exploration. The museum grounds contain a monument honoring the Apollo astronauts who trained in that area of Iceland during the 1960s. The Húsavík Museum centers its exhibits on culture and biology, with exhibits that include a stuffed polar bear that floated over to Iceland on an iceberg in 1969.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: The wood timber church in Husavik was built in 1907
Með Andreas Tille – eigin skrá, CC BY-SA 4.0

Húsavikurkirkja, the church in Húsavík shown above, is a wooden beauty that you should see if you are visiting the town. It was built in 1907 and is in the center of the town, facing the harbor.

Godafoss

Although I hadn’t come across the Diamond Circle in my research, I still managed to find one of the sites on the route. Godafoss is massive, and impressive. Visitors will have no difficulty imagining how they came to call it Waterfall of the Gods.

Iceland's Diamond Circle - Godafoss is just a slight detour off of the circle, but still a must-see in any weather!
My panoramic shot of Godafoss in February.

 

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Godafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods
Godafoss, as seen from above in warmer weather. (Source)

There’s a story about how, around 999 or 1000 AD, lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljósvetningagodi made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. To symbolize his parting with the old Norse religion and adoption of Christianity, he threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. Most historians believe this to be a more modern story and not a true origin of the name. But still, it’s a great story, isn’t it?

Ásbyrgi Canyon (aka Shelter of the Gods)

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Asbyrgi Canyon is peaceful and a magical setting known as Shelter of the Gods.
Image via Flickr by Bods.

About 25 miles east of Husavik, there is a large horseshoe shaped depression in the land. According to Norse mythology, the rock formation of Asbyrgi was formed by the hoofprint of Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. Scientists, on the other hand, speculate that it was most likely formed by catastrophic glacial flooding of a river 8-10,000 years ago, and then again 3,000 years ago. Sleipnir must have been a very big horse (as would befit Odin, right?), because the cliffs are some 300 feet high. The canyon is over two miles long, and 2/3 mile wide. It’s a magical place, and local lore has it that Iceland’s elves live in the cracks there.

Lake Myvatn

Lake Myvatn is the fourth largest lake in Iceland. It’s name is Icelandic for “Lake of Midges.” Not Tootsie Roll Midgees (alas!), but midges. That is, flies. If you heard that Iceland is heavenly because there are no mosquitoes there, you heard correctly. But unfortunately, no mosquitoes does not equal no insects, and if you think you needn’t fear summertime bug bites in this island country, you’re wrong.

However, don’t let that deter you from visiting Lake Myvatn. The scenery at the lake and in the surrounding area is stunning. The lake is in a very active geothermal area of Iceland, so one of the most popular things to do (other than admiring the gorgeous scenery) is the Myvatn Nature Baths. There, you can take a dip in the naturally hot waters of the lagoon, enjoy a steam bath, or both. Afterwards, you can enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant.

Myvatn is also a popular spot for birdwatching, as there are more species of duck there than any other spot in the world. And Game of Thrones fans can explore the area to find Mance Rayder’s wildling camp (Dimmuborgir – see below) and the cave where Jon and Ygritte shared an evening together (Grjótagjá cave).

Iceland's Diamond Circle: The Myvatn Lake area has a unique geological feature known as pseudo craters
Aerial view of a pseudo crater at Lake Myvatn. (source)

Skútustadagígar in the Myvatn area also has something called pseudo-craters or rootless cones. They’re volcanic landforms that look like craters, but never had an actual eruption of lava. The craters are formed by steam explosions.

Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with an average water flow of 633 cubic feet per second.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe.
Image via Flickr by Michael Voelker

The falls are 330 feet wide and 144 feet high. Unfortunately, the roads that are closest to this site are closed during the winter, so it’s likely you will only be able to see this waterfall if you are visiting in the summer months.

Expanding the Circle

Iceland's Diamond Circle - expanded route with additional sites.

If you have more time, and you want to pepper your travels around Iceland’s Diamond Circle with additional sites, here are a few that you can easily add:

Dark Castles (Dimmuborgir)

Dimmuborgir consist of huge lava rock formations which make you feel like you stepped into another world. It’s no surprise that this place was the Games of Thrones setting for Mance Rayder’s wildling camp.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: Dimmuborgir lava formations create an alien looking landscape that was featured in Game of Thrones.
Photo via Flickr by µµ

The formation of these extraordinary lava cliffs and pillars is caused by lava ponds. Hot lava streamed over ponds, trapping the water underneath. Steam issued through vents in the lava pools and formed these pillars, which then remained standing even after the crust around them had gone away.

NB:  The rocks are brittle and fragile, so for your safety and out of respect for the beauty of Icelandplease do not attempt to climb on them.

