Category Archives: Travel

Vampires, Witches, & the Undead Con

I spent Halloween weekend in New Orleans, LA at the Anne Rice Undead Conference and Vampire Lestat Ball. The trip began early on Wed. morning with an international flight that placed us getting in to New Orleans at 9pm that night. The trip really started the next morning when the rest of the group arrived. There were six of us going to the ball, and by the end of the first day we had adopted a seventh.

 

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Thursday morning we met up with friends who had decided to make the journey with us. After a delicious lunch of Po’ Boys at Acme’s, we caught up over drinks before retiring to get ready for the first official event of the Undead Conference: a Meet-and-Greet with international bestselling author, Anne Rice. Held at the lovely St. Alphonsus Church.

 

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The event was a gathering of fans, authors, and other artists who came together to share of their love of Gothic literature and to celebrate the release of Anne’s newest novel, Prince Lestat. Additionally, Anne’s son, Christopher Rice, had also released his newest novel titled The Vines. Guests were allowed, in groups of six at a time, to spend a few minutes taking photographs and visiting with Anne and Christopher.

 

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Additionally, attendees were free to walk around the beautiful building and visit with the other authors gathered in attendance. As a guest author, I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to meet with Ms. Rice, who was as gracious and kind as any author I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

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The next morning began with beignets and strawberry daiquiris at Café Beignet. I enjoyed spending the morning visiting with friends before heading back to the conference hotel. I shared a panel with five other equally amazing authors and artists.

 

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Greg Wilkey, #TeamGregWilkey author of the Mortimer Drake YA vampire novels. http://www.gregwilkey.com/

Becket, Amazon Bestselling author of the Blood Vivicanti vampire series and Key the Steampunk Vampire, both YA series. http://www.becket.me/home.html

Raven Quinn, singer and artist, who did the illustrations for Becket’s Key novels. http://www.ravenquinn.net/

Sarah M. Cradit, author of the House of Crimson and Clover series. http://www.sarahmcradit.com/

C.M. Michaels, author of the Sisters in Blood series. http://www.cmmichaels.com/

 

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We had a wonderful session, answering questions about our specific work and the creative process in general. It was followed by a great book signing where the featured authors were given a chance to visit with conference attendees, sign some books, and speak with each other as well. Overall it was an amazing event!

After that, everyone returned to the hotel to prepare for the main event, the Vampire Lestat Coronation Ball! Held at the beautiful Republic, the event consisted of two levels, the general section downstairs with a dance-floor and the stage featuring multiple live bands throughout the night. The second section was the upstairs VIP, where authors such as myself had been invited to attend.

 

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My guests, friends, fellow authors and I spent the night talking, laughing, and dancing the night away. We were also given an opportunity to again meet with Ms. Rice and several other VIPs.

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On Saturday went spent the day exploring New Orleans, doing a little shopping and enjoying the sights of the city. Then that night we went to the Witches Ball, another swirling event of delicious food, intoxicating music and drinks, and visiting with friends.

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The event was actually in a more open area than the vampire ball, allowing attendees to wander around a beautiful garden in addition to exploring the rooms of The Elms Mansion.

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After leaving the ball at around 1pm, we met the newly crowned Prince Lestat and his coven at Café du Monde for coffee and beignets.

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Sunday was our final day. We spent the first part attending the official book signing for Anne and Christopher Rice, both of whom graciously spent the better part of the afternoon meeting with fans, signing their new novels, and taking photographs.

 

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Kris Anne Rice Book signing

 

Then, after the signing, I attended a cocktail party with other authors, which officially marked the closing of the 2014 Undead Conference.  It was great to have a last chance to see so many of the wonderful people I had met and to say our last goodbyes before the majority of us would depart New Orleans.

Overall, I had a fantastic time on the trip. I enjoyed both seeing old friends and meeting new ones.  It was also a wonderful opportunity to visit with fellow authors and fans of the genre. This was my second time attending the ball and I can easily say that it will not be my last!

