The Angelic Aura of St Michael’s Mount

When is an island not an island?

Perhaps when there is a cobblestone path leading to it.

The thought was so intriguing, and the castle topped hill so inviting, that we could hardly wait. However, the tide… CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to Country Walkers for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

When is an island not an island?

Perhaps when there is a cobblestone path leading to it.

Considering our first view of St Michael’s Mount at the end of our coast to coast trek over St. Michael’s Way, it was hard to imagine that we would be able to walk to the mountain we saw rising out of the sea about a half mile offshore.

The thought was so intriguing, and the castle topped hill so inviting, that we could hardly wait. However, the tide, which can run as high as twenty feet in Cornwall, insisted that we wait until the morning.

The mount has been the site of legends and lore, as well as a prized piece of real estate, for thousands of years.

There is evidence of inhabitants as far back as 5000 BC, and by the time of Christ this may have already been a major port for shipping tin from nearby mines.

Around the year 500 AD it is said that the Archangel Michael appeared sitting upon the summit to guide boats through a storm, giving the mount its name. A few hundred years later monks laid claim to it and a series of monasteries followed.

Somewhere between Michael and the monastery, the giant Cormoran was said to rule the mountain. The monster terrorized the region, stealing livestock and eating children until a young man named Jack had had enough.

Sneaking up the hill one night, Jack dug a pit, lured Cormoran into it, and disposed of the menace with a pickaxe to the head. Gruesome and effective!

The feat earned him the name Jack the Giant Killer. While very similar stories, we learned that this was not the same Jack that climbed the beanstalk.

For centuries St Michael’s Mount was sought as a stronghold by a string of various British royals and nobility, until around 1650 when the St Aubyn family moved in. Now it is managed by the National Trust, but the family continues to hold forth in the castle.

Marazion Town Hall

With our history lesson learned, and a good night’s rest in the picturesque town of Marazion behind us, we were ready to walk on water. But alas, no need. The tide had receded and a granite causeway had appeared.

Arriving at the fortified entrance to the village by the mount’s harbor, we were met with an unhappy revelation. It was Saturday, and the castle is always closed on Saturdays in order to give the St Aubyns a day away from the crowds.

Disappointed that we would not be able to climb to the top, we made the best of it and found that there was a lot to be discovered down at the base of the hill.

Our exploration began by walking around the port, which was bone dry because of the huge tide. Even though we had seen this at several places around Cornwall, it still seemed strange to see boats sitting on the dry bottom of the bay.

The lack of water made the stone sea walls look more like a fort than a breakwater. At the stairway up to the entrance we looked down and found a bronze footprint of Queen Victoria commemorating her visit in 1846.

Up near the walkway entrance we discovered that Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip, as well as Prince Charles & Camilla, also have their footprints immortalized in metal.

A little village is clustered around the waterfront, so we walked the cobblestone streets up and down… both of them. It didn’t take long, especially since it was Saturday and none of the island’s handful of shops or cafes were open.

Undaunted, we poked around and found some interesting features.

The mount actually has a subway built to haul things up to the castle. It’s not something they advertise to tourists, but by standing on our tiptoes we could see it hidden behind a fence.

The single car looks a bit like a coffin on wheels and dates back to Victorian times. For some reason, they chose to dig a tunnel instead of going overland, so it makes the entire trip underground.

Passing a row of homes, obviously inhabited, aroused our curiosity as to who lived here. We speculated that they must be people who work up in the castle, or perhaps own the businesses.

At the end of the road we found a lychgate leading to the parish cemetery. The misty gray day seemed perfectly fitting for the scene of moss covered headstones and Cornish Crosses.

Perhaps it was a day like this that inspired director John Badham to use St Michael’s Mount as the setting for his 1979 movie version of Dracula.

On our way out we were surprised to see an unexpected car pulling through the entrance gate of the causeway. The gatekeeper was standing by so we inquired and he filled us in on a few interesting tidbits and confirmed some of our theories.

Cars and small trucks are permitted to drive across the walkway, but only for delivering items to the homes and shops, and only for boat owners or people who live on the island.