Eider Falls (Æðafossar)

Eider Falls is very close (about 6 miles) from Húsavík. It isn’t a very big waterfall, but it is very picturesque, and it’s worth a stop. Just make sure you have good driving directions on how to get there. I’ve heard it’s a bit difficult to find, and there are few road signs to guide you.

The Echo Rocks (Hljodaklettar)

The “echo rocks” or Hljódaklettar, are basalt columns lying in several different directions. Because of their haphazard arrangement, they create unique formations and arched caves that make eerie echoes and reverberations. You may also see basalt rosettes, which are developed when the lava stream forming the columns cools from all sides simultaneously. You can see one, possibly two, in the photo below.

Iceland's Diamond Circle: A basalt rosette is one of the unique formations you can see at Hljóðaklettar
Photo via Flickr by Sveinn Erlendsson

From the parking lot, there are two marked hiking paths. One (a path marked in blue) is a 1 km easy stroll that will take roughly 30 minutes, while the other (marked red) is a challenging circle around the area that takes about 2 hours to complete.

Laugar

Another hot spot of geothermal activity (pun fully intended), Laugar’s claim to fame is its swimming pool. Surrounded by rolling hills, the pool at Laugar is over 80 feet long with a temperature around 85°F.  In addition to the swimming pool, visitors to Laugar can enjoy two spacious hot tubs, a kids’ wading area, and a fitness center. It is a quiet and peaceful area with a beautiful view south the valley.

Get Out There and Explore

Like no other place I’ve visited, Iceland is the ideal country to just drive around and explore. Itineraries like these help, but don’t be afraid to wander elsewhere too (provided that weather and road conditions are favorable, that is). have you visited any of these sites? Let me know in the contents below!

Iceland's Diamond Circle - Northern Iceland Itinerary
Far less known than the Golden Circle, Iceland’s Diamond Circle provides just as many wonderful sights – with fewer tourists. #iceland #diamondcircle #northerniceland #icelanditineraries
My Scotland Bucket List

My Scotland Bucket List

Scotland Top Ten

Last week, someone on Quora asked me what places I would visit in Scotland if there were no restrictions on how long I could be there or how much money I could spend.  I came up with a list so fast, I started thinking maybe Scotland needs to be at the top of my “Places I Need to Go” list.  And what’s not to love about a country whose national animal is the unicorn? Here’s my Scotland Top Ten list:

1. Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye

Okay, if I had to pick just one area instead of ten, the Isle of Skye would probably be it. There’s just something about a sparsely populated island that I find intriguing. Maybe it’s the unspoiled landscapes, maybe it’s the chance to have a large area to yourself for a while, maybe it’s the feeling that your place in the universe isn’t so tiny and inconsequential after all. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of islands like that, and Skye is especially beautiful.

Scotland Top Ten: Dunvegan Castle looks out over the water.Image via Flickr by Bea y Fredi

Dunvegan Castle covers ten different building periods from 1200 to the 1850s. It consists of a series of five separate buildings, each with its own unique character and story to tell. The remote setting of the castle, coupled with its backdrop of sky, mountains and sea, make it a must-see.

Visitors may see one of the castle’s most cherished heirlooms of clan MacLeod – the Fairy Flag. The exact origins have been lost in time, but most say that the flag was given to an ancient clan chieftain by the fairies. Stories of how the flag has brought luck to the family are legendary, dating from before the 15th century up through World War II. It has been credited with the ability to:

  1. multiply a clan’s military forces
  2. save the lives of certain clanfolk
  3. cure a plague on cattle
  4. increase the chances of fertility
  5. bring herring into the loch at Dunvegan.

The fabric of the flag is silk; specifically silk from the Far East. Some theories hold that the flag was brought home by a clansman who had fought in the Crusades. Today, the flag is in very fragile condition but can be seen in the drawing room of Dunvegan Castle.

2. Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye

Scotland Top Ten: Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are truly magical places.
Image via Flickr by evocateur.

Who hasn’t seen these amazing images of fairy pools on Pinterest or Instagram? Well, the good news is that they are FOR REAL and fairly accessible. To get there, you will need to hike through the Glen Brittle forest. The water flows between pools with waterfalls of various shapes and sizes. Idyllic!  On a sunny day, the turquoise waters of the natural pools are so clear, it’s easy to see the stones at the bottom. After a good rain, the water rushes along at a brisk pace. Visitors could attempt to swim in the fairy pools, but most accounts say that the water is quite cold.