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Northern Ireland & Game of Thrones

I recently spent a few days exploring the coast of Northern Ireland. Easily one of the most breathtakingly beautiful locations I have ever had the privilege to visit, the trip was nothing short of amazing. We stayed in a cottage just outside of Portrush a few miles off of the coastline. It was a quaint and wonderful place, just off the beaten path enough to be tranquil.

For this trip, we decided to take a self-guided tour of some of the filming locations for Game of Thrones, the HBO television show based on the books written by George R.R. Martin. As not only a fan of the show and books, but also as one who was lucky enough to get to meet Martin a few years ago, I was very excited to be taking the trip. We began semi-early with our first stop of the day, The Dark Hedges, which served as the filming location for the road between Winterfell and King’s Landing, known as the King’s Road. The location was rather difficult to find, and we actually stopped and asked for directions by a very nice man who actually escorted us up the hill to the location.

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The Dark Hedges consist of a narrow road lined with beech trees which were planted by the Stuart family during the eighteenth century. They were originally intended to serve as a compelling feature to impress visitors as they approached the family’s home. Today, this road remains a truly beautiful site and an impressive location. It is easy to see how it was chosen to be a part of this fantasy series.

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Our next stop was directly on the coast, Giants Causeway. This location is famous primarily for the unique rock formations which line its coast.

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There is a legend that these rocks were actually built by Giants. There are several versions of this legend.

 

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One version is that the Irish Giant Finn MacCool was challenged to fight a Scotish Giant, Benandonner. Finn agreed to the challenge and built the causeway so that they could meet. Some stories say that Finn defeated Benandonner. Other versions say that Finn hid from the Scotish Giant with the help of his wife, who disguised Finn as a baby and tucked him into a massive cradle. When Benandonner saw the ‘baby’ in the cradle, he assumed that Finn must be even bigger than himself, given the size of the ‘baby’, and fled back to Scotland.

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The third stop was Ballintoy Harbour, another Game of Thrones filming location on the coast. This is the spot where Theon Greyjoy returns to his ancestral home, the Iron Islands. (also, where he was baptized to the drowned god)

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It was an absolutely stunning coastal view, and the cold wind whipping across the sea just added to the authentic feel of standing before a truly amazing sight.

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The next day, we took a break for the Game of Thrones tour to visit the Old Bushmills Distillery and did a little whiskey tasking, which was fun…for my husband. I’m not much of a whiskey drinker. More of a “grapejuice” kind of author.

Then we drove back towards Belfast, where we spent our last day touring a little bit of the city and walking through the Titanic Museum. The ship was built in Belfast and actually began its tragic voyage in Northern Ireland, doing proving runs before finishing interior construction and departing for Liverpool. The museum is a collection of information which allows visitors to follow the story of Titanic from its original conception to the original design drawings.

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From there, it follows the actual construction steps involved in building her hull, outfitting her engines, and putting together her luxurious interior. The tour finishes with the events of the tragic night the ship sank into the sea, and the aftermath of the disaster, complete with a list of names of those lost. What also amazed me was that the victims ran the gamut of social classes, from tradesman, to crew members, to millionaire industrialists. I have been on the tour several times and still find myself standing with a deep sense of reverence towards the memorialized site.

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Overall, the trip was nothing short of amazing and a reminder of how, even after my extensive travels, the Irish and Northern Irish Coasts remain one of my absolute favourite places in all of Europe.

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A Search for the ‘real’ Dracula

Transylvania, Romania

Last week, I took a research trip to Transylvania to explore the historical locations associated with Vlad Tepes.  For those who do not know, Vlad Tepes was a Prince of Transylvania who ruled between the years 1448 – 1456 and 1462-1476 respectively.

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In Transylvania, Vlad is most often frequently remembered as a folk hero who fought off a Turkish invasion during his reign. However, his harsh tactics in battle and his use of various forms of painful executions earned him several more infamous names throughout history. One of these names is Vlad the Imapler, due to his reported affinity for executing vanquished foes by impaling them on large wooden poles.

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He is also associated with a much more famous name: Dracula. Meaning son of the Dragon, or in some stories, son of the Devil. This name goes hand-in-hand with tales of Vlad’s bloodthirsty and ruthless nature.  These often sensationalized stories have grown in time with the proliferation of the famous novel, Dracula, first published by Bram Stoker in 1897.

