The Sanctuary on a Lagoon

Quick Note: Sorry for the slow updates! It’s been super busy between work and my parents! Something had to be neglected and it couldn’t be them or work, haha! I will try to catch up by Friday! My Dad said that none of his work friends would believe he was here if I didn’t update as we went but he really was here!

Also please excuse the lack of family photos (goes so well with my last statement). My Dad also had his camera and as a point and shoot it was a little easier for strangers to use, vs my monstrosity. Plus my batteries died first thing on Sat haha.

Friday, 21 November 2014

 My parents arrived! I met them at the airport in the afternoon and gosh, it was really nice to see them. They were a little tired from their flight, so we jumped on a water taxi a headed to the hotel. I am not sure how I feel about the water taxis. I sort of have an irrational fear of water I can’t see through. It’s why I got my scuba license and was a certified lifeguard (although it’s expired now). And we had to pack like they do on the metro in Rome haha. This first time was cool though. We took the long way around and the city is really strange, at times it looked like it was just a bunch of buildings rising out of the lagoon.

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Like pretty much all of Italy, it’s really hard to find your way around! Once we got off the taxi it took us a little while to find the hotel. One positive though – No cars!!! That alone made me fall in love with this city, haha. Eventually we found the hotel and it was absolutely beautiful, with its own courtyard inside the main entrance. My Mom kept calling this their trip of a life time, and they definitely went all out!

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After settling in a little and washing up we headed out to wander around and get dinner. The sun was starting to set and we had a beautiful view of the sea as we walked along the seaside street. After wandering around a lot and being offered everything from Octopus to giant Canadian Lobsters (Venetian’s really love their seafood, who knew) we settled for some good old fashion pizza. This was my parents first Italian meal and it was only fitting they start with pizza as that is their favorite food.

After dinner we walked around and enjoyed the sites of the city before retiring for the night. It was pretty late by then and we had all done a lot of traveling so it was about time to rest!

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My parents at St. Marks Square.

 

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Mandrake: Lost in London?

Sad news folk. Look like Mandrake decided to take his own journey. I haven’t seen him since the Natural History Museum in London. Maybe he like the dinos so much he wanted to stay! My dad holds the theory that Dexter was jealous….. Haha…

Anyway I just dropped my parents off at the airport after a super fun visit, I will try to have our adventures in Venice up tonight!

Ciao!

Glasgow, the Mecca of Museums

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Ok, I had to let Clio get some work done. She had a presentation on Wednesday and I have been taking up all her time! So today, I walked with her to her class where I then jumped on a sightseeing bus! For 10euros I got to take the bus as many times as I wanted today, and there was even an audio tour. It was pretty convenient because, since it was a sightseeing bus, it hit all the major places I wanted to go. The first place I got off at was the Glasgow Necropolis. It is on this tall hill right next to the Glasgow Cathedral and incredibly beautiful sight, rising behind the cathedral. Opening in 1832, it is the final home of almost 50,000 people and has several famous monuments. I really enjoyed the view up at the top; I could see a huge part of Glasgow.

The bridge from the cathedral to the necropolis.

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from the top.

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The cathedral from the necropolis.

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The view of the necropolis from the back side.

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Once I finished my walk I was starving so I popped into a Fish & Chips store. I only ordered one piece of fish, since dinner wasn’t too far way but it was delicious! Guys, he even wrapped it in butcher paper haha. I took it to the park by the necropolis and sat down to enjoy my authentic UK cuisine.
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After that I got back on my bus and took it to the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens. It was built-in 1898 to provide cultural to the poorer part of Glasgow. The glass observatory  attached to the back of the palace has a beautiful semi tropical garden. It hasn’t been terribly cold here in Scotland, but it was delightfully warm in this garden.

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The actual Palace is now a museum. I spent a lot of time in the World War I & II section, where they have stories and relics from local soldiers. One of the most interesting things was an old German drill book and a shaving mirror that saved one soldier’s life. He had picked up the book one day and put it in his front pocket with his shaving mirror. Later he was shot- but the bullet was slowed by the book and mirror and only injured him instead of killing him! The museum also had some of the postcards he and his wife sent to each other. He was lucky and did end up coming home to Glasgow and his family.

The top story had really cool exhibit about apartment life in Glasgow back in the 1800 and 1900s. So much has changed since then!!!

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I jumped back onto the bus from there.

The next hour and a half-ish I just enjoyed the view from the top of the double-decker open-topped bus (although it was pretty cold when we picked up speed!). I will say I had never thought of doing a sight-seeing bus before, but it really is a fantastic way to see a city.  I got to see a little of everything, and several things I may not have gotten too by myself, including the Duke of Wellington!

