Halloween-Spooky Travel Tales

When I was growing up, we did not go trick-or-treating on Halloween. In northern Europe at the time, we simply did not know about such a spooky day or the tradition of scary/funny costumes and candy in excess. We were happy to get some candy on big holidays and sometimes even on an ordinary Sunday – nothing spooky about that. Nowadays, of course, the idea of Halloween has spread to most countries, probably even to my home village in the far north.

Over the years, as I’ve traveled the globe, I’ve come across a few spooky moments, all very different, and this might be a good day to tell you about a couple of those.

The first thing that comes to mind is the visit my hubby and I made to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London on our honeymoon trip many, many moons ago. We were fascinated by all the famous figures exhibited there. In the course of walking around and admiring them, my hubby got an idea. He had noted that his long curly hair (yeah, we were neo-hippies at that time) was very similar to the hair of the many famous historical figures of the past. So he decided to stand still next to an exhibition. He stood there completely motionless and it was soon clear that some of the visitors thought he was part of the exhibition. To the point that they started touching his long coat. That’s when he moved his eyes! I could hear people screaming, scared to the bone by this wax figure coming to life! We had so much fun and after a while he stepped down, in order not to attract the attention of the museum guards to his little prank. Before we needed to flee the scene we had enough time to picture me too with my idol at the time,  the late President John F. Kennedy. But it was some spooky fun!

The next spooky travel experience came a couple of years later when we traveled in Italy. We stayed just south of Rome in the beach town of Taormina. We enjoyed the days at the beach, cycled on the mountainous roads, which was scary enough in that traffic, but we also spent some time to see the sights in Rome. Among the scariest places I’ve ever visited were the ancient catacombs or underground burial places beneath Rome. There are five catacombs open to public, some have four layers (or stories) of tunnels and a few of them are several kilometers long.

It was very easy to become spooked, scared and even claustrophobic walking in the ancient tunnels deep beneath the city. Some stretches were properly lit, some very dimly lit and others almost dark. The corridors were wide at some points, particularly where they intersected, but there we places where one could hardly pass, moist walls squeezing on both sides. The air was stale and moist too as you can imagine. There we some nice frescos and sculptures, but also sculls and mummified bodies, hundreds of burial chambers and other scary stuff. I could hear the wings of history and feel the sad emotions gathered in these tunnels. It was an unusual and spooky feeling.  The thought that I might be left alone there in the underground, walking the burial grounds forever, made it really scary. I definitely started to fear that I may never see the light of day again. But of course I eventually came out of there, totally spooked.

Another place that fascinated me was the Colosseum where the ancient gladiator games were held. The ruins of the dome itself were very impressive,  but I also wanted to see some of the inner chambers at the ground level, where the gladiators waited for their turn, and others where the lions were kept. Again I felt the anxiety, the excitement and the cruelty of this place in my bones. It was a hot summer day but suddenly it got freezing cold. I could almost hear the excited shouts of the public, the roar of the lions and the silence of the gladiators waiting. Spooky.

These were some of the travel tales down the memory lane that I thought would be just suitably Halloween-spooky. The scariest thing I now have at home is our little poodle who has turned into a ghostly hound dog for the day.

On a more somber note, I know that this year’s trick-or-treating will be muted or non-existent in many neighborhoods due to the painstaking clean-up and recovery after Sandy’s devastation. I feel for the kids whose homes may have been damaged and whose neighborhoods have been altered by the storm. I hope and pray they will be warm tonight, surrounded by family and friends somewhere safe. There are many ways for us to pitch in to support the recovery efforts.  It will be a long road. Happy Halloween.

Cookies for You?

We really don’t know what we need. And we have no clue about what we might want. There is a reasonable  chance that we might want or really need things that we don’t have the faintest idea even exist. But they know. If we have ever used the internet.

On a daily basis, we learn more about our potential to want, need, own, use, have, enjoy and fantasize about.  Like getting slimmer, going on a fancy vacation, wanting a new car or really badly needing a larger diamond. But they learn more.

The customization of the on-line ad offerings goes into high gear the minute we type something in a search engine, click on or “like” something on a site. It’s called behavioral advertising. I have yet to figure out whether the ads are intended to support our current behavior or to change it.

Unless we are rigorous and browse “in private” at all times, disable our cookies, opt out from targeted ads from various ad platforms, etcetera, they will know more and more about us as we happily tap away on the keyboard. But who is persistently rigorous? It’s hard work to protect one’s privacy on the net, and it costs money to upgrade to ad-free services.

If we have the inclination, time and patience to dig a bit deeper, it’s quite interesting to see what information the cookies and pixel tags have collected on us. How we appear to the ad world.

The information I found about myself the other day was quite…let’s say,  intriguing:

  • I’m a female – bingo! At least the fragrance ads I’m offered are Pour Femme.
  • I’m 18-20 years old – whoaa! Got a great bargain right there, more than 50% off.  That also explains the dating and college ads. It’s nice to be young again. Just need to avoid searches that would indicate otherwise, like for a Life Style Lift.
  • I live in New Jersey – sorry, not even close. But I’ve been to Newark (EWR) for intercontinental transfers a few times. Maybe I connected to their wireless service once while waiting for five hours…and that counts for living somewhere?
  • Interested in MMA – whoooz, whoooz,  me a black belt? The closest I’ve come to mixed martial arts is a karate academy for kids where I drove our son when he was about 11. He’s been out of college for more than five years now…but maybe they remember?
  • Interested in dogs – definitely. They got that right, but where are my coupons for dog food? No ads for bonus dog toys, nada!