3. Culloden, in the Highlands

I have Diana Gabaldon to thank for my semi-obsessive fascination with the Scottish Highlands. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to travel there once you’ve read her Outlander series of books or seen the associated television show.  The landscape has contrasting qualities that make it mysteriously enticing… at once beautiful and brutal, welcoming and harsh, refined and barbaric.

Scotland Top Ten: The battlefield at Culloden is a must for anyone interested in Scottish history.
Image via Flickr by nicksarebi

On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a head in one of the bloodiest battles in British history… the battle of Culloden. Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s troops. In less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites.

The Culloden Visitor Centre beside the battlefield featuers artifacts from both sides of the battle and interactive displays that reveal the background to the conflict. It’s worth noting that this site commemorates a tragic event in Scottish history – one that changed Scotland forever. Visitors should keep that in mind by maintaining a solemn and respectful manner when at the site.

4. The Enchanted Forest event near Pitlochry, Perthshire

Scotland Top Ten: The woods come to life at the Enchanted Forest event in Pitlochry
Image via Flickr by J McSporran

Described as a premier sound and light event, the Enchanted Forest has won many awards in the UK. Last year, the show was sold out with 73,000 attendees. This year they are selling 80,000 tickets and will likely sell out again.

Each year the festival has a theme, and partners with local charities to benefit from the income it generates. It runs for about a month in the fall, and takes place in the evening. Visitors walk through Faskally Wood, which is transformed into a magical place by music, colorful lighting, and interactive special effects. You can expect to spend 60-90 minutes enjoying the show, but are welcome to stay longer if you would like.

5. Dunottar Castle Ruins, Aberdeenshire

Scotland Top Ten: Dunottar Castle sits in ruins on a clifftop in northeastern Scotland.
Photo by John Roberts on Unsplash

The castle is in ruins, but it’s so dramatic and romantic I still feel a need to see it in person. The oldest part of Dunnottar Castle still standing is the late 14th century keep. However, a chapel and other fortifications stood on the site at least 100 years earlier than that. We know this because in 1296 Scottish hero William Wallace killed an entire English garrison inside the castle with only a handful of men.

One of Dunnottar’s other significant places in history is that it was the hiding place for Scotland’s Crown Jewels after Charles II’s coronation in 1651. Within a year, Dunnottar was under siege by English troops. Six women smuggled the jewels out of the castle to safety, pledging to throw the jewels into the sea rather than see the English get their hands on them. Today, the Honours of Scotland are the oldest surviving set of crown jewels in the British Isles.

History aside, though… look at that view! I can’t wait to stand there and take it all in.

6. The Royal Scotsman train

Scotland Top Ten: Ride the Royal Scotsman on the line from Perth to Inverness at Dalnaspidal, nr Dalwhinnie, Badenoch and Strathspey, Scotland
Photo courtesy of Belmond.

Travel is a wonderful experience to be sure, but the actual mechanics of getting from A to B often leave a lot to be desired. Cramped seats on a budget airline, rental cars that are unfamiliar, crowded subways. Blech. I have a not-so-secret desire to travel in first class style so I can actually enjoy the journey as well as the destination. There’s no better way to do this than by riding the Royal Scotsman train, operated by Belmond.

The rail cars, which run April-October, are outfitted in mahogany and Edwardian elegance. Each journey carries no more than 36 guests and 12 staff.  With those numbers, you can be certain that you will be treated like royalty. The observation car even has a veranda that you can step out on to watch the scenery pass by. This palace on wheels even has a spa car! During the day you will enjoy excursions throughout the Scottish Highlands, and in the evening you will relax to a fine gourmet dinner. Meals and beverages are included in your fare, but it carries a hefty price: roughly $5750 for a three day journey or a whopping $13,000 for a seven day journey – and that’s per person.

Oh well, I can still dream, can’t I?

7. Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

If you fly to Scotland, the chances are good that you will fly into Edinburgh, the capital city. Just a word of warning. The latter half of this city’s name is pronounced nothing like the US city of Pittsburgh. It is somewhere between Edin-burrow or Edin-brah. I usually use the former pronunciation.  As long as you don’t say Edin-burg, I think you’ll be fine.

So, what is there to see in this Scottish city?  Plenty! But the thing that appeals to me most is the Royal Military Tattoo.

Scotland Top Ten: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a must for anyone who loves pageantry.
Image via Flickr by DVIDSHUB

Now, this tattoo has nothing at all to do with needles and ink. The term “tattoo” derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”) a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their lodgings at a reasonable hour. With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term “tattoo” was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.

Each performance begins with a fanfare, which is usually a piece of music composed specifically for that year’s show. The Massed Pipes and Drums then perform, marching through the gatehouse of the castle and performing a traditional pipe band set. Then, the show’s featured acts perform individually. These acts could be either civilian or military. Whatever they are, you can bet that you will be entertained! The show concludes with a fireworks spectacular at each performance.