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When I met up with Clio we walked over to the Oran Mor for dinner. The Oran Mor was once the Kelvinside Parish Church that was converted into ridiculous amount of stuff including; a Lounge and Whisky Bar, two Restaurants, Private Dining Room, Live Music venue, Night Club, and an Auditorium! They have concerts, plays, and many other things! We just had dinner at on of the restaurants which was next to the Whiskey bar. It was quite a beautiful place to eat!

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 Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Today was another museum day for me while Clio went to class! The first place I went to was the Riverside Museum, which was won the European Museum of the Year Award in 2013. It definitely deserved it! It’s a museum that focuses on transport, and even had a replica of the 1930’s ‘Kelvin Street’. All the shops on the street were actual exhibits themselves and included things like a subway station, a saddler’s and a pawn shop.

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 There were so many cool things in this museum. They had a whole 40 so foot wall filled with different types of cars and even a full locomotive!

Here’s a picture of the ‘first’ bicycle (it lost the title a few years back when another person made claims that the had the first bike)

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Behind the Riverside Museum is The Tall Ship, a ship built in 1896 that has ended her long career permanently docked on the harbor to become a museum. She has been preserved very well and it was really fascinating walking around her. When the Glenlee was a cargo ship, space was essential. More cargo meant more money, so nearly the entire ship was devoted to cargo space. The crew cabins, galley, medics, bathroom and such were all crammed into such a small space it was a miracle they could breathe! On the other side though, the Captains, first mates, and a few other really important people had an apartment that was the size of all the other crew areas combined, with beautifully carved walls and a sunroof!

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All in all these were two great museums!

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It was noon time now so I walked to Clio’s campus and met her for lunch. I got the chance to meet all her international classmates and it was great. I have been trying to figure out where to do my Master’s over the past few months and they gave me some really interesting inputs. Several of them were from the US, and something I heard over and over again was how they picked doing school here for financial reasons (although being in the UK was a plus). Even with her travel expenses and international fees my friend Clio is paying less a semester here in Scotland then she would if she was going to the same in-state public school she got her undergrad degree in. Her program is also shorter here than in the US. According to one of the students, in the UK when doing graduate degrees, tuition is waved after three years if you haven’t finished (I’m sure there are restrictions on that though). Anyway they did give me a lot to think about.

Random note look at how pretty this school is!

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After lunch she went back to class and I went to visit two of the museums that make up the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, the oldest museum in Scotland. The Hunterian Museum is really famous for its anatomy collection, donated by William Hunter in 1783. William Hunter was Scottish anatomist and physician, and was an extremely famous for many things including his skills as an obstetrician (doctor who focuses on pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum things). In fact he was so skilled at the time he became the obstetrician for Queen Charlotte and was present for the birth of 13 of her children. His illustrated books are still used today and he developed a method to right a turned around womb that saved many women and children from dying during childbirth. The first branch I went to, the actual The Hunterian Museum had some of his collections on display. It was freaky looking at all the hearts and other organs preserved in the spirits. There was one that made me on to a different section in the end. I had to lean in close because I couldn’t tell what it was at first. It was the womb of a woman who died in childbirth due to a turned around womb, with a section removed so you could see the full grown infant. Way too much for me. I think now a day’s people don’t fully appreciate how dangerous and horrifying childbirth can be. There is a reason that under Spartan law that both men who died in battle and women who died in childbirth earned the honor of having their names enscripted on their gravestones. Yikes.

The main room was the best. Just look.

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I know right? It had a little of everything, insect collections, an Egyptian mummy, dinosaurs, and artifacts from African tribes. It was so well-organized too, with every little section only having a few things, but was extremely comprehensive. I loved it! Look a plesiosaur!!!

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Over the years other people have donated their private collections so it has grown a ton! There is a little of everything. I could have easily spent a whole day in here!

Next I went to the Zoology Museum and explored around there. Again how cool! I am really impressed at how extensive and well displayed their collections are. One of my favorites is below-

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It’s the leg of an Elephant Bird, leg of a Giant Moa, and an ostrich skeleton. The largest bird of all time typically goes to the Elephant Bird (although there is another species that is close so it depends on who is talking) while the Giant Moa is considered the tallest. The ostrich is the tallest bird still living! Crazy huh?

Can I also point out that there were tables and chairs in here so students could study. So not fair!

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Look a beautiful Goliath tarantula! I didn’t take a picture but it was about as tall as my palm is!

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The Zoology Museum had a great entomology section, and so did the main building. I’m jealous of anyone able to study entomology here, they have such an impressive public collection I can’t imagine their private one!