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There are multiple theories as to how Vlad became associated with what can reasonably be argued as the most famous vampire of all time and I will not pretend to be a leading expert on the theory.  In this regard, I would refer you to the work of others, such as:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Reader’s Guide by William Hughes, PhD. http://www.amazon.com/Bram-Stokers-Dracula-Readers-Guides/dp/0826495370/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413286910&sr=8-1&keywords=dracula%2C+william+hughes

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally. http://www.amazon.com/Dracula-Prince-Many-Faces-Times-ebook/dp/B00FOR2O4O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413287133&sr=8-1&keywords=vlad+tepes

Or check out the website of Dacre Stoker and Hans de Roos, who are working on a Romanian Travel Guide for visiting locations associated the legends surrounding Vlad and its ties to Bram Stoker’s novel. http://www.dractravel.com/

Now, back to my personal journey.  It began in Bucharest, where I spent my first night in Romania. Initially, I was in awe of the city, in both positive and negative ways. To begin with the good, the city features a lot of history with some truly breath-taking views. The buildings are very elaborate, and the streets were lined with grandiose statues, and gorgeous fountains. And of highest importance…Bucharest has a Hard Rock Café which, as an avid Hard Rock pin collector, was definitely a point in its favour.

Hard Rock Romania

 

In the negative was driving in Romania, which I was fortunate enough not to have to do myself, as my father who took the trip with me did the driving. The streets were very crowded, sometimes consisting of up to six lanes which were completely lined with cars. The lanes were poorly marked, especially for night driving and there were a lot of round-abouts, some six lanes across with up the eight exits. The average speed of driving in Romania was probably 30mph, except on very specific highways. I say probably because road signs were not in abundance.

The second day is when the real journey began. We had three planned stops on our agenda for the first day. They were the Snagov Monastery; Princely Court with Chindia Tower in Targoviste; and our hotel outside of Bran Castle.

The first stop was Snagov Monastery which took us about 45 minutes to reach. Despite having a map and a GPS, we did get lost a few times before finally finding a sign that not only listed name of the Monastery, but actually said Vlad Tepes. We ended up following the signs to what we planned on being our first stop. It was located in a small town down several poorly paved roads in a deprived area that was several miles the main roads.

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When we reached the monastery, there were a group of men standing outside of the building. One of these men directed us to park the car, which at first seemed fine. However, after we got out of the car, the man approached my father and stated that if we paid him, nothing would happen to the vehicle and that his companions would walk us into the monastery itself. My father, who is generally uncomfortable with very little, gave me a look that spoke volumes as this man continued that state that nothing would happen if we paid him. We said a terse, no thank you, and got back into the car without seeing the actual location.

The second stop was Princely Court. It consists of two parts. The first is a garden with several statutes of the Princes who have ruled over Transylvania. It was actually quite lovely and was filled with flowers between the statutes. It also featured a rather touristy restaurant which advertised its association with Vlad Tepes. In the centre of the garden was a large statue of Vlad which towered over the ones surrounding it. We had a very enjoyable walk through this garden.

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The second part is the Chindia Tower, which is also associated with the Transylvanian Princes.

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However, it turns out that this tower is closed on Mondays, so we were unable to go inside. Though we did take several photographs of the outside. There was also a small restaurants called the Mcrama Murfatlar, which was both very reasonably priced and had excellent food and wine which is located between the Tower and the garden.

After this, we continued our journey towards Bran Castle. The drive up the mountains was a slow one, with the road full of sharp curves that had to be taken with the upmost care. The GPS and map estimates stated that it would take approximately 2 hours to make the drive, the reality (at least for our trip) was closer to 3 ½ .

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However, we did eventually reach the hotel by the castle and enjoyed a fun night of tasting some local wines.  We also took a few night photographs of Bran Castle, which to me appeared both powerful and ominous upon the mountainside, allowing my imagination to understand how one might come to associate the castle with the myths and legends of the vampire.