8. Up Helly Aa Festival in Lerwick, Shetland

Scotland Top Ten: The Up Helly Aa fire festival in the Shetland Islands is like none other in the world.
Image via Flickr by Vicky Brock

You’re watching a horde of fur-clad Vikings marching through the streets carrying torches. You might think you’ve suddenly traveled through time, but a more likely explanation is that you’re in Lerwick, Shetland on the last Tuesday in January.

Groups dress in costumes and carry torches through the town. At the end, they throw their torches into a replica Viking longship, resulting in a massive bonfire. Then the groups visit local halls to attend private parties. At the hall, each group performs an act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing.

9. The Glasgow Necropolis

Scotland Top Ten: The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery situated on top of a hill.
Image via Flickr by p_a_h

As I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, I love old cemeteries. This one in Glasgow, the name of which means City of the Dead, is situated on a hilltop. Over 50,000 people are buried there, but only 3500 or so of the burial sites are marked. A monument to John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation, stands near the summit of the hill, surrounded by some of the larger memorials. If it seems odd to put a monument in a cemetery, I would agree; however, the monument predates the cemetery, not vice versa.

Among the graves you will find in the Necropolis is the grave of William Miller, also known as Laureate of the Nursery. He is the author of the “Wee Willie Winkie” nursery rhyme.

10. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation in Dumfries

Scotland Top Ten: The Snail Mound and the Snake Mound in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation.
Image via Flickr by yellow book

Sadly, this site is only open one day a year, so I would have to plan my travels carefully. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is a 30 acre sculpture garden that is inspired by science and mathematics. The owner, Charles Jencks, says that “the garden uses nature to celebrate nature, both intellectually and through the senses, including the sense of humor. A water cascade of steps recounts the story of the universe, a terrace shows the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole, a ‘Quark Walk’ takes the visitor on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter, and a series of landforms and lakes recall fractal geometry.”

It’s such a unique place, I would love to be able to see it someday!

What about you?

Have you visited any of these places? Would you add any to my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

Scotland Top Ten: Places You Should Visit in Scotland Before You Kick the Bucket
New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World

New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World

Peru – What They Wear

When I was preparing for my trip to Peru, I read that they have some pretty unusual New Year’s Eve traditions.  For starters, they wear yellow underwear (yellow is the color of good luck).  Peruvians wear these yellow undergarments inside out until midnight, then change to the right way once the new year begins.  Other Latin American countries have similar traditions focused on wearing new, brightly colored underwear.

Other Peruvian New Year’s Eve traditions (and believe me, there are plenty!) include eating 12 grapes under the table, running around the block with an empty suitcase (to assure good luck in traveling), placing a coin in each shoe (to bring wealth), throwing a coin over your shoulder to get rid of the previous year’s poverty, and many more.  There are literally dozens of unusual traditions/superstitions for this holiday in Peru, which got me wondering what people do in other countries to celebrate.

New Years Eve Around the World - Yellow underwear brings good luck in Peru.
The sign reads (in part) Don’t forget! Kuko’s luck! December 31 – Luck… lots of luck. Photo via Flickr by Pamela Jai

The Philippines – What They Eat

In the Philippines, bringing in the new year is a noisy affair. In addition to a celebration with fireworks, people in the Philippines thump pots or pans repeatedly and blow car horns in order to drive away any evil spirits. The goal is to make as much noise as possible. But that’s not the only tradition. There is also “Media Noche,” a night of feasting and drinking with family members on New Year’s Eve.  The feast contains no chicken or fish because those foods symbolize famine.  Twelve round fruits (usually serving as the table’s centerpiece) are eaten at this feast.  Other dishes include sticky rice to strengthen the family bond and pancit (long noodles) to bring good health and long life.

new year's eve around the world - Philippines media noche feast
Typical Philippino feast. Image via Flickr by Hungarian Snow. Image has been cropped.

Sweden – What They Recite

Swedes view the beginning of a new year as a magical time, when people try to foresee the future. One way of telling your future was to pour molten lead in water and then interpret the shapes that were produced. Another was to toss shoes. If your shoe landed with the toe pointing towards the door, it meant you would move away or even die during the year.  Another tradition states that one should not to carry anything out of the house, as this signifies discarding happiness for the rest of the year.

new years eve around the world - sweden skansen museum stockholm
Some of the New Year’s Eve festivities at the Skansen museum in Stockholm. Photo via Flickr by nicoversity.