By this time I needed to meet back up with my friend. We headed into town to do some shopping since I still hadn’t bought my souvenirs for people.

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After some fun goofing around we grabbed dinner at a very famous restaurant, Tennet’s Bar, and I got one last real sottish meal.

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Basically a Scottish meal = lots of meat and gravy.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Today I left this beautiful country. I had a flight in the late morning to London, and then a second to go to Venice in the evening. I think the only thing that cheered me was that I was meeting my parents in the afternoon on Friday!!!!

However, I still miss Scotland. See you soon!

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Pandas, Plague, and Poltergeists, Oh My!

Monday, 17 November 2014

My heart belongs to this land. Scotland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. I am pretty jealous that my friend gets to go to school here. We left Glasgow in the morning to head to Edinburgh. Clio has a pretty busy class load so this was the only day she could go, and since she wanted to go with me today was the day!

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Edinburgh is a fascinating city with so much interesting history. The first thing we did though was head to the Edinburgh Zoo, crucial after our disappointment yesterday at the London Zoo, haha. Clio is a fantastic traveling companion. Like me she loves Zoos and Museums, so we have lots of fun together. I was really surprised at how nice this Zoo was. By that I mean the enclosures were wide and open, unlike how you would expect a zoo which opened in 1909 to look. However when it was built it was built with a new design in mind. The Creator, Edinburgh lawyer Thomas Gillespie, was inspired by the so-called ‘open zoo’ at Hamburg, designed by Carl Hagenbeck. This took a completely different approach from the Victorian menageries with bars and cages. Instead, Edinburgh Zoo was designed to have large, open enclosures, using ditches and moats to separate the animals from the visitors. The Zoo has remained at the forefront of zoo enclosure design, and regularly win awards for the natural and stimulating habitats for the animals. This is also one of the few zoos in the world to have Pandas, so they should be top of the line. We picked a perfect time to go too. Monday afternoon, in the off-season, right after a rain. So there were no locals, no tourists, and the animals were very active! We had several highlights.

The sun bear who came within 10 feet of us.

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The adorable meerkats who just wanted to say hi.

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The cutest animal in the world, the Pygmy hippo.

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The Asiatic male lion who gave us some good roars! (My friend got a great video, I think she was even more excited than me!!)

The adorable group of Asian Small Clawed Otters!!!

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And of course the pandas. This zoo has two pandas, a male and female (they do not breed them) ‘borrowed (for a fee)’ from China for 10 years. We were crazy lucky. Pandas can sleep for 16 hours a day but both of the pandas were awake and active for us! Tian Tian the male was our favorite. He was enjoying his dinner!!!

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After the zoo we headed to the Royal Mile because I really wanted to take the Mary King’s Close tour. Here is some background info- the royal mile is on a downhill slope, and both sides used to slope down to the lake/fields outside of town. We are talking a pretty significant slopes here. From the main street would run the closes with their towering tenant houses. The closes were basically streets, although they were so narrow they were more like alleyways. The name Close comes from the fact the buildings were ‘close’ together. Edinburgh used to have one if the highest population density/ actual population in the world!!! To fit all these people they built up! Here were the first skyscrapers, the first 3 stories stone with the remaining wood. Some of them were 14 stories high!!! And we are talking about the 1600 and 1700s!!!!!

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In 1753-61 when the Royal Exchange was being built, it was decided to flatten out the area a little. So the top half of several closes were chopped off and filled in with rubble and dirt to make a flat foundation. Over the years parts have been dug out, including Mary King’s. First to make a vault to store valuables under the exchange, then as bomb shelters during World War I and II, and then now as an archeological/tourist attraction. Anyway one of the big reasons I wanted to do this tour was because Mary King’s Close is the site of many plague outbreaks, with nearly the entire street either infected, dying, or fleeing. It was a really interesting tour, and we got to learn a lot about Edinburgh back in the 1600s. Ancient Edinburgh was a public health nightmare. You had nearly 30,000 people in city that was around .56 sq miles (not sure how accurate that is but it is close). To put that in perspective the current population of Edinburg is 476,600 in about 102 sq mi. So the rough (very rough!!!)population density of Edinburgh in 1600-1700 was around 53,500 people per sq mile, while its population density in 2013 was 4,730 people per sq mile (these numbers come from tour guides, I couldn’t find the exact numbers online).  So even though the population wasn’t all the big compared to now they lived in a much smaller city! And this was before plumbing!!!! With so many people, there was a lot of…. Stuff on their streets. Every night at 10, the people would all empty their waste buckets from their windows down onto the close, to let the rain and gravity wash the filth down to the Loch… Which was also their drinking water. Apparently at times the much could become knee-deep!!!! And they wonder why plagues were an issue????