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The next morning we explored the castle itself. It held a great deal of history about the ruling families of Transylvania and the history of the castle itself along with some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. It also featured a section on the vampire myths associated with Vlad, a room I spent much time exploring.

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Kris Dad Bram Castle

Overall, the castle was truly spectacular and well worth the tedious trip up the mountains.

 

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After the castle, we shopped the small, open-air market that was located near the entrance and picked up a few things for some friends. Also could not resist trying a few of the specialties.

 

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Afterwards, we headed back to Bucharest where we spent out last night trying a few additional local foods and drinks of the area, including an unknown Romanian liquor whose name I was unable to recall the next morning.

Overall, despite a few complications, the trip was a good experience. It was really inspiring for me to be able to actually visit the locations which I have been studying and reading about for so many years. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take this trip and explore the history of the myths which inspired my imagination as a child and continue to do so to this day.

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Historical & Mythical Ireland

Last week, I took a tour to some of the more mythical and historical locations of Ireland, including a visit to Newgrange, Monasterboice, the Hill of Slane and the Hill of Tara. A student of both history and a mythology, I love trips such as this one, the kind that allow the imagination to run wild and, perhaps, offer a glimpse into the beliefs and dreams of days long ago.

To begin, Newgrange, is an ancient structure built nearly 5,500 years ago by the Sun Druids. There are multiple theories on what the structure, and several smaller ones surrounding it, was actually used for. The most popular theory seems to be that the structure was either used as a place for religious ceremony or as a burial chamber for leaders of the ancient communities.

Newgrange

The structure itself involves a cave-like entrance were those wishing go inside must both duck down and turn sideways in order to enter. You almost crawl through several feet of this before the tunnel again expands, allowing a small group of people to gather within. It consists of several small chambers with decorative stones in the shapes of spirals and other such carvings which have survived thousands of years on the surface of the ancient stones.

 

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However, the most spectacular aspect of Newgrange is that, once a year on the Winter Solstice, the sun aligns perfectly to allow a small stream of sunlight to enter and light the chamber. This event lasts for approximately seventeen minutes. The chance to see this event in person is highly competitive, and selection is from a lottery draw which is held once a year. For those not chosen though, a presentation is given to tour groups using alternative means of light, giving viewers an idea of what it would look like when lit by the sun.

The second stop was Monasterboice, where we visited a cemetery which hosts some of the most magnificent and oldest Celtic crosses in the country.

 

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It was really amazing to see.

Our third trip was the Hill of Slane at the top of which, holds a series of ruins.

Hill of Slane

Our last stop was the Hill of Tara, which is the home to the Stone of Destiny.

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According to myth, this stone was once enchanted with the power to determine the next King of Ireland. Stories state that when the ‘rightful’ king touched the stone, it would let out a type of scream which would be heard on all four corners of Ireland. In ancient times, 142 kings were said to have been crowned this way. (My father, who took the tour with me, touched the stone but was sadly not proclaimed the new King)

Tara is also home to what are known as fairy trees. In myth, these tress were known as the border between the realm of the mortal and that of the Sidhe (Fae) from myth.

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Traditionally, people would come to these trees and leave a small gift (generally a piece of cloth or other small item) of a personal nature to ask favour of the Sidhe. Cutting down these trees was seen as very bad luck and in many places, is still avoided whenever possible.  Overall, it was a great trip, which I would highly recommend!

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London & Cambridge

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I spent last week in the United Kingdom attending a conference titled – Great Writing: The International Creative Writing Conference. The paper I presented primarily covered the conflict between the creative writing and literature branches of English in academia.  It was followed by a ten-minute reading from my YA Fantasy novel, Rise of the Temple Gods: Heir to Kale. I enjoyed getting to spend time with fellow authors and learning about the many amazing and diverse views on the writing process! For more information on the paper I presented, please see my pervious blog entry titled: The Writer’s Journey- https://klbone.com/2014/05/06/the-writers-journey/

I also attended a meeting of the Watling Street Writers Group of St. Albans, which I used to attend while living in England. There were a bunch of new faces, though a few old ones as well. My best friend and writing partner, Jonny, also came up to London to see me. We spent the day at Kensington Palace. It was my first time there and the grounds were beautiful!

