Europe

Spooky places to spend your Halloween

Halloween is my favourite time of year. I love all the decorations and costumes and how everything seems just a little spookier as the leaves change colour and the carved pumpkins glow.

It’s also a great time to explore some of the world’s creepier destinations.

Here are a few of my favourite spooky spots to check out this time of year:

The Catacombs of Paris.

Exploring the Catacombs of Paris

Exploring the Catacombs of Paris.

“The City of Love” has a darker side waiting 20m below the city streets. Here, in the underground ossuaries lie the remains of more than six million people. The bones are laid in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines.

During the late 1700s, many of the city’s cemeteries had reached capacity. Some, including the Saints-Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) had gone beyond capacity. Here, people were buried in mass graves, piled one on top of the other until it became a source of infection for those nearby. In late 1785, the Council of the State closed the cemetery and decided to remove its contents.

Millions of bones

Millions of bones found in the underground ossuary of Paris

This transfer began in 1786 after the blessing and consecration of the site and continued until 1788. The moving of remains took place at nightfall, where a procession of priests sang the service for the dead along the route taken by the carts loaded with bones and covered by a black veil. Until 1814, this site received the remains from all the cemeteries of Paris.

Nowadays, the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels is a perfect place to spend a couple of hours on Halloween!

 

Wat Rong Khun, Thailand

Koi fish

Koi fish swimming in the pond surrounding What Rong Khun

Better known as the “White Temple,” Wat Rong Khun is one of the most famous temples in Thailand. Located in Chiang Rai, this temple looks like something out of a fairy tale… until you get a closer look.

There are demons and villains popping out of the ground and hanging from trees all around the temple. To enter the main chapel, you cross a narrow bridge over a pool of hands and faces reaching up, trying to claw their way back to the surface, representing suffering souls in Hell.

And they sure are creepy to walk across!

 

Walt Disney World, Orlando

Mickey Halloween Lanterns

Mickey Halloween Lanterns

While it may be known as the happiest place on earth, Disney World turns into a spooky night out with Mickey’s Not- So-Scary Halloween Party.

Jack and Sally

Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas with Mary Poppins and Bert!

It may not be as creepy as some of the other spots on this list, but with all the Halloween decor, characters like Jack and Sally out for photos and special shows like the “Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular” and the “Boo-to-You” Parade, it’s definitely a fun night out. Plus, it’s the one time of year that as an adult you can dress up as your favourite character at the park – and you get to trick or treat along the way, no matter how old you are!

Disney is truly a place where you never have to grow up, and that makes celebrating Halloween there even more fun!

 

And then, of course, there is Salem, Massachusetts

Salem is widely known as the site of the witchcraft trials of 1692, and the history and stories surrounding the hysteria of the witchcraft trials is found everywhere here, from museums to historical re-enactments to haunted walking tours.

During the month of October, this small town of 40,000 doubles in size as Halloween enthusiasts make their way here to explore the haunting history

You can visit the memorial dedicated to the 19 innocent people who were killed during the witch trials and you can also check out some of the film locations of my favourite fictional witches, The Sanderson Sisters from “Hocus Pocus ” 

Allison's Mansion from Hocus Pocus

Allison’s Mansion from Hocus Pocus

Salem has something for everyone and should definitely be on your Halloween travel list!

Zombie Prom

All dressed up for Zombie Prom in Salem

Next on my list of places to visit for Halloween are New Orleans, and of course, Transylvania!

What’s on your spooky travel list?

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A quick trip to Paris

The Eiffel Tower at nightParis – the city of love!

A city full of history, architecture and pain du chocolat!

I’ve been to Europe 10 times but seemed to be dancing around Paris. It was finally time to go see this iconic city that everyone always has so much to say about.

We arrived and found our cute little Airbnb apartment in Montmarte, just around the corner from the Moulin Rouge and set out to join the Sandemans New Europe free walking tour. I’ve done this tour in other cities around Europe and always find it a great way to get your bearings, find some of the big tourist sites, and learn about lesser-known favourites that the guides love.