The Before

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And after

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After that I walked around a bit and then met back up with Clio who was working on schoolwork in a nearby cafe. We grabbed dinner and then headed to St. Giles to participate in a City of the Dead graveyard tour.

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One fun thing about Edinburgh. It’s considered one of the most haunted places in the world. I mean how many people died there in horrible ways? Frequent plagues (not just bubonic), witch trials (where if your family or friend was determined to be a witch you could be put to death too), religious prisoners in the Covenanter’s Prison (the world’s first documented concentration camp) and several other horrible ways. Now, I am not really a believer in ghosts (although I am a hobby Cryptozoologist. The Okapi anyone?), as I have never experienced a paranormal act and most of those I heave heard or read about can be explained by science (but not all??).

The City of the Dead graveyard tour takes you to the Greyfriars Kirkyard (church yard) where in a back corner the Covenanter’s Prison is. In 1679 1200 Covenanters, a large group of Presbyterians who were against the king’s wishes for them to change their religion and fought to defend that right, were rounded up and brought to Edinburgh. Many were imprisoned in a section of the graveyard now referred to as the Covenanters Prison. Here they were subjected to inhumane conditions, having to endure the coldest winter months with minimum shelter and very little food. Many died due to this harsh treatment and those that didn’t were executed or sold to slavery. Their only way out was to swear an allegiance to the King, which they refused to do (very simplified history there). Only 48 people survived.

Let’s get to the spooky parts. Strange activity has been reported in that area for many years but intensified when in 1998 (or 1999 depending on the source) a homeless man broke into Mackenzie’s Tomb which is next to the Covenanter’s Prison. George Mackenzie, or “Bluidy Mackenzie”, was the Lord Advocate in charge enforcing the Kings persecution policy against the Presbyterians Covenanters. He created the Covenanter’s Prison after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. The homeless man (for whatever reason) decided to break into the coffins in the underground rooms. As he tried to open the coffins the floor collapsed, dumping him onto a pile of corpses. His panicked shouts attracted the attention of a groundskeeper who called the police. Mass burials were common during Plague Outbreaks, and many of those graves remained unmarked. It is thought that this pit is the site of one of those burials. However in the next weeks strange things began to happen in the Prison. People were reporting mysterious bruises, cuts, patches of intense cold and sweet but sickening smells in the Covenanter’s Prison. A member of Greyfriars staff complained of “always being watched” when passing one particular vault which he jokingly referred to as ‘The Black Mausoleum’ (the name stuck). As time passed the stories intensified. Cold so intense it was painful to the flesh. A boy frightened by ‘loud breathing noises’ coming from the Black Mausoleum. Visitors overcome by sudden nausea. Surrounding tombs damaged. It got to the point that the Edinburgh Council locked the Covenanter Prison gates because they didn’t know what else to do.

After a few years a local historian and author managed to convince the Council to give him the keys (in exchange for money the universal language haha) so he could run tours. They have been highly successful and the reports of paranormal activity have flooded in on the phenomenon is known as Mackenzie Poltergeist. Over 90 people have collapsed in the ‘The Black Mausoleum’ alone. Several paranormal investigations have been done on this site. Spiritualist minister Colin Grant tried to exorcise it and, shaken by what he encountered, remarked ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if this killed me.” He died shortly afterwards. Definitely creepy, huh?

The Prison (during daylight, internet picture, it was dark when we went). I will point out that all these tombs were built after it was used as a prison. According to our guide it was just an empty yard then.

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Mackenzie’s Tomb (during daylight, internet picture)
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Inside of the Black Mausoleum, the tours second to last stop

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My friend has done this three times before (including on Halloween) and believes in the paranormal. This time though she experienced this intense dread as soon as we entered the graveyard. Her feelings were so strong that I could feel them coming off her. As we got closer to the Prison she became even more terrified. The legend says that the poltergeist typically picks one person to attack when he does, and often goes after someone with paranormal sensitivities. Typically the attacks begin with intense fear or nausea too. Thankfully we were not in the prison yet so she didn’t think it was him, however if the poltergeist is true she would have made a good victim that night (sorry Clio but its true!). For her own sanity she left us before the Prison and waited for me outside the Kirkyard. She was going to wait for me by the tour office/ gift shop inside the main gates, but the fear was getting worse so she stepped outside onto the streets. As soon as she left the kirkyard, the feelings left and she felt worlds better! Talk about reassuring huh?

Nothing really happened in the prison however, other than the group nervousness that set in when my friend left. Thankfully another woman was abandoned (yeh I was abandoned!) so we teamed up. She was more scared than me and linked arms with me in the beginning, which oddly reassured me. The inside of the Black Mausoleum was creepy but not too bad.

