Category Archives: Travel

Germany, Romania & the Dracula Workshop

Last week, I attended the International Conference Beliefs and Behaviors in Education and Culture in where I was a presenter in the workshop titled: Where’s the Place of Dracula: (De)constructing Stereotypes in the Study of the Mythical Space in Literature and the Arts.

The conference was held at the West University of Timișoara, Romania. Everything from the actual conference to the tour of the Romanian countryside was absolutely amazing! And what better place to hold a Dracula conference than in Romania, where Stoker set his famous novel.

However before I went to Romania, I first decided to spend a few days in Munich, Germany, a country I had always wanted to visit. After landing in the city, my first full day was spent exploring downtown. Sights included: Marienplatz, which is a plaza showing several beautiful examples of Gothic architecture. It was referred to by one local I spoke with as the ‘Heart of Prague’ and a glance at the magnificent structure which forms the center of he Plaza, I could easily see why it would be referred to in such a way.

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We also went to the Residenz Munchen. composed of a series of elaborate buildings consisting of the households of important figures, elaborate artwork, to an opera house which was by far, my favorite of the buildings I was fortunate enough to view.

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And of course, and perhaps most importantly, the Hard Rock Cafe! (I am an avid pin and shot glass collector)

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We met my friend, Hans, for lunch. He is photographer, fellow writer and Dracula scholar, author of several Dracula research books including the Dracula Bram Stoker Travel Guide, a project he is working on with fellow author, Dacre Stoker.

We also went to Nymphenburg Palace, which was nothing short of breathtaking from the elaborate rooms (which reminded me a lot of the Strahov Monastery in Prague):

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Outside photograph of Nymphenburg Palace

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Inside photograph of Nymphenburg Palace

To the garden which featured statues of the Greek Gods. It was a special site for me, as a lover of classical Greek and Roman history and literature.

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Altogether, we spent three wonderful days in Munich before heading back to the airport for a thankfully much shorter flight, to Timisoara, Romania. The conference organizers were kind of enough to arrange transportation, so all of the conference attendees had rides awaiting them to their respective hotels, which was very much appreciated.

The conference itself was filled with speakers on various subjects dealing with various issues concerning everything from the education system, to contemporary issues facing Romania and surrounding countries, to what I had been invited to speak on – Dracula. The key note speech on Stoker’s Dracula was given a Prof. of Gothic literature. The speech would begin the discussion for the workshop which took place the following day. The workshop itself was a wonderful gathering of vampire enthusiasts; from professors in the field to graduate students to a few select authors and independent researchers. Topics covered included, but were certainly not limited to: The possible location of Dracula’s Castle the impact of vampire texts upon actual locations; family dynamics in vampire film; to people who self-identify as ‘real’ vampires in one form or another. Each speaker was amazing and had something very unique to offer to the building group discussion and I was honored to be a part of it.

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Speakers of the Dracula Workshop – photo credit to: http://benecke.com/

The last day of the conference was a group tour into Transylvania where the highlight of the visit was a castle which serves as a possible contender for a might have inspired Bram Stoker when he sat down to write the story of the now famous Transylvanian count. It was an impression, imagination-inspiring place, to say the least.

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I absolutely loved getting to explore Corvin Castle, but to have the opportunity to do so alongside a group of people who love the vampire story as much as I, made it absolute magic!

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In front of Corvin’s Castle, Romania

To see more photographs, visit my Facebook page:

 https://www.facebook.com/klboneauthor

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Boston & American Literature Association Conference

I spent the weekend on a trip to Boston, where I was a speaker at the 26th annual American Literature Association Conference. It was my first time in the area, so I was excited both for the event and the trip itself.

I spoke on the panel titled: Nobody Understand Me:Evil Kids in Children’s Literature along with four other wonderful speakers, focusing on a variety of aspects, including both film and literature representations of the darker side of children.

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My specific paper was well-received and I really enjoyed the lively discussion which followed both during the Q & A and at the following lunch, where everyone gathered in a nearby park for sandwiches.