The population is currently about thirty five people, in addition to the St Aubyn family, and he was quick to add that he was not one of them. Normally he works on the mainland and was just filling in.

Residents must work on the island, no vacation homes or getaways here and, not that we were in the market, out of curiosity we asked if there are any rentals. No Air B&B allowed, there is no way a tourist can stay the night.

Even though our timing was bad for seeing the castle, and the weather didn’t really cooperate as far as getting good shots of the mountain, we walked back to Marazion ahead of the tide happy that we had made the pilgrimage.

On the train to London the next day we met Matt Thatcher, a student who is also a photographer. When he showed us his shot of the mountain crowned by the Milky Way we were blown away and had to ask if we could share it. He was happy to oblige.

Matt Thatcher Photography

Seeing his shot we could tell why people felt there was an angelic presence on the mount.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See more from our Cornwall walking tour here.

Marfa My Dear

We found ourselves in the middle-of-nowhere West Texas and discovered some WEIRD stuff!

The mysterious Marfa Ghost Lights (fact or fiction?), strange pig like creatures (with a little nursing baby!) and a really, REALLY strange work of art.

Join us on the journey into weird and wonderful West Texas…CONTINUE READING  >>

The Marfa Lights Field at sunset

We ventured deep in the heart of Texas with an eye on viewing the legendary Marfa Lights, hoping to see the mysterious ghost lights from the official viewing area built by the nearby city of Marfa.

As a bonus, the area allows overnight parking for hardy paranormal activity seekers’ RVs.

We pulled in at sundown and found a spot overlooking the famous field where the illuminations are said to appear. After looking around, checking the horizon for possible sources of light and reading the markers explaining the phenomenon, we put some dinner on the stove, cracked open some vino and waited.

The first public account of the spook lights was in the July 1957 issue of Coronet Magazine, but the article claimed that they had been reported as far back as the 1800s.

People have described them as glowing spheres floating above the ground or high in the air. They can vary in color from white to yellow, orange or red and zip around in a strange manner, sometimes merging into each other or splitting apart to form new balls.

Marfa Lights Viewing PlatformThey are known to hover, or shoot around at high speed and disappear and reappear. We were very excited, but knew our chances might be limited since reports say that they only materialize about twenty times a year and seem to be completely unpredictable.

As dusk fell, we stood at the viewing platform scanning the horizon but spotted nothing unusual.

There were some lights that seemed to float off in the distance, but these were headlights of vehicles coming down a hill on U.S. Highway 67, which many skeptics say are the source of most of the claimed sightings. We weren’t falling for those, we wanted basketball-sized dancing orbs to show themselves.

After half an hour or so of wary watching, we began to get a bit chilly and decided to continue our observations from the comfort of BAMF. Through the window behind the couch, we kept an eye out for floating, glowing blobs but saw nothing but darkness.

As our interest faded, I decided that a cheesy horror movie might help the mood. Lucky for us I had found “Attack Of The Monsters” in the dollar bin at a Wal-Mart a few days earlier. Perfect.

Attack of the Monsters!

“Attack” is a classic film from the Japanese Kaiju genre where Gamera, the jet powered flying turtle protector of all children, must save a couple kids from both brain-eating alien babes and Guiron, a knife headed dino-monster.

It turned out to be a strong contender for the worst movie ever made. I highly recommend it. Really, with great dialogue like “You’re right, we’ll eat their brains after we’ve fixed the ship,” it is so bad its good.

Veronica couldn’t take it and crawled up into the loft to catch some z’s, she’s simply not the connoisseur of bad cinema that I am. I was determined to see this stinker through, but at some point, while men in rubber monster suits did ferocious battle, I nodded off. When I came to, I saw a light outside the window.

Was I dreaming? Have I talked myself into seeing things? I watched for awhile. It wasn’t moving, but it seemed awfully close and I was positive it wasn’t there earlier. I woke up Veronica with a friendly little Poltergeist-esque “They’re here.”

She was half asleep and fully scared out of her mind, but agreed that the light hadn’t been there before so… that was it for sleep that night.