We gathered at Fontaine Saint-Michel to start the tour and learn a bit about the buildings around us. The architecture here is incredible. I could have happily just wandered through the city looking at the buildings, but there were far too many other things to see and do to just leave my eyes glued to the buildings.

We crossed a bridge and found ourselves walking up to Notre Dame, and while we didn’t find Quasimodo ringing the bells, there were a lot of gargoyles up on the arches looking down over the city. This gorgeous French Gothic church was set for demolition, but was saved by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The book was so popular that a petition went out to save the church.

Inside Notre Dame
The inside is as beautiful as the outside – especially the huge stained glass windows!

We made our way along the Seine River and came to the new Love Lock Bridge. Across the way is the former Love Lock Bridge, but so many locks had been placed on it that a piece of the bridge fell off into the Seine! It was considered a hazard (and an eyesore by many locals) and was moved to a sturdier landing by the bridge. Not as cool, but still full of locks.

We added our own lock to the masses and threw our key into the Seine. The area down by the water was nice to walk along except for the fact that like much of the city, the smell of pee was strongly wafting through the air. Such a beautiful…smelly city.

The LouvreThe Louvre was our next stop. This incredible building stretches along the right bank of the Seine. It houses over 35,000 works of art and it’s said it would take nine months to look at everything. Likely the most famous piece inside is the Mona Lisa, but we didn’t see it or any of the other masterpieces as we just wandered the outside of the building. Sometimes when you have limited time, you have to choose what you have time to see!

The Louvre used to be where the monarchy lived and they continued to add to it. In 1989, a new entrance was built. Pyramid outside the LouvreIt’s supposed to be an invisible pyramid, but with its height, they couldn’t get the glass to stay without breaking as soon as the wind or rain hit it. Now it’s a bunch of small triangles with steel poles holding them together, making this invisible pyramid very visible and very odd looking next to this grand building from the 13th century!

Arc de Triomphe du CarrouselAcross the way is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a much smaller version of the main Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon commissioned it to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz. He had already commissioned the main one, but it took about 20 years to build, so he had this one made so he could walk under it in victory sooner! If you look though the marble arch you can see the Arc de Triomphe from one side and the Louvre from the other. Here, we were given more info on other main sites and our tour ended in the park.

Arc de TriompheWe continued through the park, heading towards the Arc de Triomphe, walking along the fancy Champs-Elysees area with all the high-end shops and restaurants. To get to the Arc de Triomphe, you must take the underground tunnel, as it’s far too dangerous to cross the 12 lane roundabout circling it! It’s a very patriotic sight with a huge French flag flying in the middle of the 50-metre high arch.

The whole time we were walking up to it, I found myself singing songs from Les Miserables, specifically “Do You Hear the People Sing.”  (If you don’t know this musical, go check out the soundtrack!)

Eiffel Tower Our walking tour continued along Champs-Elysees as we now made our way toward the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to have the classic romantic picnic by the Eiffel Tower so we looked for a place to buy baguettes, cheese and wine, but we waited too long and most of the bakeries were closed for the day. We realized we didn’t have a corkscrew and all the good wine needed one. Eventually, we found a little market with twist off mini bottles of wine, small baguettes and some cheese, so we bought it and continued to the Eiffel Tower. What an impressive sight! You see the image of the Eiffel Tower on everything these days, but seeing it up close was amazing. We found a spot in the grass just as the sun was starting to set and started our picnic.

Our Parisian picnic

It was definitely less than ideal. The bread was hard and the cheese smelled like dirty feet! We scrapped that and got seafood paella at one of the food vendors nearby. So much for our romantic French picnic!

Beginning at 9pm, there is a sparkling light show on the tower lasting about 5 minutes every hour on the hour. What a spectacular sight! After watching it again at 10pm, we caught the Metro back to Montmartre and saw another iconic Parisian landmark all lit up – the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge

We spent day two at Disneyland Paris. You can see that blog post here.