Just before midnight, Swedes at the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm recite the following poem written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Turkey – What They Buy

Turkey holds a special lottery on New Year’s Eve, so buying lottery tickets is an annual tradition for many.

New Years Eve Around the World - Turkey has a tradition of making a gift of lottery tickets at the start of a new year.
A Turkish lottery agent selling tickets. Photo via Flickr by ccarlstead.

In addition, many people will sprinkle salt on the doorstep at midnight to bring peace and abundance to their home or business.

Denmark – What They Watch

In Denmark, New Year’s Eve festivities begin with a short speech from the queen – a tradition that has been in place since 1880.  Once Her Majesty has concluded her remarks, a meal with an entree of boiled cod is served.  For desert, there is a towering stack of marzipan rings known as kransekage.

After the meal, Danes may watch an 18-minute film called “Dinner for One.” The sketch presents the 90th birthday of upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie, who hosts a celebration dinner every year for her friends Mr Pomeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby and Admiral von Schneider. The problem is that Miss Sophie has outlived all of her friends, so her equally aged butler James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn.

The crucial exchange during every course is:

James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James!

By the end of the dinner, James is severely inebriated, having consumed 16 glasses of wine. Miss Sophie, who has herself had four rounds of wine, still appears sober; she tells the very drunk James that she wishes to retire to bed. Hand in hand, they head to the staircase and recite the closing lines of dialogue:

James: By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie (delightedly): The same procedure as every year, James!
James (slyly): Well, I’ll do my very best!
New Years Eve Around the World - Denmark's Must See TV for New Year's Eve
A scene from “Dinner for One”

Japan – What They Hang Up

In Japan, there is no shortage of New Year’s traditions.  As the calendar turns from one year to the next, they laugh in an effort to ward off evil spirits.  The bells in Buddhist temples ring 108 times to keep away evil forces.  The traditional Japanese New Year dinner menu features boiled seaweed, mashed sweet potato with chestnut, fish cakes, sweetened black soybeans, and simmered burdock root.

In matters of decor, the Japanese hang shimenawa at the entrance of their homes.  Shimenawa are lengths of rice straw rope normally used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion, warding off evil spirits and indicating the sacred areas where gods descend.

New Year's Eve Around the World - Japanese Shimenawa to ward off evil spirits
A Japanese shimenawa. Photo via Flickr by Paul Davidson.

Germany – What They Say

You won’t hear anyone in Germany say, “Happy New Year,” but rather “Guten Rutsch”to wish everyone a good slide into the new year.  Likewise, December 31 is not known as New Year’s Eve.  In Germany it is Silvester, the saint’s day for Pope Silvester, who died on that date in 335 AD.  On a superstitious note, having laundry hanging on the clothesline at the start of the new year supposedly brings bad luck.  Like their Danish neighbors, the Germans are also fond of pouring molten lead into cold water and watching Dinner for One on New Year’s Eve.

Panama & Ecuador – What They Burn

In many Latin American countries, such as Panama and Ecuador, a New Year’s Eve bonfire includes burning effigies of politicians, pop culture figures, and other icons of the year.  The effigies represent the old year and burning them is meant to drive off evil spirits for a fresh start to the new year.

New Year's Eve Around the World - Latin American tradition of burning effigies that represent bad things from the previous year.
Effigies representing the year’s presidential race prior to their being burned at midnight. Photo via Flick by Joe Ross.

Belarus – What They Feed the Roosters

In Belarus, the New Year’s Eve traditions seem to focus on marrying off the single ladies. In one, women stand with a pile of corn before them, and a hungry rooster a little bit farther away. Whichever pile of corn the rooster approaches first reveals who will be the first to marry. In another game, a married woman hides certain items around her house for her unmarried friends to find.  The woman who finds bread will marry a rich man, while the one who finds a ring will marry a handsome man.

New Years Eve Around the World

These are just a few of the ways we celebrate New Year’s Eve around the world. I think it could be interesting to travel for New Year’s.  After all, celebrating the holiday in a different country could inspire you to start new traditions of your own here at home!

Travelasmuch.com Guide to New Year's Eve Celebrations Around the World.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

The History

The first part of Alnwick Castle was built in 1096.  The Percy family has owned and lived in the castle since 1309.

A bit of an aside for my fellow fans of Tudor history:  When Anne Boleyn first caught King Henry VIII’s eye, she was romantically involved with a Henry Percy.  In fact, they were betrothed, although Henry failed to ask permission from his father and from the king before popping the question.  Young Henry’s father (the 5th Earl of Northumberland) did not find Anne a suitable match for his heir.  In fact, he considered her the daughter of a mere knight, not a member of the nobility.  He refused to give his permission for a marriage between Henry and Anne, and called for Henry to return home to Northumberland at once.  Henry packed up, headed home, and left poor Anne at court with a broken heart.