After we got back to the front of the graveyard we made a quick detour to the back of the graveyard for one last experience. You see J.K. Rowling began writing her Harry Potter books at the Elephant Café which overlooks the Kirkyard. Several of her characters actually got their names from gravestones she saw when she wandered around. There is an actual Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort’s true name for you muggles) although the last name is spelled a little different. So we went over for me to get a picture!

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Also, anyone every heard of Greyfriars Bobby? He was a little terrier who, according to the stories, was so loyal that after his master died he wouldn’t leave his gravestone no matter how many times he was chased off. According to the story he lived in Greyfriar’s kirkyard for 16 years before dying. Now, our tour guide told us the story is very inaccurate, the dogs owner wasnt even buried in this graveyard! He says what was most likely the reason for his devotion to this area was the fact that the butcher shops that bordered the graveyard would sometimes throw their scraps into the graveyard so they didn’t have to dispose of them properly. However I do like the original tale better, haha. We saw the gravestone erected in his honor next to he’s “owners” grave (same name as his owner, however he was a local policeman not the Shepard). As our tour guide said, maybe Bobby could read and just thought he had the right place!

This is a statue erected for him next to the graveyard entrance.

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The plan was to stop by the Elephant Café and get a coffee before taking the train back to Glasgow, however we got out of the graveyard pretty late and it was closed. Next time!!

Again another place I want to revisit, too cool. Excuse any inaccuracy about numbers or details, there are a lot of contradictions between everything. I still haven’t been able to find a newspaper article on the homeless man…

No Place Like London!

What a busy week and a half I have been having! The ICN conference was happening at FAO this week and due to heightened security (you know with the Pope, several Queens, and tons of other special guests) every department was asked to just have a skeletal staff at the headquarters and the rest of us telecommute. My boss told me I could use that to do some traveling and as long as I submitted my work on agreed upon times! So I decided to use this time to visit one of my friends who is living in the UK! Best idea EVER, this might have been one of the best weeks of my life!!! And to add to the awesomeness I met up with my parents on Friday(21) in Venice!!!! We had so much fun!! They don’t arrive in Rome till tomorrow so I will try to update about the last week in two days, haha! So let’s get started!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

I arrived in London LATE Friday night. Of course my Italian flight had to leave on Italian time, so like 40 minutes late! It was cool though. My friend was also flying in from her grad school in Scotland, so she only bet me by a few hours. After a restful (if short) night we headed out to see London!!!!

So for those of you who don’t know this, I LOVE Harry Potter. Huge fan. Back when I was a teenager (I was smart, dorky, and awkward) Hermione Granger was a huge role model to me. She was smart and tough and strong, unlike many of the role models when I was a kid she didn’t really need anyone to save her or pretend to be stupid so people liked you. When people say Harry Potter shaped a generation, it really did shape mine. Anyway my friend Clio is also a huge Harry Potter fan too. She has been to London several times so she has seen many of Harry Potter sites; however she is always game for doing them again and was an awesome tour guide!!!

Our first stop was Kings Crossing to get my picture at Platform 9 3/4.

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My biggest disappointment in life is that the records for muggle borne’s still haven’t been put back in order since Lord Voldermort took over so my letter never came. Cause that’s the only excuse, right?

Next was the British Museum. One great thing about the UK, all the museums I went to this week were free! Go education! Well I am sure most of you know that the British Museum in London has some of the best collections in the world. We both could have spent all day there, but we only had a few hours so we only did a few exhibits.

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Can I just say turning the corner and seeing the Rosetta Stone just there was awesome?

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We largely focused on Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian. My friend is currently in grad school for these things so again it was like having my own personal tour guide! Again, wow some of these collections are insane.

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Mandrake liked the bones

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I don’t think I can accurately describe how awesome this museum is, and how legit it was to have Clio with me. I learned a ton about these pieces that I would never have known by myself!

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After the museum we did some wandering (we kept getting lost haha). Thankfully Clio travels the same why I do, without rush and just taking it in. We had some laughs as we kept getting turned around. We did a little bit of shopping and headed for some landmarks.

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Ok about to show the nerd again. We saw Trafalgar Square, a very famous place in history and nerdism. Any fans of Doctor Who? Trafalgar Square is the site for the Daleks first appearance during the first Doctor, shown in 1964. Since then it has been in many episodes, including a recent an episode in the new season which I haven’t seen yet! Anyway, there are these four huge lions in the square. All these little kids were playing and climbing on them, and I though ‘that would make a good picture’. However, I did not realize all these children had gotten a boost from their parents. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get on! Haha. Clio was cracking up as I tried everything I could to get on this stupid statue. I was just too short to get past the haunch. Finally a tall russian girl took pity on me and gave me a boost so I could at least get a picture next to the head! Gheesh. And being a wonderful friend she took pictures the whole time! I will only share one though, I have some dignity.