The following day, we set out to walk around Montmartre, the artsy, bohemian area of Paris. I loved it here. We stopped at a bakery for pain du chocolat (delicious chocolate croissants) before continuing on. Montmartre is located on a hill, giving you some nice views, especially when you make it up to the top by the Sacre-Coeur Basilica.

The huge dome can be seen for miles. You can climb up the Dome and head down into the crypt here. If you are tired of walking at this point, you can also take the funicular up the hill to the Sacre-Coeur. At the base of the steps is a beautiful old double-decker carousel. Beautiful carousel near Sacre-Couer

From here, we took the Metro to visit the Catacombs of Paris. It was a long wait, but it was a very cool experience, exploring the bones beneath the city. (For more on that, check out this blog post).

Our time in Paris was running out and although there were many more things I wanted to see and do, they would all have to wait for next time. I had one more main item to check off on this visit… climbing up the Eiffel Tower!

We made our way back over to the tower, paid our €7 and started climbing. Climbing the Eiffel Tower

There are also elevators you can take, but we decided to walk up instead. You can climb as high as the second viewing deck. We stopped at the first level, 57m up, to take some photos before continuing up to the second deck at 115m. (The full tower is 324m to the tip). We toasted our success with a beer and enjoyed the view of Paris from up here. View of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

What an incredible end to a short stay in the city of love!

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Bonjour Paris!

I had always wanted to visit Paris, but seemed to always find myself heading elsewhere on my trips to Europe. Finally, on my last trip over, I had a few days to spend exploring the ‘city of love’.  The architecture here is amazing. I loved just wandering around the streets taking in all the old buildings.  Since we didn’t have much time, we walked the streets looking for all the iconic Parisian sights, stopping at bakeries for croissants and coffee along the way!

Here’s a little video with some of the most famous sights in Paris.

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The bones of Paris

For many, Paris, the ‘city of love,’ conjures images of romance, architecture and art. But once you’ve had your fill of the Mona Lisa and sipping champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower, a different side of Paris awaits. For this, you need to head down – about 20 metres below the city streets, where the catacombs wait.  20160826_170912

Located across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau station, is the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris. Here in the underground ossuaries lie the remains of more than six million people. The bones are laid in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines.

During the late 1700’s, many of the city’s cemeteries had reached capacity. Some, including the Saints-Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) had gone beyond capacity. Here, people were buried in mass graves, piled one on top of the other until it became a source of infection for those nearby.  In late 1785, the Council of the State closed the cemetery and decided to remove its contents.

This transfer began in 1786 after the blessing and consecration of the site and continued until 1788. The moving of remains took place at nightfall,  where a procession of priests sang the service for the dead along the route taken by the carts loaded with bones and covered by a black veil.

Until 1814, this site received the remains from all the cemeteries of Paris.

20160826_172259

Since their creation, the Catacombs of Paris became a curiosity for more privileged Parisians. Public visits began after its renovation into a proper ossuary and the 1814 – 1815 war.

In the beginning, visits were only granted a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mine inspector. This turned into permission from any mine overseer, but as the number of visitors grew, it returned to its “permission only” rule in 1830.  Then, in 1833, they were closed completely as the Church opposed the public being exposed to human remains on display.  By 1850, the Catacombs were once again open, but only for four visits a year. Public demand led to the government allowing monthly visits as of 1867. This turned into bi-weekly visits on the first and third Saturday of each month in 1874 and then weekly visits during the 1878, 1889 and 1900 World’s Fair Expositions.

Today, they are open for daily visits, so head over and spend an hour wandering through the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels below the streets of Paris!

