39 photos of spectacular places to be dead

     It’s October… one of my favorite months.  For starters, college football is in full swing.  Baseball is in its play-off period.  European football has gotten over its opening schedule shockers, and ice hockey starts up at the end of the month.  It’s also one of my favorite seasons for traveling.  For a few years, I took the month of October off from work and traveled, and those were some of my best trips.   The weather is nice … cool, but not cold… surprising warm days mixed in, and Halloween… my favorite holiday of the year.

So to celebrate my favorite month of the year, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite cemeteries in the world.  I LOVE, love, love, visiting cemeteries. [and I love cats… any coincidence that cats like to hang out a cemeteries…. I think not] They fascinate me [cemeteries not cats]… Fancy ones like Pere LaChaise in Paris and Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Solemn ones like Arlington National just outside Washington DC and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Old ones like Magnolia in Charleston, SC and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia. Eclectic ones like merry cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania, and the Mayan cemetery in Xcaret. Odd ones like the crypt of the Capuchin monks in Rome… None of it matters.  If I hear of an ‘interesting’ cemetery…whether its old and crumbly or happy and bright or austere and serene, I’m there.

Some of my favorite final resting places from around the world

1.  Pere-LeChaise Cemetery, Paris France

I spent a day in Paris.  I know what you are saying…’Only one day, impossible’, but it’s true.  I  watched fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and hung out with the dead.  Paris is awesome.

2.  Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

years ago, I was in Buenos Aires.  It was my birthday.  Instead of doing something fancy like going to a tango show, I went to Recoleta and hung out with the dead.  And the cats.

3.  Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, USA

I stand up straighter and walk a little taller when I visit Arlington.  It’s impressive, quiet, and simple.  American soldiers. Clean white tombstones.  A Marine guard.  It doesn’t get more solemn than this.

4.  Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic

On a snowy day in January 2013, I visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague.  I think I was the only living thing around.

5.  Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina

Southern cemeteries are awesome.  Spanish moss hanging down gives everything a spooky appeal, and the humidity makes everything rust and age rather quickly.

6.  Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

They say Bonaventure is haunted.  If you go there at night, it certainly feels that way.

7.  Mayan Cemetery, Xcaret, Mexico

Confession time:  this is a fake cemetery.  It’s a creation of what a lot of Mexican cemeteries do on El Dia de los Muertos….this one is a lot cleaner, though.  The Mayans didn’t actually bury their dead.

8. Merry Cemetery, Săpânţa, Romania

It’s happy.  It’s bright.  It’s weird.  Go there. See for yourself.  These dead peeps are having the time of their lives.

9.  Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, Rome, Italy

Eerie.  Spooky…Bone-chilling…Fascinating…I wonder if the Monks know their bones are being used as decorations.  I’m not a Monk, but I’d love to donate my femur [you know, once I’m done with it] for a clock or better yet, the handle of the scythe of the Grim Reaper

10.  Monumental Cemetery, Milan, Italy

Morbid statues.  Fascinating pageantry.  Marble slabs of decaying flowers.  Ingenious.

11.  Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines

If heaven is up, and hell is down, wouldn’t you rather be hanging on the side of a cliff instead of buried in a hole?

12.  Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia

Boris Yeltsin, Anton Chekhov, Gherman Titov…I’m a bit fascinated with Russia and the dead Russians.  If you can’t qualify for the Kremlin, Novodevichy is a fantastic second choice.

13. Hallstat Ossuary, Hallstat, Austria

Oooh…more bones….since I’m donating my femur to the Monk, the Ossuary can have my skull, but only if they paint a pretty design on it.