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We also saw the London eye, although Clio told me there was no way she would get on it with me haha, so I saved that for another time. We saw Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, at night no less! We walked down the Thames to the Tower of London to see the Poppies. It was dark, so pictures didn’t turn out but we could still see the sea of red.

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After this it was only 6pm (but dark as midnight haha), so we went to the theater district to see if we couldn’t catch a cheap play. Everything was booked, so we grabbed a movie instead. All in all a great night. We got to bed sort of early so we could be refreshed for the next day!!!

 


Sunday, 16 November 2014

The first stop today was the Buckingham Palace! we were hoping to see a changing of the guard but apparently they don’t do that in the Fall!!! It’s ok we still got to see the stereotypical guards!

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Then we headed to the Natural History Museum. Again free admission, score!

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One thing I really wanted to do was the Darwin Spirit Collection Tour. It is a free tour where they take you behind the scenes at the Darwin Centre’s Zoology spirit building. I would really recommend doing it if you are in London. For those of you who don’t know Spirit Collections are its in the name! They are collections of creatures preserved in spirits (alcohol/formaldehyde/ and so on depending on the creature). These are highly valuable to science, as they are often the animal that the classification of the species is based on. When a new species is thought to have been discovered they can use these specimens to figure out if it really is a new species, and who it is most closely related too. Even now they are still used (although mammals are not collected like they used to be due to animal rights). We saw many amazing things including a whale eye, bear cub, a Coelacanth (a living fossil, found over 400million years ago, and discovered still alive in the 1970s!!!!), and Archie the giant squid (picture below is from the internet, no pictures allowed in the back rooms)!!!!! It was AWESOME. I was freaking out the whole time, haha. Again I would urge you to put the Darwin Spirit Collection Tour as a must on your London plans. We both want to come back and do the extended tour next time we are in London.

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Along with the Darwin tour I went to the Mammalian Hall, which had an amazing array of skeletons, particularly of whales. the UK has a lot of whale breaching each year, and one thing the museum does is track these cases and try to figure out why they are happening. Because of that they get a lot of the parts later. It was incredibly intimidating to stand look up at this behemoth of an animal.

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We also did the Dinosaur hall (of course). Actually I was surprised by how small it was. The mammalian hall had a much larger array of skeletons and specimens. However they made up for it with fun and informational displays… and a giant electronic T-Rex haha.

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Next was the London Zoo!!!! We had to hurry at this point because it closed at 5 (according to the website) and it was 3! It was raining slightly but we powered on! We arrived at a subway station next to regents Park where the Zo is and started walking across. Finally after some back tracking we reached to Zoo… only to find it closed! Apparently it closed at 4, and the ticket office closed at 3!!! The website was wrong! We were a little disappointed but went over to Baker Street to see the home of Sherlock Homes. A little wandering there, some shopping, and delicious fish and chips, and we were happy again. At 6 we headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags and head to the train station to catch the train to Glasgow.

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One thing for sure, I will be back. There was so much I didn’t get to do there, and I could have spent a whole day at each of those museums. See you again London, Scotland here I come!

Assisi

Sunday, 09 November 2014

A short train ride from Rome is the beautiful town of Assisi. It’s a charming place, and we experienced perfect weather! The first thing we did was head to the information table to get a map. Lucky for us they were super slow (Italians don’t do anything on Sundays but markets and church haha). The guy at the counter was wonderful, he gave us a list of places to go, including his friends restaurant for lunch.

Our first stop was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. There was was a market next door that was full of people selling everything under the sun- from chandeliers to olives. I think however our favorite part was this little old man walking his dog we kept running into haha.

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After lunch (which was as fantastic as he said it would be) we headed up into Assisi and made it to the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. Ok, every time I see another church I think, this is the best one. But each time I see a new one I am blindsided by the beauty of that new one. So many churches here and everyone is beautiful! San Francesco is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor—commonly known as the Franciscan Order—in Assisi, Italy, the city where St. Francis was born and died. Remember the crypt we went to Sat that covered the walls with decorations made of bones? Same order!

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We walked through the village, looking in shops and goofing off as we made our way to our last stop.

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Finally we got to the Rocca Maggiore, our final stop. This fortress was built in 1367 by Cardinal Albornoz. It’s on the highest part of the hill and looks down on the rest of the village.

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A great day with great friends!