Plan your tour

The Catacombs are open daily from 10am-8:30pm (except Mondays and holidays)

Admission is granted in time slots, with the last admission at 7:30pm

Located across the street from Denfert-Rochereau Station
Métro et RER B : Denfert-Rochereau
Bus : 38, 68
Parking : Boulevard Saint-Jacques

Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods. Be prepared to wait. (We did for almost 2 hours).
Distance covered: 1.5 km
Duration of the tour: 45 minutes
No toilet or cloakroom facilities available

For more info, click here

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Bonjour Disneyland Paris!

I love the magic of Disney and always love visiting a Disney Park on my travels. So while in France, I headed to Disneyland Paris to cross another one off my list.20160825_2001171.jpg

Disneyland Paris is split into two parks – Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.   While it contained many of the same rides and attractions found at the other Disney Parks, there were also some new ones like Crush’s Coasters, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalment Toquee de Remy. 

The nighttime fireworks spectacular ‘Disney Dreams’ was as fantastic as their shows always are, but this one was neat as on top of popular Disney songs and characters being projected on the castle, they also made use of those Disney films that are set in France- Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ratatouille, with songs from these films being performed in French!

              **Please excuse the shakiness, 20 minutes of looking up without a tripod is harder than it seems!**

 

I’ve now checked five Disney parks off my list. Only one remains: Shanghai, I’m coming for you!

For more info on Disneyland Paris, click here

Bonus Feature in honour of my mom, who’s favourite ride at Disney is ‘It’s a Small World‘ and who had us all riding it multiple times when we were younger!! Enjoy!

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Canals, Windmills and Beer

20160823_154754The Netherlands is known for many things, including wooden clogs, canals, windmills and Heineken beer.  So this summer, when we had an afternoon in Amsterdam, we found the perfect spot to spend a few hours sitting near a canal, drinking beer in a windmill brewery! (If only we had wooden clogs…)

20160823_172253Brouwerij’t IJ  is located outside of the downtown part of Amsterdam, but is easy to get to by bus, bike or a longer walk.  There is seating both inside and out and on a nice day it fills up very quickly. After walking along the canal, we found a couple seats at one of the long, shared tables and began ordering half pints, trying one of almost everything that was on tap. They have seven beers that are always available and then rotate through a selection of seasonal and limited edition beers.  While they don’t have a full menu, they do offer a selection of sausage and cheese to nibble at while enjoying your beer.

If you find yourself in Amsterdam, be sure to stop by and check them out!

20160823_172356The tasting area at Brouwerij’t IJ is open daily from 2pm-8pm.                                                                               For directions click here
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When in Dusseldorf, drink Altbier

My boyfriend is very into beer – drinking it, brewing it, and reading all about it. Because of this, I have become a much bigger beer fan, but still only in the drinking it stage. So, after dragging him through the cobblestone streets of Dusseldorf’s Altstadt (Old Town), we stopped by a few of their famous Altbier Brauerei’s.  Altbier or ‘Old Beer’ in German is a style that was first brewed around the city of Dusseldorf.  It gets its name from using an older method of fermentation – it’s top fermented rather than bottom fermented like other lager beers.

20160828_153911Almost every pub in the city sells Altbier and even the more modern ones still wouldn’t be confused with a conventional lager. The best way to enjoy Dusseldorf’s Altbier is at the brewery itself, straight from the wooden barrel.  So that’s exactly what we did.

Altstadt has five Altbier Breweries located within it:

  • Füchschen –  which means ‘In the little fox.’  This place has been pouring Alt since 1848.
  • Kürzer
  • Schumacher– The oldest brewery in Dusseldorf, it’s been serving since 1838!
  • Schlüssel-In 1850, it became a bakery and brewery.  The name, which means ‘The Keys,’ came from the custom to keep the keys for the town gates at the local public houses.
  • Uerige–   which has been brewing since 1862.

All of these Alt breweries have been around for well over 100 years and each have their own version of Altbier as their house specialty.