Someday

We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.                                                                        Australian Aboriginal saying

cocora

The world is a rather large place, and I love exploring new cultures, places I’ve never been, and seeing new things. And since the world is a large place, new destinations generally take precedence over places I’ve been before. Often, I say [in my head] “I’d love to come back here. Someday.” Which places are those, you ask? Places that hold a special place in my heart. There are the easy ones, like London, England where there is so much to see and do I doubt I could do it all in one lifetime. Or Charleston, South Carolina, which is an international tourist destination, but is relativity close to my current home. And Huanchaco, Peru where there isn’t a whole lot to do, but it’s where I was first part of an international community of backpackers. I’m not so naive to believe that if I went back to Huanchaco it would be the same as it was when I was there. Part of the charm of living in a tourist/backpacking town is the continuous influx of new people, but that’s also what makes it hard to fit in. Excluding the obvious, here are five places that I’d love to return to. Someday.

Mendoza, Argentina
There’s no other way to put it–Mendoza is simply amazing. The wineries

The food… [try the parilla for a plate full of delicious grilled meat]…

The scenery…

The mountains…[the tallest in the Western hemisphere]

The ruins… [some Inca ruins are all the way down to Argentina].  I only hope that someday I will make my way back to Argentina.

Isle of Skye, Scotland
Nestled up in the Scottish Highlands is the Isle of Skye. Other-worldly. Beautiful. Remote. Amazing. Skies that go for miles. Castles. Ruins. Stone footbridges.

Cartagena, Colombia
Colonial. Colorful. Safe. Fortified. Tropical. Magical. Botero statues. oh so Colombian. White, sandy beaches nearby.  Someday…

St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia in general isn’t known for its friendly, welcoming attitude towards visitors. But everyone I’ve known who has taken the time to deal with Russian bureaucracy has thought it was completely worthwhile. In 2009, I studied abroad at Moscow State University. My sole reason for doing that was to get to Russia. I didn’t care so much about the program as it was an agriculture program, and I have zero interest in farming, but from January until June I was in possession of a student visa which allowed me access to most of European Russia.

I made it to St Petersburg 4 times over the course of 6 months–each time different than before. I’d love to go back in the fall. Moscow is interesting; it is just too big of a city for me to enjoy. St Petersburg is more manageable with the added bonus of imperial Russian history. Moscow is historic in a communist sort of way. St. Petersburg, though, is more to my liking.

Kotor, Montenegro
I only spent one day and one night in Kotor as a last minute detour to defrost after being in Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. I was so glad I made time in my schedule to see this amazing small town. In January, it was as if I was the only one there. I’m told that even in summer, it gets none of the craziness like Split or Dubrovnik, Croatia. YET.

As the country of Montenegro, it has only been in existence since 2006, but its civilization dates back as far a 9th century, and it has been, at times, ruled by Italy, Ottoman Empire, and Yugoslavia. It is being “discovered” by tourists and is the second fastest growing tourist destination. Go now before it becomes just another blip on the European tourist trail.

Honorable Mention:
The Alps…any part, any country, any time of year.

Traveling Recap–Did it Change My Life?

As my travels are winding down, I have started doing a little reflection on my trip.  16 months away is a long time to be away. Was it life changing?  Not in any dramatic way [although I did make one big decision as a result of my volunteer experiences].  Did I make a difference in some one else’s life?  Maybe on some small level for at least the time I was there.  I can’t say what happened after I left.   Did I meet my goals?  Yes. My goals of the trip was to have fun, engage in meaningful volunteer experiences, and meet new people.  I am a little bit torn.  In one way, I feel like I could go on traveling forever.  There is a great big world out there, and this experience has taught me that I have only seen a tiny part of it.  In another way, I am ready to start down the path of my new career.  I am a little bit scared.  It will be a long road.  I don’t know when I will be able to travel again, especially like this.  I feel conflicted about going “home.”  I don’t really have a home.  I have friends that I want to be near.  I can’t wait to see the children in my life, and how much they have changed.

Wandering without being lost–Laguna Miscanti, Atacama Desert, Chile 2010

There are things I have missed–such as having a regular study spot, sleeping in my own bed, taking a bath in my own bathtub–hot water and all,  and of course my kitties.  I have people who I want to see although I have learned I can make friends with nearly anyone.   So in one aspect I am ready to get home, tackle what I need to tackle in order to meet my goals. Another part of me says traveling is so easy–much more so than real life, so I should continue doing that.  I think my next international trip will be to some part of Eastern Europe.  I am not sure where or when, but until then I have a little more that half of the United States to explore [and now I have new friends in previously untraveled parts of the country].