In the light of day we discussed our encounter and decided to rate it a ” definite maybe.” Our attempted photos just looked like darkness but we were sure we had seen something.

We needed to return for more research, but in the meantime, wanted to check out a couple other nearby attractions, The Davis Mountains and The McDonald Observatory. Base camp for these would be Davis Mountain State Park, just a few miles up from the town of Marfa.

The state park sports some serious mountain bike trails, wonderful views of the high desert and most importantly, lots of Javelinas. After an aborted attempt at riding a rock-strewn trail on our trusty two wheelers, we decided to explore the park via paved roads.

Along the way we spotted a pig-like animal in the brush. We didn’t get a good look, but it was definitely the fabled Javelina. A New World Pig sometimes known as a Musk Hog, which is really not a pig at all, but a Collared Peccary.Don't Call Me a Pig!

This was even more exciting than a maybe vision of a paranormal light, but it was going to get better. At dusk, as we headed up the mountain to the observatory, we encountered a whole herd of the buggers. Javelina are social animals that like to hang out in groups of a dozen or more.

Javelinas! Musk Hog! Skunk Pig!We jumped out of BAMF for a closer look as the peccaries grovelled around for some grub. Later we were informed that Javelinas, when in a group, have been known to turn nasty on humans. Luckily for us, ours were friendly skunk pigs.

The McDonald Observatory has telescopes perched high and dry atop 6,791 foot Mount Fowlkes and 6,659 foot Mount Locke. The location makes for some dark, clear night skies, excellent for astronomical observations.

We crashed, after calling ahead for reservations, one of their triweekly star parties, where in addition to an introduction to the observatory, we were treated to views through several telescopes. Awesome images of the Moon, Jupiter and, coolest of all, the Orion Nebula where new stars are constantly forming.

All of these celestial sights got us thinking about the Marfa lights again. We wanted more, needed to know for sure we had seen something. The following evening we returned to our spot and waited anxiously.

This time, being the weekend, there were more people around, so we chatted with a few of the other curiosity seekers. We conversed and waited with several first time visitors, then a couple of old hands stopped by.

These two explained how they stopped here every time they were headed to a bar up the road in Alpine. They had clearly partaken of some mind altering substances.

“Dude, look at that!” And there they were. The Marfa Lights.

The stoners took it upon themselves to convince us that the lights could not be headlights or folks a hoaxin’. We have to admit the whole show was pretty eerie.

Some skeptics theorize that the source of the lights is a mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between the cold and warm layers of air, citing that Marfa is at an altitude of 4,688 feet and temperatures easily vary 50-60 degrees from high and low. Others point to cars, campfires or ranches as possibilities.

A four-night study by UT Dallas students focused on headlights and reached the conclusion that vehicle lights do look mysterious to many visitors, especially with the help of some wacky weed. Sorry, we just threw in that last part, but it would seem that many Marfa Lights observations can be dismissed as auto headlights.

Another study conducted in May of 2008, lasted twenty nights. Scientists from Texas State University found that a number of the mysterious lights “could have been mistaken for lights of unknown origin,” but in each case the data from their equipment showed the movements of the lights could be easily explained as automobile headlights, or small fires.

The researchers did stress their study did not disprove the existence of the Marfa Lights, only that the lights that appeared during those twenty nights could be fully explained.

We left feeling basically the same way. It’s hard to wrap a brain around a strange light in the pitch darkness, it’s just too creepy and weird.

The West Texas weirdness wasn’t through with us yet – the tests of our senses of reality didn’t end as we drove off into the desert.

Prada MarfaWas that actually a Prada store out in the very center of nowhere? We wheeled around to have better look. It WAS a Prada and it IS truly in the middle of nowhere.

Turns out “Prada Marfa” is the work of artists Elmgreen and Dragset. A “pop architectural land art project,” as it were.

There really is no telling what we’ll see next out here.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Honing in on Hondarribia

As a home base for a few days, we settled into the normally sleepy town of Hondarribia on the Spanish side of the border with France.