I also attended several additional panels, including speeches on the work of Octavia Butler (I’ve completed some work on her novel, The Fledgling), Ellen Glasgow (a ‘southern gothic’ author), the Victorian afterlives, and for fun, a panel on detective novels — among a few others.

I also walked around the Boston Library which was very impressive and located directly across the street from the conference location. I had a chance to speak with fellow authors and scholar on any and all aspects of our shared loved of literature.

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After the conference was over, I scheduled a few days to travel through New England. First, we went to Salem, Massachusetts  and explored the town. A few of the houses date back to the 16 and 1700s, which was really cool. My father, who made the trip with me, is a big American History fan so he was loving exploring the history of both Salem and the area surrounding it. We also saw a few things focusing on the witch trials and explored a bit of the history in that regard as well.

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Then, walking down the street famous for it’s witches, leave it to me to find…a vampire! So of course, I could not resist having my picture taken with him.

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Then dad and I decided to take as side-trip from Massachusetts to Maine in order to visit the Portland Lobster Company. It is a small building, super-crowded where people order their lobster and then wait a solid hour before being given a seat at a long wooden table outdoors in the dock.

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There were a ton of people, a live band, and a cool ocean breeze blowing across the water, disrupted by the occasion sound of boats passing by. Amazing food and we had a great time just sitting there listening to the music for several hours before beginning the journey back to Boston. My dad had always wanted to have Maine lobster in Maine, so it was a check off the bucket list.

 

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Our last day there, we visited a place I had always dreamed of seeing — Harvard University.

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That is me sitting on the steps of one of my dream schools. (Still waiting on that acceptance letter —beginning to think it got lost along with my acceptance to Hogwarts) The tour was student-lead and the guide was very knowledgeable, revealing different points of history along the tour, including the buildings where a few award winners and a President (or two) had stayed.

We also, of course, went to the Hard Rock Cafe. I am a big pin collector.

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Overall, it was a great trip and I enjoyed by the conference and getting to see a part of the country where I had never traveled before.

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Game of Thrones & Northern Ireland – pt. 2

For Valentine’s this year we decided to forgo the traditional dinner out and instead opted to go on a tour of several filming locations used for the popular HBO show, Game of Thrones, based on the bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. This tour consisted of several locations used primarily in the first season of the show in Northern Ireland.

 

Our first stop was Inch Abbey.

 

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This is where Robb Stark was declared King of the North by his men who chose to swear loyalty to him.

 

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The actual location is an abbey which dates back to the the 1100s.

 

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It is also the site where Robb Stark learns of his father’s death and tell his mother that he intends to kill those who had murdered his father and wronged his family.

 

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Next we went to Castle Ward, the filming location of Winterfell.

 

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Sitting on over 800 acres of land, the area once belonged to the Ward family has since become a UK National Heritage site. Because of this, all of the extra pieces of the set which were built for the show had to be removed once filming was done. It should also be noted that CGI was used in several instances in order to increase the magnitude of the buildings used for various shots.

This is standing inside of the main courtyard of the Castle, which dates back to the 1500s.

 

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It was here that we were given a brief history lesson of the castle, the surrounding area, and how it came to be a filming location for Game of Thrones. It was also here that visitors were given the option to wear costumes from the show while embarking upon an hour walk  around the grounds featuring some beautiful landscapes.

 

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At the end of the walk, we also came upon Audley’s Castle which was used as the filming location for The Twins; the castle occupied by The Freys.

 

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Interestingly enough, Audley’s consists of only one tower, not two. The second tower was added through the use of special effects in the television show.

 

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It felt a little surreal to actually be standing in the same location as where these famous scenes were shot, not to mention the hundreds of years of actual history which took place around the scenes. A truly wonderful combination of fantasy and history.

Our third stop was to Tollymore Forest.

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This was the filming location for several shots from the very first episode of Game of Thrones, including the opening scene beyond the wall and where the Starks find the direwolves.

 

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Last, but certainly not least, we actually got to meet two of the actors – Odin and Thor.

 

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They played direwolf pups  Summer and Grey Wind, in part of the first season.

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Overall, I really enjoyed to tour and had a wonderful time.

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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.

Anne Rice meet greet

 

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. 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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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