Thinking about what to do

Since I know the questions will be coming, I spent a few minutes in thought about the best and worst parts of my trip.  Here goes:

Andean Condor in flight

Highlights: unexpected almost free trip to the Galápagos Islands, Iguazu Falls, seeing Aconcagua, being at the end of the world
Low lights: catching malaria during my first month of my trip.  I didn’t show symptoms for about 6-8 weeks though.  Or at least that’s the best guess based on when I was entering and exiting the Amazon.

Blue footed Booby

Thing I wish I hadn’t lost: my head lamp… I actually know where I left it; I was just too far gone before I realized it. I have been in the dark ever since then.
Thing I wish I had lost:  I never used my rain poncho.  I gave it to some kids and they had a blast playing with it.
Most useful items: Zune with speakers, Swiss army knife, sheet, travel pillow
Least useful items: camera accessories (I used them because I had them, but I would have been fine without them), umbrella
Best new food: Manjarblanco with apples…. mmmmmm
Worst new food: cuy–too small, too little meat, too much work, and too greasy

Santa Catalina Monastery

Funniest moment: “beerbombs”–how my Brazilian friend Henrique pronounced/understood the explanation of “beer-bong”
Scariest moment:  There were two:  1. Being pounded into the rocks like a rag doll with a surf board tied to my feet, not being able to catch my breath, or regain my balance, and looking back and seeing nothing more than a wall of water coming my way…really thought I might die that way.  2. Being kidnapped by rouge taxi drivers crossing the border from Peru to Ecuador who tried to extort money from me.
Favorite place visited:  Angel Falls, so remote, so beautiful and Usuhaia… for the same reasons as Angel Falls

 

Lake Titicaca

Least favourite place visited: the midad del mundo monument… so overrated
Favorite new activity:  para sailing… its like floating in the air
Least favourite new activity: Surfing
Favourite countries: Argentina and Colombia
Least favourite countries: Paraguay and Ecuador
Favourite cities:  MendozaAR, and Santa Marta, CO
Least favourite cities:  Santiago, Chile and Rio de Janeiro, BR (just too big)

Cartagena, Colombia… one of my favorite cities

Cemeteries fascinate me

Cemeteries fascinate me and have for as long as I can remember.  Not in the spooky Halloween, but in the ‘I’m amazed by them way’. Other than people who visit historic battlefields, I’ve noticed there is an distinct reaction from others when I mention that I seek out cemeteries to visit when I’m some place new. Either they find it incredibly fascinating or they look at me as if I have two heads. Why is it that cemeteries can draw in some people, yet repel others? Honestly, I have no idea, but I’m definitely in the I’m fascinated camp.

A peek into a past life

A generation or two ago, cemeteries were an integral part of a community. It was not uncommon for families to take a picnic to the family plot, have lunch with the dearly departed, and pass the day with the relatives. In many parts of the world, cemetery design incorporated walking paths, fountains, and other interesting details. These days, they are a quiet respite from out busy lives.

Don’t cry for me Argentina

With these thoughts in mind, I knew that Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires would be a point of interest.  Recoleta’s most famous ‘resident’ is Evita Peron, but its cutest are the cats who live there. One of the more interesting things about Recoleta Cemetery is that all of its 4691 vaults are located above ground.  Now, this makes perfect sense to me as Buenos Aires is located at sea level and should the city ever be inundated with rain, buried vaults can resurface and float away [See New Orleans 2005 courtesy of Hurricane Katrina]. 94 of the crypts are National Historic Monuments.

Some of the 4600+ crypts at recoleta cemetery

Buenos Aires proper is often called the ‘Paris of South America and when visiting Recoleta it is easy to see why.  During a 50 year period [1880-1930], most materials used in the construction of tombs came from Paris [and also Milan]

If there’s a cat, you know I’ll find it