We say normally sleepy because a wakeup call had shaken the city into a flurry of activity… CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

As a home base for a few days, we settled into the normally sleepy town of Hondarribia on the Spanish side of the border with France.

We say normally sleepy because a wakeup call had shaken the city into a flurry of activity.

The Alarde, a huge festival commemorating the city’s survival of a siege by the troops of King Louis XIII of France back in 1638, happened to coincide perfectly with our arrival.

Read all about our Alarde adventure here.

Canon fire announced a parade of horses and riders, riflemen, tool toting men in huge sheepskin hats and long black beards known as hatxeroak, numerous fife and drum corps, and throngs of townsfolk sporting red bandanas that seemed to fill the entire city.

This also happened to be our guide Txaro’s (pronounced like Charo of Cuchi-Cuchi  fame ) hometown, so she helped us feel like locals with a couple of insider activities that would elude the usual visitor to this historic Basque community.

She was our exclusive expert guide through the city. We began at our hotel, Obispo, which means bishop. The name is for the square that the hotel shares with the church of Our Lady of the Assumption and the apple tree.

A statue of Don Cristóbal de Rojas y Sandoval, who served as the Archbishop of Seville, and chaplain to King Charles V, stands facing the hotel.

Both the church and hotel date back to the fourteen hundreds, and are contemporary with the defensive city wall. The hotel even incorporates the wall in its construction.

Moving on through the town we made a stop at the city hall, where the ancient walls bear the scars of many cannon balls that have bounced off of the stones over the centuries.

Nearby, we found a sixteenth century home where the wedding between Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain was arraigned in 1659.

Although the planning for the royal nuptials took place here, the ceremony was held across the river in France at Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Church of St. John Baptist.

Later, we found ourselves in the midst of a most wonderfully weird continuation of the Alarde festivities that we had encountered the day before. Suddenly we were engulfed in another parade, this time with giant dolls and creatures with enormous heads, the gigantes y cabezudos.

Taking our cue from the locals, we chased the odd figures into a large square where hordes of children mocked the scary looking cabezudos. In return, the kids were chased around and “beaten” for their mischief. Traditionally the cabezudos carry whips, but here in Hondarribia a netted, nerf-like ball is used.

Our evening was to be a truly unique experience. Txaro took us to a txoko, which is a very common members-only, private gastronomic society type of club that in the past were only open to men.

The idea is get together to cook, and of course eat, while trying out new recipes and ideas along with a healthy dose of socializing.

When Basque culture was suppressed under the reign of Francisco Franco, txokos became safe havens where members could share their language and traditions as well as their love of cooking.

Times have changed, so now many of the clubs welcome women and Txaro is a member of the Sociedad Klink Elkartea, so she could include us as guests. This meant that we got to spend an evening in a most quintessentially Basque fashion.

Believe it or not, too many cooks did NOT spoil the tortilla!

We all pitched in making dinner, sticking to fairly simple dishes, beginning with salad. Then Txaro showed us how to make tortilla de patatas, egg with potatoes, that is much more like an omelet than what we think of as a tortilla.

We finished with two main courses, chicken with carrots, leeks, and garlic, along with salt cod in a cream sauce.

None of this required being a gourmet chef to prepare, but we still had one of the best meals of the trip, and like the old Shake-N-Bake commercials, it was even better because we helped.

By our third day in Hondarribia we were actually starting to know our way around and felt a little like locals. We began with a morning walk to the marina with a history lesson along the way detailing the fishing and whaling traditions of the region.

The practice of heading out to sea in search of fish goes way, way back around here. In fact, there are stories of Basque fishermen sailing as far away as the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland hundreds of years before Columbus ever dreamed of heading west toward the New World.

The afternoon turned out to be perfect for a climb up to the Hiruzta winery. What better excuse for a chilled glass of rosé than a bit of a hike on a hot day?

So we sipped the most common white wine of the region, txakoli, and partook of some pintxos, especially the gilda – peppers, anchovies, and olives on a skewer.

Unlike much of what we had been seeing, Hiruzta is quite new, only being here for about the last ten years.