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We had a great time exploring the gardens before eventually walking over to Hyde Park and stopping by Hard Rock Café. For those who don’t know, London is home to the very first Hard Rock, which was founded in 1971. I collect Hard Rock pins and t-shirts. I had a good time walking through the parks and enjoying good company.

I also spent a few days in Cambridge. I had never been to the area before so I made a point to see lots of the tourist spots, including St. John’s College

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King’s College

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and a few others. I have a friend who is currently completing her Masters at Cambridge, so she kindly played tour guide for the visit. I thought Cambridge was beautiful and I could not help but stand in awe of the architecture and history portrayed within the walls of the university. I loved the visit and it was great to see my friends as well.

Overall, it was a great trip!

 

 

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Game of Thrones Exhibition Belfast

Last week I went to The Game of Thrones Exhibition in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We started the day early in Dublin, and arrived in Belfast around nine in the morning. The exhibition was held at the Belfast Waterfront and was within walking distance of the train station, so we headed directly there after our arrival.

There were two ways to get into the exhibition. If you had tickets, then you also had an appointed time slot and all that was required was that you show up on time. The second was for those who did not have tickets, which included myself. Tickets for the event were extremely popular and had actually sold out in a matter of hours after their release. So I joined a long line of others who were allowed inside as the building’s capacity allowed.

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It took about two hours from our arrival to get into the building, which overall was not bad. It was fairly organized and according to one of the people running the even, just about everyone who had come to see the exhibition was eventually allowed in.

The exhibition featured, drawings, costumes and props from the Game of Thrones television show which were used on set. It included the gowns from Joffrey’s wedding.

Purple wedding clothes

Costumes worn by the Night’s Watch

the wall costumes

 

 

And, of course, Dragons!

 

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It also featured many of the weapons carried by various characters and other props such as jewelry, and goblets.

 

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Visitors could climb the wall through the use of virtual reality technology and, of course the highlight, they could get their pictures taken on The Iron Throne where they were allowed to rule all within their sight…for the five to ten seconds they were allowed to sit upon the Throne.

 

Kris Iron Throne

It was a really cool experience. I am a fan of both the novels and the show, and to see the costumes up close and to see the amazing level of detail which went into the making of each and every piece really helped to bring the show to life. If you are a fan and fortunate enough to live in one of the cities where the exhibition will be coming, I would highly recommend visiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prague and the Evil Conference

I spent the last week in Prague, Czech Republic to attend the 15th Global Conference: Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness.  I was a presenter in the first panel, presenting a paper titled: Dark Side of a Hero: The Villain in the Role of the Protagonist.  The conference was excellent and inter-disciplinary in nature, featuring papers on everything from fictitious villains such as the Wicked Witch of the West, to a panel of speakers who spent three weeks in Rwanda researching the lasting impact of Genocide, to a creative piece on the impact of war.  Each speaker brought something truly unique to the conference from an international community, as over 11 different countries were represented this year from numerous disciplines of study.  It was my second time attending the Evil conference and I can truly say it is one of the more fun conferences I have had the pleasure of attending.

Prague itself was amazing!  The city was beautiful; one could hardly turn a corner without seeing a magnificent Gothic or Baroque building.  This was found on everything from the National Museum to the casual restaurant and offered amazing views of absolutely gorgeous buildings.  However, for me personally, the highlights were the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, just outside of Prague and the Strahov Monastery in the city.

The Ossuary, also known as the Kostnice Sedlci.  It is a small Roman Catholic Chapel and contains approximately 40,000 human bones.

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According to my tour guide, the monks started gathering bones from the cemetery surrounding the chapel in the early 1500s.  From these bones, they created six pyramids.  They did so as a demonstration of equality – to show that, in the end, all people end up exactly the same.  Then, in the 1870s, a man by the name of Frantisek Rint was hired to rearrange some of the bones into decorations which include a chandelier, candle holders and the family crest of the Schwarzenberg family.

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It was both thrilling and a little surreal to stand within the chapel.  I felt a great sense of reverence standing among those piles of indistinguishable bones and I would highly recommend anyone who has the chance to visit the Ossuary.

