Icelandic Horses

Two weeks ago I decided to share weekly photos on Instagram of places I’ve visited along with an interesting fact about the place. Fast forward to today, I figure this also makes for some fun, short, weekly blog posts.

So, let’s jump right into my fun fact from week number one.

This past June, I visited Iceland. It was a quick stopover on our way home from Amsterdam and the visit was rushed. We travelled along Ring Road as quickly as possible, hitting all the top tourist spots, sleeping in our rental car, and hiking a glacier before heading back to the States.

We also ran into this perfect roadside pasture and met a couple of the locals. These beautiful Icelandic horses were so friendly and let us walk right up and take a couple pictures with them. No, we didn’t feed them, don’t worry.

Icelandic horses are short, stubby, and fluffy, they almost resemble ponies. But every horse you see here looks similar, there really is no variation in the typical Icelandic horse characterization. This got us wondering, why?

Simple, it’s illegal to bring any type of horse into Iceland. You can bring an Icelandic horse out of the country, but once it’s removed it cannot come back in. This prevents any foreign diseases from entering the ecosystem.

I’m not an expert on horses, or genes, or most science-related information but, the conclusion I got from this was that without the introduction of other species the gene pool has stayed the same, limiting the variance of the Icelandic horse.

What you see is what you get and these horses are cute enough that I don’t think anyone would have it any other way.

Part 4 – I’m the Queen of the Castle and He’s the Dirty Rascal

Finally an early morning in Amsterdam. For me at least – I had to drag John out of bed, but I didn’t care because the one thing on top of my Amsterdam Bucket List was to go see a real life fairytale…. sorta.

I wanted to visit a castle and Kasteel de Haar was my dream come true; surrounded by a moat, flower gardens, and even a maze, it had everything.

It took us two trains and a bus to get there just to find out the castle was closed for a private event. Fortunately, the grounds were open and it still took us over an hour to see about two-thirds of it.

It was vast and amazing, with green everywhere you looked dotted with pink and purple flowers. There were swans roaming around the different bodies of waters and if we had had more time we could have wandered down to their deer pasture.

As predicted, I fell in love with the place and for the first time on this trip, took hundreds of pictures. If I had actually been let into the castle I’m not sure if I would have ever left.

Before heading back into Amsterdam we spent a couple of hours in Utrecht. The first hour was spent searching for the “perfect” pizza place – only one owned and operated by Italians would satisfy John’s taste buds at this moment.

After pizza and gelato we explored the St. Martin’s Cathedral – originally built and designed by Catholics and destroyed during the Reformation in 1580. Catholic symbols were literally chiseled off the walls, making this an interesting place to visit.

The other thing that makes this place so interesting is that the entire central hall collapsed in 1674 and was never rebuilt. There is now an open air courtyard between the tower and the main building – you can visit both sections separately.

I guess we saved the best for last because this was my favorite day spent in Holland and after arriving back in Amsterdam we only had time to grab our luggage from the hotel before heading to the airport to catch our flight to Iceland!

Part 3 – The Typical Touristy Stuff

June 30th-

Finally, after being in the country for 3 days already we took a day to be actual tourists.

Even though waking up was a burden, either because the jet lag finally hit home or all the Heinekens did. My vote is for the Heinekens so what better place to start our day than the Heineken Experience? Yay, more beer!

But first chicken wings – yes, for breakfast because vacation. (and it was already noon.)

The history of the Heineken brewery is predictable. Rich kid invests family fortune on a brewery and proceeds to make family fortune bigger.

The whole thing was interactive and of course included several beers – definitely a must see in Amsterdam.

We then took the risk of attempting the Anne Frank House. Unfortunately, the only thing this mission was good for was the exercise because that hour long line was just not going to happen for us.

Our next stop on the list was courtesy of our bartender from the night before. Europe’s highest swing on top of the A’dam Building. It’s located right across the canal from Central Station and you can take a free ferry over. The tower also happens to be the second tallest building in Amsterdam so you get the best view over looking the city.

On the floor below the swing is a 360 interactive observatory. Being able to see the sites and ‘click’ on the locations to read about it in real time is awesome.

After dinner there was one more museum I had to make time for, this one brought us back to the Red Light District. The Museum of Prostitution features a red window tucked right in with all the others and is actually a room where a prostitute got murdered a while back. The museum had some fun facts about the different types of legal prostitution around Amsterdam and a confession wall where visitors can display their dirty secrets as well.

We woke up tired and spent the entire day walking back and forth across the city, I don’t think either one of us even considered staying out that night. It was an early bedtime to get ready for what was going to be my favorite day in Amsterdam.

Do you Believe in Ghosts?

As some of the earliest settlements in Massachusetts, Gloucester and the surrounding towns have a lot of history. Gloucester has long been a fishing village; many people from the start have lost their lives to both the sea and to pirates. Nearby you can find the infamous Salem, known for the witch trials in the 1690s.