The current (12th) Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, has held the title and land since his elder brother’s untimely death by drug overdose at age 42. The current Duchess of Northumberland was responsible for the renovation of the beautiful Alnwick Garden, which also draws thousands of visitors each year.

The castle is big – in fact, Windsor Castle is the only inhabited castle in the UK larger than it.  It is impressive from the moment you approach the main arch:

alnwick castle filming location for harry potter movies northumberland

Passing through to the outer bailey, it seemed even bigger.

alnwick castle filming location harry potter movies hogwarts

The castle offers many tours with varying themes, as well as activities in which visitors can participate.  We took the “Alnwick Castle in Film” tour, which highlighted the various ways we have seen this castle before. (Quite a few, as it turns out!)

The Filming Locations

Alnwick Castle’s inner courtyard served as the courtyard of Nottingham Castle in the 1991 film, “Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves” starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.  Fun fact:  There is a very ornate exterior light in the courtyard that does not fit the medieval time period of the film.

alnwick castle northumberland filming location robin hood prince of thieves

In the courtyard shots, the film crew covered the light to conceal it from view.  However, when Robin and the priest fought and the priest jumped out of the window, they had to show him having fallen into the courtyard below.  In that shot, you can see part of this light peeking out from under the brown cloth meant to obscure it.  Just look for the green spikes at the bottom of the screen when the camera cuts to the priest’s lifeless body on the stones below.

More recently, Alnwick Castle doubled as Brancaster Castle in the final season of “Downton Abbey.”  Lady Edith’s love interest, Bertie Pelham, inherited the property and the title Marquess of Hexham.   Here you can see the cast in the library.

alnwick castle northumberland library downton abbey filming location

And another shot of Bertie Pelham and Henry Talbot in the Dining Room.

alnwick castle northumberland dining room canes filming location downton abbey

The collection of canes on the left side of the photo is stunning.  The handle of each cane is an intricately hand-carved animal. The level of detail was amazing!

In the first two Harry Potter films, Alnwick Castle was the filming location for many of the Hogwarts scenes, including Quidditch practice with Madame Hooch.

alnwick castle northumberland filming location harry potter movies quidditch practice

alnwick castle northumberland filming location harry potter movies hogwarts

But these are not the only appearances Alnwick Castle has made on film.  It has also served as a filming location in the first Blackadder series starring Rowan Atkinson, the movie “Elizabeth” starring Cate Blanchett, and the Shakespearean miniseries “The Hollow Crown” starring Tom Hiddleston.  There are many others as well.  You can read the whole list on the Alnwick Castle web site by clicking here.

The State Rooms

After we went on the filming location tour we toured the State Rooms.  By far, the library was my favorite. I could have spent hours in there, just looking around. I saw a multi volume set of The State Papers of Henry VIII on one shelf. What I would have given to be able to look through them!  There were two floors of non-stop bookshelves – about 16,000 volumes in all.  If I lived there, I doubt I would ever leave the library!

Other rooms were almost as impressive.  I particularly liked the brilliant green wall covering in the Dining Room, and the impressively set, very long table.

alnwick castle dining room northumberland

The Grounds

The grounds of the castle were also enjoyable. The famous British landscape architect, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, was responsible for their design.  He did such a marvelous job, one Duchess of Northumberland ordered the removal of a connecting wall of the castle because it interfered with her view of the landscape.

alnwick castle northumberland

We had a lovely day at Alnwick Castle and Alnwick Garden.  Highly recommend this for history buffs, film enthusiasts, and families.

Alnwick Castle in Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ.  Telephone +44 01665 511 100.  The castle is open late March – late October.  Hours vary.  Check the web site or call for more information when planning your visit.

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

Coventry Cathedral: A Monument to Reconciliation

I am a huge history geek.  (I’m sure you didn’t notice! hahaha)  Sometimes I will read about a place that has such a phenomenal history behind it, I want to go there.  Coventry Cathedral is one of those places.

Coventry Cathedral Then

On the night of November 14, 1940, a German Luftwaffe bombing devastated the city of Coventry in Warwickshire, England. In the aftermath of that attack, many of the city’s buildings burned, reduced to piles of smoldering rubble.  The 14th century cathedral in Coventry was one of the most badly damaged buildings.

coventry cathedral ruins after bombing

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. They were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall.

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A local priest fashioned another cross from three medieval nails. In the years that followed, Lutheran churches in Kiel, Dresden, Berlin and other cities destroyed by Allied bombings receieved a replica of the original Cross of Nails as a symbol of peace and forgiveness. It was through these churches that trust and partnerships between England and Germany grew and former enemies became friends. Thus, the Cross of Nails became a powerful, inspirational symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation throughout the world.

