Friday, October 31, 2014

Five great creepy travel destinations for Halloween

Maya sculpture, ruins of Lamanai, Belize  (Taylor)
CHARLOTTE, NC, October 31, 2014 – If ever there was a country that epitomizes the spirit of Halloween it would have to be England.

From silhouetted castles overlooking wind-swept bluffs to mysterious mist-shrouded moors to half-timbered villages with twisting narrow cobblestoned streets, the entire country is haunted.

Just because England has an abundance of eerie surroundings however, doesn’t mean it is the only place in the world that gives Halloween a good name.

Explore the eerie streets of York with a ghost walk   (The Original Ghost Walk)
It is impossible to list every creepy destination on Earth, but here are five good ones just to get started.
For a city its size, York may have more historic attractions than any other spot in England. Part of the charm is the perfectly preserved ancient wall that still permeates the city.

York was founded by the Romans in 71 AD and during the Middle Ages, it was a major kingdom for Scandinavian invaders, and Guy Fawkes, who was instrumental in planning the Gunpowder Plot, was born and educated in York.

One of the great attractions of York are the ghost walks that take place each night. Its compact size and distinctive nooks and crannies make it the ideal location to seek out sinister characters lurking among the shadows of its amber-lit streets.

The place that captures the imagination most is the old open-air slaughterhouse and meat market street known as the "The Shambles." The overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating to the 14th century, still exist today providing a deliciously proper atmosphere for sinister tales of murder and mayhem.

Mosaic of Bones, Capuchin Crypt Rome  (wikipedia)
Next stop Rome, where along the famed Via Veneto is the church of Santa Maria della Concenzione del Cappuccini near Piazza Barberini.

Beneath the church is the Capuchin Crypt; a small area comprised of several tiny chapels containing the skeletal remains of some 3,700 Capuchin friars who were once members of the order.

As visitors enter the crypt, a sign over the door reads, "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be..."

Capuchin Crypt, Rome  (wikipedia)
What is unique about the crypt however, is the way the bones are displayed in a collection of strange human mosaics. There are a total of six rooms containing the bodies of friars who died between 1528 and 1870.

Frommer’s guidebooks describes it as "one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom", but the Catholic order believes the displays demonstrate the fragility of life and its swift passage on Earth.
The Marquis de Sade said his visit in 1775 was well worth the effort.

Later, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about the crypt in his 1860 novel “The Marble Faun“, as did Mark Twain in 1869 in "The Innocents Abroad."
Domtilla Catacomb, Rome  (wikipedia)
The Capuchin monks also contributed to the Catacombs in Rome which are man-made subterranean passages that are typically used for religious practices and burials.

Many cities have catacombs including London, Helsinki, Vienna, Odessa, Alexandria and Granada, but the best known are those in Rome and Paris.

Calixtus Catacomb, Rome  (wikipedia)
The very idea of underground hideaways captures the imagination and leads to thoughts of smugglers, secret societies and other assorted mysterious activities.

Rome has more than 40 catacombs of which the Christian burial sites are the most famous. They can be found along the Appian Way and date to the 2nd century AD as a means of dealing with overcrowding in the city and a shortage of land.

Wall of skulls, Catacomb of Paris  (wikipedia)
The Catacombs of Paris had no religious significance other than being ossuaries for human remains. Estimates say the French catacomb labyrinth contains about six million people, giving them the title as "The World’s Largest Grave."

Mention the names “Transylvania“ and “Dracula“ and they conjure frightening images all by themselves. Never mind that the Castle of Bran in Romania has no link with the real-life creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker, or with the actual person of Vlad the Impaler whom Stoker used as a model for his character.

Count Dracula's home, Castle of Bran, Romania  (Bran Castle)
Bran Castle has become a national monument on the border of Transylvania and Wallachia in Romania. 

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia lived during the mid-1400s and was called “The Impaler“ because of his practice of impaling his enemies. Known throughout Europe for his excessively bloody cruelty, there is no record, other than Bram Stoker’s imagination, that he went to the extremes of Count Dracula.

Truth or fiction matters little when you visit the Castle of Bran, however. Especially if you can go on a cold, gray overcast day in a rainstorm.
Mysteries of the Maya civilization, Lamanai, Belize  (Taylor)
Leaving Europe for the Maya civilization of Central America takes us to Lamanai which is believed to have been occupied thousands of years before Christ.

The jungle location situated near a lagoon that is part of New River gives Lamanai an eerie presence with structures like the Mask Temple, the Jaguar Temple and the High Temple.

Until the mid-1970s most of the site was unexcavated and large portions of the city  remain covered by dense jungle growth.

Mask Temple, Lamanai, Belize  (Taylor)
Like Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is home to numerous Mayan cities which continue to beckon archaeologists from all over the world.

In Maya "lamanai" means "submerged crocodile." The reptiles play a significant role in the ecosystem surrounding the ruins and add to the "Jungle Jim" ambiance of the location.

You see Halloween is always lurking somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of our imagination. For curious travelers however, it can also be a source of discovery that thrives within the realm of reality itself.