20160828_152436We were lucky enough to arrive in Dusseldorf during a festival which meant there were Altbier tents from all the local breweries set up with €2 beers! We tried Schlüssel Alt here before heading to Kürzer for our first brewery stop.

The building was old and stone and had the feel of what I felt an old German bar should be. There was lots of seating inside and stand up tables outside. From the time you order your first Altbier, the half pints just keep arriving at your table until you ask for your bill.

20160828_175653

From here, we moved over to Füchschen.  There was some seating and lots of stand up tables both inside and out.  It was a very busy place, filled with patrons of all ages, a family on one side and a group of seniors on the other.  The brewpubs here are a place where everyone goes to hang out and share a beer or two and at some, have dinner.  The atmosphere found here is something we aren’t used to back home, but was a welcome change. 20160828_180114Once again, the Altbier just kept coming until we asked for our bill and the food coming out of the kitchen made us wish we hadn’t just eaten! In both places, we sat near the large barrel casks where a constant flow of Alt was being poured. It was a great way to spend an afternoon with the locals in Dusseldorf!

Prost!

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Practically FREE Prague!

One day, it would be nice to have an unlimited budget to travel with, to not have to worry about counting dollars, pounds, euros, shillings and so on. Unfortunately, I’m not there yet. More than once in my life (four times to be exact) I have decided to buy a plane ticket instead of paying rent and come home from a wonderful adventure homeless, seeking temporary refuge on a friend’s couch, in my car or at my parents’ house.

This time, however, I opted to attempt to keep my apartment. I found myself in Prague for four days with approximately $50 to spend after paying for my hostel.

So after having a great (and cheap) time exploring the city, here’s my (practically) FREE guide to Prague!

  1. While the city has a good Metro system that’s reasonably cheap, there’s really not much need to use it (with the exception of arriving with your luggage) as almost all of the main sights are an easy walking distance from each other. Plus, you get your exercise and have the opportunity to find hidden gems along the way!
  1. New Europe Tours offers a free walking tour leaving from the Starbucks across from the Astronomical clock at 10:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. This company offers tours in several cities across Europe and the guides work on a tip basis. So if you like the tour and learn about the city you are currently in (which I can almost guarantee you will as all the guides I’ve had have been both funny and informative) then you tip them what you feel it was worth at the end of the three-hour tour.
  1. While on the road, eating out becomes a daily expense. While traditional pubs and restaurants are great to experience the local cuisine for a meal or two, the cost of eating out can add up quickly, especially if you’re in one of the touristy areas. Supermarkets are another great way to try local foods for a fraction of the price. Grabbing a fresh bun, some deli meat, fruit and a drink can cost as little as a dollar, depending on where you are. Then you have the freedom of finding a nice green park or your favourite spot from the day to have a picnic!
  2. Prague is a great city to wander around and many of the city’s must-see sights are free. Stroll along the Charles Bridge, making sure to stop and check out the many statues along the way. Wander through the Castle grounds – you can’t go in the buildings without paying an entrance fee, but just walking through the courtyards and around the perimeter give   you a great sense of the buildings. The gardens outside are also a perfect place to stop for a supermarket picnic! Old Town square hosts the Astronomical clock, Old Town Hall, Tyn Church, the statue of Jan Hus, Kinský Palace, Stone   Bell House and more. After a long day of discovering Prague on foot, Old Town Square is a great place to indulge in a   street beer for a couple Czech Koruna and watch the sunset as horse-drawn carriages roll by.
  1. Prague has some beautiful hotels, but is also home to a number of hostels with beds as low as $7 a night. These may not be the fanciest places in town, but if you’re coming to beautiful Prague to sit in a hotel room, you are really missing out!

Best of all, the memories and photos you’ll take with you when you leave are FREE. So get out there and explore fairytale Prague, without worrying about overstepping your budget!

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Zadar, Croatia

Croatia is absolutely gorgeous in the summer, especially down by the seaside. Here, are a few highlights of my time in Zadar.

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Visiting Edinburgh Castle

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