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Coventry Cathedral Now

When it came time to rebuild, Basil Spence designed the new cathedral building. Spence insisted that the ruins of the old cathedral remain as a garden of remembrance with a new cathedral next to them.  His intention was for the two buildings – old and new, medieval ruins and modern architecture – to form one church. His work on the cathedral was so notable that he received a knighthood for it.

Coventry Cathedral

The new church building is very modern and as such, it’s quite a contrast to its medieval predecessor. The baptismal font is carved from a boulder that came to the church from Bethlehem.  The stained glass windows form a screen depicting saints and angels.

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Outside the new cathedral there is a striking statue of the archangel Michael fighting off the Devil. I love that the Devil is on his back, in chains, with Michael’s foot effectively on his head.  I also love that Michael is holding a spear.  Angels can be fierce.

Coventry Cathedral Angel

If you’ve seen the English Christmas movie “Nativity!,” you may recognize the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral as the site of the performance. (If you haven’t seen “Nativity!,” you should. It’s a great movie featuring Martin Freeman of Sherlock fame. If you haven’t seen Sherlock… well, I may just have to do a BBC intervention for you.)

Coventry Cathedral’s address is Priory St, Coventry CV1 5FB, United Kingdom.  Hours for the new building are Monday – Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and noon to 4:00 pm on Sundays.  The ruins are open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.  There is a small fee for admission for adults.  Minors and students from UK universities enter free. The free Coventry Cathedral app is recommended to enhance your visit.

Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Every now and then, I will see a picture of a place and wonder how it’s possible that I haven’t seen it before.  I had one of those moments at the end of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, when Rey climbed up that mountain to give Luke his lightsaber.  It was such a cool looking place – why had I never seen it before?

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Thanks to the internet, it didn’t take long to discover that the location for that scene was Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of Ireland. A Christian monastery was founded there some time between the 6th and 8th century. People lived on the island until the late 12th/early 13th century. The remains of the monastery, and most of the island, are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A small, secluded community in the sea

The monastic site at Skellig Michael contains six beehive cells, two oratories and a number of stone crosses and slabs. It also contains a later medieval church and a hermitage. Historians have estimated that no more than twelve monks and an abbot lived there at any one time.  Those monks would have to descend nearly 700 steps to go fishing for their food each morning.  The remainder of their day would be spent in prayer, tending their gardens, and/or studying.

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The stone, beehive-shaped huts were constructed in such a way that rain would never enter them.  They are circular on the outside, but rectangular on the inside.

Finally, I will leave you with these words from author George Bernard Shaw, who visited Skellig Michael in 1910:

The most fantastic and impossible rock in the world: Skellig Michael…where in south west gales the spray knocks stones out of the lighthouse keeper’s house…the Skelligs are pinnacled, crocketed, spired, arched, caverned, minaretted; and these gothic extravagances are not curiosities of the islands: they are the islands: there is nothing else. The rest of the cathedral may be under the sea for all I know…An incredible, impossible, mad place…I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.

The site will no doubt be featured as a Star Wars: The Last Jedi filming location when the movie premieres in December 2017. I, for one, can’t wait to see more of it!

Before you go:

A limited number of tour operators run trips to Skellig Michael during the summer season (May to October, inclusive), weather permitting. For safety reasons, because the steps up to the monastery are rocky, steep, and old, climbs are not permitted during very wet or windy weather.  Reservations are recommended and should be made far in advance of any planned trip to the island.

 

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Why Wales?

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as an England & Wales combined trip. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both. Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town. In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center. You’ll find book stores on every corner and you’ll even see unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers. The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle + books = I could spend days there!

wales top ten hay on why castle bookshop

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

wales top ten straining tower lake vyrnwy

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters! (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world, though; that honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.” I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

wales top ten longest town name

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle because of its round towers.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

wales top ten castell coch

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

UPDATE:  The Doctor Who Experience is no longer open. 🙁

wales top ten Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long.  From what I’ve read, the views from there are outstanding.

wales top ten Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles.  I’ve seen photos of many different abbey ruins, and I think Tintern has one of the loveliest sites.

wales top ten Tintern Abbey

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

wales top ten Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

wales top ten skomer puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

wales top ten Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these Wales top ten places in person!

 

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Are you a fan of the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz? Well, have I got a road trip for you! (Technically, it may be more of a bucket list than a road trip.  These sites are on both coasts of the USA and a few places in between. It really isn’t practical for driving unless you have a lot of time.)