We whiled away a couple of hours enjoying the perfect spot for gazing out across the vineyards in the valley and reminiscing about our adventures across the Basque Country before heading back down the hill for a farewell dinner.

Bittor Alza, the owner of the Hotel Obispo that has felt like home for these three days, treated us to an amazing meal. Better yet, he not only cooked, but gave us a detailed demonstration in their open kitchen.

We learned to make the classic Basque green sauce for hake, and how to skin and de-bone the fish. He also showed us a trick or two about sautéing onions just right, so that they caramelize evenly without burning. These will go with some duck breasts that turned out good enough to make us all daffy.

And anything but dessssth-picable!

See more of our adventures in the Basque Country here.

Read about all of our travels in Spain.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Rocky Mountain High

When John Denver was singing back in the seventies, for me it wasn’t about some mythical and groovy Shangri La, it was about my life.

But that life took its twists and turns that took me away. Now I don’t get back as often as I’d like… CONTINUE READING >> 

Even though I haven’t lived there in nearly forty years, the Rocky Mountains still feel like home. When John Denver was singing back in the seventies, for me it wasn’t about some mythical and groovy Shangri La, it was about my life.

But that life took its twists and turns that took me away. Now I don’t get back as often as I’d like, but when I do get the chance to venture back up in the mountains I don’t want to stay in some sterile hotel room, I want to feel like I’m at home. That’s where tripz.com can come in.

By bridging the gap between travelers and owners of available rental properties Tripz can offer a truly personal experience, as opposed to just another vacation. On top of that, eliminating booking fees to travelers and commissions from owners assures that the price is right.

That way, when I visit Colorado I can stay in a classic Log Cabin tucked away in the mountains of Cripple Creek instead of a motel just off the highway. There’s no better way to enjoy the excitement of the gold rush that lives on in that historic gambling and mining town.

Taking advantage of the comforts of a home allows a level of engagement with the local lifestyle that is simply not possible in a typical room. Whiling away an alpine evening on the deck, or waking up and walking into the midst of a mountain morning are close encounters of the best kind.

The West is packed with these sorts of exhilarating opportunities, and a quick look through Tripz reveals an amazing array of basecamps for some unforgettable Rocky Mountain explorations.

In Wyoming, a mountain retreat near Jackson Hole is perfectly positioned for visiting two of America’s most spectacular National Parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone. In fact, there is hardly a need to visit Grand Teton since the house already sits in the shadow of the peak.

If somehow that’s not enough scenery to blow our minds America’s first National Park, with its astounding geothermal features and breathtaking waterfalls, is only an hour away and sure to do the job.

Many of the nation’s most incredible destinations are within a stone’s throw of homes we found. In Utah, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park await, and from there it is an easy drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Much less crowded than the South Rim, the north side offers sensational views for hundreds of miles beyond the canyon and is the starting point for the mule trains that carry daring sightseers down to the bottom.

Across the gorge, and for a slightly more cosmopolitan adventure, we found a lovely location to spend a few days soaking up Sadona, Arizona.

Nestled in among the vibrant rock formations, Sadona has become one of the country’s premier art communities with dozens of galleries featuring southwestern and native art, along with pottery and turquoise jewelry.

Of course the homes-away-from-home on Tripz are not confined to the wide open spaces of the Rocky Mountain West. There are over 60,000 rental properties to choose from worldwide, always offering the live-like-a-local lifestyle that makes a vacation more of a life experience than just another trip.

We also love the idea of providing direct and open communication between guests and property owners, because no one likes surprises when they travel. The home owners can answer any questions before the booking, and then offer the very best insider tips and suggestions for the stay.

That way we will never miss a great local eatery, out of the way hide away, little known fishing hole, or perfect spot to savor the sunshine on my shoulder.

Now that makes me happy.

David, GypsyNester.com

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Where’s the Real Hollywood?


enlarge video
The GypsyNesters go on a quest to find the Real Hollywood! What they found… CONTINUE READING >>

The GypsyNesters go on a quest to find the Real Hollywood! What they found even surprised them!

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