Because of all of this history and these really unfortunate deaths, there are a lot of cool places to checkout in the area. Especially in the weeks leading up to Halloween. And although I tend to stay away from all things scary, this year I was very curious about how many places around me are supposedly haunted.

Salem steals the spotlight from September 30th through November 1st. The witch museums and just the city in general attract thousands of tourists during this time and because of this I try to avoid the area.

Like I said, I avoid all things scary, and I mean I will literally sleep with my television on Disney channel to avoid previews for a scary movie. The one thing that is drawing me to Salem this October is nothing haunted. In the middle of town is Wynott’s Wands, a witch shop like the many others around it but featuring wands from my favorite series- Harry Potter.

Right around the corner from Wynott’s Wands is the Hawthorne Hotel. Constructed in 1925, the hotel has since had over one million guests including Bill Clinton, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lawrence.

The hotel is also reportedly haunted on the sixth floor as well as room number 325, where many people have claimed to witness weird happenings over the years. The Hawthorne Hotel is still a functioning hotel, book a room here if you are brave enough.

From Salem you can take route 127 North towards Gloucester. You will pass through the town of Beverly before passing Endicott College. There are several buildings on Endicott’s campus that have had multiple reports of hauntings.

In my opinion, Winthrop Hall has the most interesting haunted tale. The hall is now a residence for students but was previously a waterfront mansion and home to a woman widowed at the hands of the sea and still waiting for her husband to return.

Continue following route 127 past Manchester-by-the-Sea and you end up in Magnolia, a small village within Gloucester and home of Hammond’s Castle.

John Hayes Hammond, Jr. was an inventor who is known as the Father of Remote Control. While he was alive, Hammond would remote operate his boat in the harbor from the confines of his castle to scare the people of Gloucester with this “ghost ship.”

Hammond was also, reportedly, a believer of reincarnation and a cat lover. Visitors to the castle have reported sightings of stray cats and the smell of cat urine. You can visit the castle year round but before Halloween the castle is transformed into a haunted house.

Dogtown is one of the most eerie places in Gloucester. It started as an inland civilization for fishing families who needed distance from the pirates that terrorized the coastline. As the settlement was abandoned or inhabitants died, their dogs were left behind, became feral and gave the area its current name.

Since this time, the area, deep in the woods, has become home for homeless and growing up I was advised to stay away from it. Many people have died in these woods, the most recent being about 30 years ago when Anne Natti was murdered here.

The history of Dogtown as well as the story of this murder was unraveled by Elyssa East in her book “Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town” and is a book I recommend to anyone unable to take the trip themself.

It is not a place I would venture through alone or without a map, but the hiking trail through Dogtown is still maintained and accessible. If you dare to enter these woods keep your eyes open for the boulders etched with motivational phrases by Roger Babson.

While I enjoy learning about these places, reading is as close as I will get to anything that is supposedly haunted. Stay safe and happy hauntings.

 

 

Skagway’s History

This history of Skagway is flaunted around town, it is part of the tourist appeal, and had me intrigued enough to spend my day off in the library.

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My curiosity along with some rain clouds drew me in to the Skagway Public Library while the bean bag chairs drew me in to the teen section with a copy of Skagway: A Legacy of Gold.

Curled up in my bean bag chair I was able to get halfway through the book before I got kicked out and sent to the adult area. Life is depressing when people remind you how old you are and force you to adult.

I want to sum up what I learned in the four hours I spent in the library yesterday because I genuinely think it is interesting and hopefully it will spark your curiosity and make you want to come see Skagway for yourself.

There was never any gold in Skagway, the gold was found in the Yukon in Canada. Travelers from America were able to sail in to the port in Skagway and hike up either the White Pass trail or the Chilkoot Trail.

The Chilkoot Trail is located about eight miles from Skagway in the former town of Dyea. Dyea pretty much died out when the railroad was built in Skagway which made the journey north easier.

Skagway was originally known as Mooresville, named for its founder William Moore. The name Skagway comes from the Native American term ‘Shagagwei.’ As I mentioned in my last post, this roughly translates to ‘the windy city’ and as Bernard Moore said, “The same air is never breathed twice.”

On Palm Sunday in 1898 there was an avalanche on the Chilkoot Trail.The Native Americans in the area warned the miners not to travel, but they didn’t listen and about 70 miners and their family members were killed in the avalanche. They were buried in what is now known as the Slide Cemetery in Dyea, which you can still visit today.

One of my favorite stories of Skagway is the story of Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Soapy is the most infamous outlaw to come out of Skagway. He ran illegal saloons, gambling and brothels.

Soapy got his name because he came up with a plot to make more money. He made soaps and in some of the bars he would put money, this made sales of his soaps sky-rocket. The soaps containing money always ended up getting sold to friends of his, so he kept making money.

Soapy was killed in a shootout with Skagway’s first town surveyor, Frank Reid. There is now a show in town based on Soapy Smith, The Days of 98 Show.

I could write a novel about the history of Skagway and what makes this place so interesting but I will leave it at that so you can come learn more for yourself.