The tour I took also included a visit to the Church of St. Barbara which was one of the best examples of Gothic architecture I have seen to date.  From the towering arches to the numerous painted windows it was both intimidating and awe-inspiring. A walk around the church lead to a bridge lined with statutes intended to be Kutna Hora’s answer to the Charles IV Bridge in Prague.

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The next day, I went to the Strahov Monastery which was equally amazing.  Its library, featuring both a Theological and Philosophical Hall, was recently ranked among the top libraries in the world, and for good reason.  In addition to an impressive collection of books, some of which date as far back as the 1200s, the ceiling of the library is what I can only describe as breath-taking.  Housing over 18,000 theological and over 40,000 philosophical texts, the two halls are painted with various depictions of what they represent, with the Theological Hall including depictions of scenes from the Bible, from Adam and Eve to Jesus while the Philosophical Hall begins with scenes from Greek mythology to depictions of famous philosophers.

STRAHOV MONASTERY

STRAHOV MONASTERY

It reminded me of work I had seen in the Sistine Chapel in terms of both beauty and history.  The layout of the books, particularly in the Theological Hall, really reminded me of the Old Library at Trinity College.  I was also fortunate enough to have enjoyed dinner there which was excellent and served with wine and beer from the monastery’s own winery and brewery.

Overall, the trip was excellent and I enjoyed both the conference and the city.  It was a great experience and I look forward to the possibility of returning for next year’s conference. For any who might be interested, check out the conferences hosted by Interdisciplinary at: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/

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Undead Conference & Vampire Lestat Reunion Ball

Last week I attended the Undead Conference in New Orleans, hosted by the phenomenal staff of the Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club.  It is an annual event which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, primarily by the commencement of the annual Vampire Lestat Reunion Ball.

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For a student of Gothic Literature, the event was nothing short of one of the most amazing and exhilarating experiences of my life.  Over the course of the four day conference, I sat through multiple panels featuring authors from the newly and independently published, such as the talented Greg Wilkey, to bestselling authors like Christopher Rice.  These authors entertained their audience through speaking about their various novels, answering audience questions, and participating in lively debates concerning everything from the nature of good and evil to the best ways to sell your novel to a television or film company.

There were several highlights throughout the weekend.  However, I would like to share my favourite, which is on a bit of a personal note.  Among those who attended the vampiric festivities was long time friend, ‘SR’ and my mother-in-law, ‘TB.’  It was their first experience with the Gothic World of the vampire events which I tend to frequent and it was great to have them along.  My favourite moment was at the actual ball, when a vampire walked up to ‘TB’ and asked: “Excuse me, have you seen a werewolf?”  The moment – priceless!  Later in the evening, we did indeed, find the werewolf!

  New Orleans werewolf

The real highlight was, of course, meeting Anne Rice herself.  I had the pleasure of speaking with her at two different events during the conference, first at a cocktail party held the first night of the conference and second, at a book signing in the Garden District.  She was signing her newest novel, The Wolves of Midwinter along with her son Christopher who was signing his own recently released novel, The Heavens Rise.

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I also met Becket at these events, Rice’s assistant who recently published his own novels in the vampire genre, The Blood Vivicanti.  Meeting Rice was a dream, not only a long-time reader of her novels, but also as an academic who completed my MA dissertation on her Vampire Chronicles.  She was kind, gracious, and meeting her was one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced.

The Ball itself was also a lot of fun.  We met a lot of fellow authors and fans alike, listened to some great music, and danced the night away on a floor which had been transformed into a Gothic paradise.

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As it was my first visit to the Crescent City, we also took a haunted tour of the French Quarter which was both informative and fun.  A favorite place was, of course, seeing the house where Anne Rice once lived and wrote numerous novels.

 

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As well as visiting a few of the famous cemeteries.

 

We explored many of the delights of Burbon and Royal Street and were even there for the annual Halloween parade.  We also made some great new friends along the way.  The ball and conference was a wonderful experience which I would highly recommend to anyone with a love for the Gothic, Vampiric, or simply the darker side of literature.

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