Start in the northeast with Chittenango, New York.  This town is the birthplace of The Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, and also the home of the All Things Oz Museum. According to the museum staff, “All Things Oz is more than a tribute to a book series; it is a fascinating trip through the life of its author, his wife, Maud Gage, and all the many experiences that shaped his imagination and his world.” The museum also coordinates a yearly Oz-stravaganza festival.

wizard of oz road trip All Things Oz Museum
All Things Oz Museum, Chittenango, NY

From New York, head south to our nation’s capital and visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC.  There you will see one of the four original pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the movie. (Size 5!)

wizard of oz road trip dorothy's Ruby Slippers judy garland
Ruby Slippers, National Museum of American History, Washington DC

From DC, keep heading south. If you’ve scrolled through Pinterest, you may have seen an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina. Well, it was a theme park, and it is in North Carolina, but it is not abandoned. The Land of Oz is a privately owned property that is under 24 hour surveillance, and trespassers are prosecuted. Fortunately, however, the site is open to the public at various times throughout the year.

Wizard of oz road trip Land of Oz NC
Land of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC

In Chicago, visit Oz Park.  Take a stroll through the park and you’ll be greeted by statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and everyone’s favorite, Dorothy & Toto.

wizard of oz road trip_park_scarecrow_statue
Scarecrow Statue, Oz Park, Chicago

In Wamego, Kansas, there is the Oz Museum, which features a collection of over 25,000 Oz artifacts. Since the founding of the Museum in April 2004, other small businesses with the Oz theme have opened, including the Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz. In addition, on the first weekend of October, Wamego holds its Annual OZtoberFEST, an Oktoberfest-type celebration with an Oz theme. OZfest typically features Hot Air Balloon Rides, Tallgrass Brewery Beer Garden, the Yellow Brick Road Bike Ride, and a local stage or music production.

Wizard of oz road trip Oz Museum Wamego Kansas
The Oz Museum, Wamego KS

And now, head west to the California coast.  We’re going to Hollywood!

Visit the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, and look for the stars of Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bloger (Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), Frank Morgan (The Wizard), and Billie Burke (Glinda). The Munchkins’ star, added in 2007, is the most recent Wizard of Oz addition to the Walk of Fame.

Wizard of oz road trip Munchkins Star walk of fame hollywood
Hollywood Walk of Fame

After visiting the Walk of Fame, head over to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  The cemetery contains a memorial to Terry the Cairn Terrier, also known as Dorothy’s dog, Toto.

wizard of oz road trip Toto Memorial hollywood
Toto Memorial in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

And when you’ve finished touring all of these great locations, remember to click your heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home…”

Carlo’s Bakery – Hoboken, NJ

Carlo’s Bakery – Hoboken, NJ

As we were driving up to Vermont last fall, my husband asked me to give him a rough overview of what our route would be. I told him that we would be going through nearly the entire state of Delaware, most of New Jersey, and then New York before crossing over the border into Vermont.

“New Jersey?” my daughter piped up from the back seat. “Are we going through Hoboken?” She was excited at the possibility.

Most thirteen year olds don’t know a lot about Hoboken, let alone do they want to go there. But she had watched several seasons of “Cake Boss” on Netflix, so she was quite familiar with Hoboken and Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery.

I checked. It was easily do-able. So I plugged the address for Carlo’s into the GPS and off we went.

Hoboken is really quite lovely. The views of New York City as you approach Hoboken are magnificent, and there is a nice little waterfront area. Carlo’s Bakery is, just as the sign says, across from city hall there.

We were traveling on a Saturday, and Carlos was packed. I mean, wall to wall people, as you can see:

cake boss 5

We took a number and headed to the nearby Walgreens for a rest room break, then killed some more time on the park benches outside city hall.

When we returned to the bakery, we inched our way up to the display cases and were treated (no pun intended) to some delicious looking desserts.

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Including some that were festively decorated for fall.

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Cupcakes were $3.00 each. That’s the same that my local gourmet baker charges for her cupcakes, and she is not famous, so I felt like it was a good deal.

We hung out while we waited for our number to be called and watched them making pies and such in the area at the far end of the bakery.

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And after a while, Mauro came out to talk to someone.

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I bought a caramel cupcake for me, a cannoli for my husband, a mini chocolate truffle cake for my daughter, and something called a sfogliatella just because there were a million layers of pastry and I had never seen anything like it before.  It was all so tasty and rich!

I think we were there for close to 90 minutes. If you’re in the area and have the time, I would recommend stopping by. For fans of the show, it’s a definite must-see!

Carlo’s Bakery is located at 95 Washington Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030.  Telephone 201-659-3671. The bakery opens daily at 7:00 am; closing hours vary by day.