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Where the Dead Lie…

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Today I wanted to explore some of the Crypts and Catacombs of Rome. My friend Ai (name changed) joined me for this epic adventure. I am glad I had her! We saw some beautiful and terrifying things. Together we made a list of places we wanted to see and hit the road (We didn’t even do half! There was so much!)!!

The first stop on our journey was Saint Sebastian at the Catacombs (San Sebastiano ad Catacumbas). I really wanted to visit here, and the catacombs are not open in December and on Sundays. Since this was my last Sat free before December we went there first! So we started down the Via Appia!

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It was a long ,walk but a beautiful day and we really enjoyed ourselves. Finally we reached Saint Sebastian. So some history; the ancient Romans cremated their dead and this site was originally a large pit used for cremation and dormitorios (family crematoriums). With the arrival of Christianity people started burying their dead instead of cremating and began digging tunnels in the soft clay here. The subterranean burial area became known as ad catacumbas, which means “near the hollows.” This is  the first recorded use of the word Catacombs for a christian burial site! How cool right? The remains of St. Sebastian, who died in c. 288, was buried here in the 4th century (around 350 AD). He was the Saint of soldiers, plague-stricken, archers, holy Christian death, and athletes. Because of his holiness many people wanted to be buried here so there are several miles of catacombs, four stories in total. In the 4th century (no one really said if it was before St. Sebastian was buried here or after) the Roman Family dormitorios were covered with dirt and the basilica was built on top. Later St. Sebastian’s remains were removed during war times, and were eventually returned to the Basilica proper (although there are at least three other places who claim to have his remains). More recently the dormitories have been uncovered (they are right under the main chamber of the Basilica) and part of the Catacombs are open for tours. It costs 8 euros for adults, and includes a tour guide who walks you through the catacombs. Our tour guide was fantastic, very informative and it was well worth the money. I only wish we could have seen more as they only take you through a small part. Unfortunately pictures are not allowed in the actual catacombs but I grabbed some cool pictures from the internet, haha.

Below is a typical hallway in the catacombs, although some could be much narrower, were a broad man would have trouble going through normally. They were also a LOT darker. Our tour guide checked repeatedly to make sure no one was becoming claustrophobic.

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One of the first stops was at a junction of the catacombs where our tour guide pointed out a carving on a slab of stone near a crypt. I actually found a picture of it online (very distinctive) which is below. I have always known the fish is a symbol of Jesus, but I thought it was because of feeding the poor. Turns out that’s not quite right. She explained that greek for fish is “ichthys” and early christians made an acrostic from this word: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, i.e. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. So basically the fish spelled out Jesus’s full name. The symbol next to it is an anchor. She said it symbolizes hope and stability, and the symbol to the left was a name if I remember correctly.

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It was near impossible to find a picture of the room where St. Sebastian was originally buried. Below is the best one. The tomb is under the alter.

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Now imagine a huge cavern, with three mausoleum like buildings jutting out of walls, cutting the room in half as you walk down to the bottom. The three rooms were the dormitories, each dedicated to a ‘family.’ Only the one pictured below still had its name plaque, which showed not only did the family get buried here, but their servants and freed slaves and any of their family. It was  hard to find good pictures of the Roamn dormitorios from St. Sebastian, but I did find a picture of one of the frescos in the rooms and a picture of one of the inside of the rooms. They were still beautifully preserved due to their earlier burying. The romans often decorated with plants and animals because it symbolized life. As christianity became more common the rooms were extended/developed to include room for christian burial. You can see in the very back a section that was covered to become a chamber for a body. In the right corner you can see the corner of extremely narrow and steep stairs that led to more christian burials.

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After that we headed to the prayer room, where people used to feast and then carve prayer onto slabs of marble for the Saint on his day. Our tour guide even read some of them to us! She really was fantastic.

After that we headed back up to the actual Basilica where St. Sebastian now rests. We could take photos there so these are mine now!

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One neat thing about doing this with Ai is she is Japanese and doesn’t know much about Christianity- for once I actually knew more! She had so many questions, like why we bury our dead. It was really interesting talking to her about it, I tried to answer her questions as best I could!

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I would definitely suggest visiting here if you are in Rome. Even if you don’t want to do the catacombs coming into the Basilica is free, and it is home to many interesting relics like a stone allegedly imprinted with the footprints of Jesus and one of the arrows which struck St Sebastian together with part of the column to which he was tied during the martyrdom. Plus the bodies of St. Peter and Paul rested here for a short time. There is so much history to be had!

After Saint Sebastian’s we walked up Via Appia towords the center of Rome. On the way we walked through Appia Antica Park which is home to The catacombs of St. Callixtus. We didn’t get to go in those however becasue we spent too long in St. Sebastion and they were closed for lunch! We walked down the park and then headed back to town.  