And someone must also think I’m overweight. My doctor doesn’t think so, but I’m getting these fat burning ads. One miracle drug after another! Although it was not explicitly mentioned in my ad profile, they must also think I need a new ride. The ads I’m served tell the story. Young female driving an old Ford in New Jersey – needs a new Explorer, the green version. Maybe I really need it, just don’t know it? Green version would be good. Or a sleek Porsche maybe?

And so it goes. Ads customized just for us. We search and we find. Our steps are tracked and we’re offered more. More of the same, similar looking, similar smelling or simply more choices. Maybe we need more of everything?  These are modern times and we are big business!

Sometimes I wonder what we did before the internet? How we managed to get through life without it? The Yellow Book super thick version? Lots of calling around? We certainly drove around for hours looking for a specific wine bottle opener and still didn’t find exactly what we were looking for in our local stores. We had to remember all birthdays weeks in advance, go find the gifts, box them and go to the post office to mail them. So much more work! How did we have any time to live?

Now we’ll just log in to Amazon or another favorite on-line store and have “it” at our door step, or the recipient’s,  the next day. And then we’ll be offered hundreds of bottle openers, or whatever we browsed for, in the next few weeks. All colors and shapes, matching accessories, maybe also some good wine to go with it. We may really need all that. What do I know? They do.

The Little Dancer

I met this little dancer on one of our visits to Victoria Falls. His dad was performing in a music and dance group and this little guy was standing on his own parallel to the performance, watching them keenly and dancing to the tunes for almost an hour!  He more or less stole the show.  I’ve always remembered him and wished him blessings in life.  A future musician, no doubt!

Hey little man you tune is good

watching you was lifting my mood

inspiring you were, albeit still small

grow up a good man, healthy and tall

use your talents and the limit is the sky

walk through life with your head held high.

The Smoke That Thunders

victoria falls

One beautiful December morning some 25 years ago, we stepped onboard a small and very old propeller plane in Lusaka, Zambia to fly south to the Zambia/Zimbabwe border. That was the first of many trips we would do over the years to experience one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Mosi-oa-Tunya. It means the smoke that thunders – a very descriptive indigenous name given by the Tonga tribe to the falls we now know as Victoria Falls.

This worlds largest waterfall stretches one mile (1.7 km) wide and 360 f (108 m) high, producing a huge continuing curtain of falling water during the rainy season.  The main streams have also been named: Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and the Eastern Cataract. The wide basalt cliff over which the water falls into the ravine transforms the calm Zambezi river into a wild torrent with numerous dramatic gorges and true white water rapids.

We have come to visit these falls both from Zambia and Zimbabwe, both sides of the falls offer beautiful views and nice accommodations. Upon arrival, I’ve just liked to relax in the hotel gardens and listen to the ancient thunder of the falls and watch the mist raising towards the skies.

victoria falls

Then it’s been time to take a walk in the two national parks protecting the falls on both sides of the border. The vegetation in the parks is lush, rainforest-like, due to the continuous natural “irrigation”. But there are nice walking paths from which one can admire the wonderous beauty of the falls from many different angles. The  thunder is on “high volume setting” when you walk close to the falls, you can really sense the enormous force of the water rushing down. And you get a natural shower completely free of charge!

victoria falls

Often we have also crossed the walking bridge from Zambia to Zimbabwe side of the falls (or vice versa) to see the falls from several different perspectives.  It’s often a good time to get some lunch before walking back through the park.

The falls also change with the seasons, like everything else in nature. During the rainy season (November to April) when the Zambezi River swells, the falls are at their peak exhibiting the largest single sheet of falling water in the world. And an enormous spray display that can be seen for miles.

victoria fallsvictoria falls

Gradually during the dry season, the river stands lower and lower. And consequently, at end of the dry season the falls have much less water. To the point that some people have tried to walk over the falls – with disastrous consequences. The power of water is enormous even during the dry season – and should not be underestimated. Such daredevil acts are of course strictly forbidden.

If you want to see the falls from above there are other safer options: air safaris by helicopter or small plane, and it is even possible to glide fly over the falls. For me it has always been enough to climb to a safe place and look down into the gorge…

For those of us who want to experience extreme thrills at Victoria Falls, there is also white water rafting or kayaking on Zambezi in category 5 rapids, with the added excitement of possibly meeting a few small crocodiles en route.  Those not satisfied with the category 5 rapids can always add bungee-jumping to their itinerary!

dancers at victoria falls

We did not try the ultimate adventures but preferred more family oriented, safer activities, such as visiting the wildlife parks and craft shops in the vicinity.

After walking around the falls for hours and whatever else was on our program, we usually returned to the hotel to enjoy dinner, often served with traditional music outdoors. And after dark there was always something to look forward to: colorful traditional entertainment in the form of music, ancient dances and plays featuring dramatic masks. A little bit of mystique for dessert has always tasted good to me!

traditional dancers at victoria falls

Victoria Falls is one of my favorite destinations and I hope to get an opportunity to visit there again. It is a must-see natural wonder for those traveling to Africa. I hope you enjoyed the journey and did not get too much of a soaking from the smoke that thunders.

victoria falls