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I mentioned to Ai how I missed American Chinese food so she suggested we go to a very good ‘real’ Chinese restaurant she knew. It was a great idea! I let her order all the food since it was ‘real’ Chinese food. She showed me the proper way to use soy sauce (in Japan they mix it with a little vinagar and chili paste! She likes it HOT) and taught me the diffrences in chopsticks. It was great haha, well except for the tofu and meat dish, that was a little… diffrent? for me haha.

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With our tummies full we headed to our next destination- the Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts. This church built as part of a Capuchin Friary in 1626. If you have never heard of the Capuchin Friars you are missing out. They are the friars who wear the brown rough cloth cassocks. They were renowned as healers, and often included a patent center at their Friaries. It’s a pretty interesting order. However, back to the crypts. Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was a member of the Capuchin order, in 1631 ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars exhumed and transferred from the friary Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Now the legends vary, but the one I saw the most variations of at Santa Maria was that there was an artist imprisoned/hiding at the church. The crypts were overflowing and he asked permission to make the rooms better organized/beautiful/so on… Well you are about to see what he ended with (these pictures are all from the internet, again no photos). There are 6 rooms in all.

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Crypt of the Three Skeletons:

The focal point in this room is the center skeleton on the ceiling. It is enclosed in an oval, the symbol of life coming to birth. In its right hand it holds a scythe, symbol of death which cuts down everyone, like grass in a field, while its left hand holds the scales, symbolizing the good and evil deeds weighed by God when he judges the human soul. A placard in five languages declares;

What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be….

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Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones:

Crypt of the Pelvises:

Crypt of the Skulls:

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The Mass Chapel:

As an area used to celebrate Mass, does not contain bones. In the altar-piece, Jesus and Mary exhort St. Felix of Cantalice, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Anthony of Padua to free souls from Purgatory. The chapel contains a plaque with the acronym DOM, which stands for Deo optimo maximo (“To God, the best and greatest”), a term initially used to refer to the pagan god Jupiter, but claimed by later Christians. The plaque contains the actual heart of Maria Felice Peretti, the grand-niece of Pope Sixtus V and a supporter of the Capuchin order. The chapel also contains the tomb of the Papal Zouaves who died defending the Papal States at the battle of Porta Pia.

Crypt of the Resurrection:

Featuring a picture of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, framed by various parts of the human skeleton. The key to interpreting the crypt’s displays of funereal art lies in the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body and everlasting life .

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Those pictures are what we saw, up close and personal. There were literally light fixtures made of bone, and flowers patterned from vertebrates and jawbones above our head.  The mummies, walls made of skulls and femers…. The air had a strange taste and odor. It was beautiful in a disturbing somber way, but I don’t think I would ever do it again!

 The reflection that he must someday be taken apart like an engine or a clock…and worked up into arches and pyramids and hideous frescoes, did not distress this monk in the least. I thought he even looked as if he were thinking, with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well on top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes which possibly they lacked at present. -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

So to follow-up that interesting journey we decided walk across Rome again to head to one last landmark, with a few detours, including the Trevi fountain since Ai has not yet had the chance to see it!

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Our last stop was the Basilica di San Clemente. Underneath this seeming normal 1120 church is an underground treasure the original Basilica, which dates back to 392. And below that is the remains of a first century Roman villa that served as both an early site of clandestine Christian worship that also contains a Mithraic temple and a babbling stream.  For 3 euro you can go down to these lower levels. It was very dark and quiet and had an incredible presence. So how did these buildings end up so far underground (at the Mithraic temple we were some 13 meters underground according to one person)? Well remember Rome is next to a huge river. Over the years silt deposits build up, and eventually the locals just finished the job as it became hard to get into their buildings and then built over them!

It was incredibly dark, but I got one picture.

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There is so much history buried under Rome! It’s amazing! Here’s a good Nat Geographic article on underground Roman Ruins.

It was an incredible day! We topped it off with some Gelato and then headed home- Tomorrow was Assissi 😀


If you are planning a trip to Rome and would like to visit any of these sites the addresses are below along with a link to a web page with more info:

St. Sebastian at the Catacombs: Also known as Saint Sebastian outside the walls (not to be confused with the Saint Sebastion of Palintine Hill which is inside the city walls) –  Via Appia Antica 136, Rome, 00179, Italy

Appia Antica Park & Catacombs –Via Appia Antica, 110/126, 00179 Roma

Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts – Via Vittorio Veneto, 27, Rome, 00187, Italy

Basilica di San Clemente – Via Labicana, 95, 00184 Roma