Talkin’ Turkey: What Travel Taught Us About the First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is upon us. Cue the pictures of cheery Pilgrims supping with the friendly natives and images of The Mayflower triumphantly landing at Plymouth Rock.
Ah yes, all of that happy history we were taught as baby boomer children… and almost none of it is true….
CONTINUE READING >> 

The Mayflower replica in Plymouth, Massachusetts
The Mayflower replica in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Thanksgiving is upon us again. Cue the pictures of cheery Pilgrims supping with the friendly natives and images of The Mayflower triumphantly landing at Plymouth Rock.

Ah yes, all of that happy history we were taught as baby boomer children… and almost none of it is true.

We were not on a quest for truth when we made our pilgrimage to Plymouth, Massachusetts, just taking in a little history, but once we were there, a little digging certainly opened our eyes.

The first hint that our 1960s grade school instruction may have been a tad embellished came when we hit the visitor center to ask for directions to Plymouth Rock. “Hope you guys brought a magnifying glass,” snarked the lady behind the desk as she pointed down the road.

The Plymouth Rock monument

Without fully grasping the gist of her statement, we headed across the road toward the monument that houses the famous rock where America’s first colonists landed.

Giddy with the exhilaration that can only come from setting one’s eyes on a truly epic piece of history, we leaned over the rail and peered down into the hole where Plymouth Rock is displayed.

Plymouth Rock - it's TINY!
The thing is tiny. At best one pilgrim could “land” on this pebble.

On closer inspection, turns out almost everything we were taught while we were drawing turkeys using the outlines of our hands was a complete fairy tale. The actual first Americans, the”friendly Indians” from those stories, were simply so emaciated and weak from the smallpox they had contracted from previous European visitors that they had no strength to fight off the invaders who were busy digging up their graves, raiding their food supplies, and commandeering their fishing and hunting grounds.

Wait a minute, previous visitors? Yup, the Pilgrims were no where near the first settlers in America. The Spanish arrived in the South and West over one hundred years earlier, and other Europeans had been tromping around New England stealing food and spreading disease for decades, centuries if you count the Vikings.

So at Plymouth a few leaders of the depleted remnants of the local tribe of Wampanoag people decided to employ the old “if we can’t beat them, join them” strategy in the hopes of surviving. Not quite the gracious “hey, welcome to America, here let us show you how to grow corn and eat turkey” that we were fed as youngsters.

Plaque commemorating the National Day of Mourning
Plaque commemorating the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Furthermore, this was the Mayflower Pilgrims’ second encounter with natives. The first time around wasn’t even remotely friendly. The Mayflower first landed on the tip of Cape Cod, where Provincetown is today.

There’s even a huge monument marking the landing.

Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, Massachusetts
Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, Massachusetts

However, these indigenous inhabitants had not been nearly wiped out by viral onslaughts from previous pioneers and were not real big on having their buried food stores dug up and stolen, so they were decidedly unfriendly and sent the Pilgrims packing.

Hold on just a dad-blame second there, what do you mean first landed? Everyone knows the Pilgrims first set foot on North America at Plymouth! We’ve seen the pictures.

There they are, stepping out of the boat right onto Plymouth Rock.

Wrong, fact is there wasn’t even such a thing as Plymouth Rock until over a century after the Mayflower’s landing. It wasn’t until 1741, 121 years after the Mayflower, that 94-year-old Thomas Faunce claimed he knew the exact rock that the Pilgrims first trod upon.

A few years later, in 1774, the townsfolk decided that the rock should be moved to the town meeting hall.

But for some reason the good people of Plymouth decided that only half of the rock needed to be relocated, so they split it in two. Over the next century, the rock was moved hither and yon, and chunks were hacked off of it for shows and souvenirs. Ultimately in 1880, with only about 1/3 of it remaining, the famous stone was returned to its original spot on the waterfront in Plymouth and the number 1620 carved into it.

Over the years the lore has been woven into the Thanksgiving story until it became more legend than history. But feel free to share this real tale around the holiday table, it’s got to be better than talking about politics.

Bon appétit!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

We Had Our Minds Blown at Chichén-Itzá in Mexico

Continuing with Native American Heritage Month, and as a reminder that Native American doesn’t only mean in the United States, we revisit our trip to Chichén-Itzá…
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Continuing with Native American Heritage Month, and as a reminder that Native American doesn’t only mean in the United States, we revisit our trip to Chichén-Itzá from a few years ago.

The pyramid at Chichen-Itza in Mexico

Having been to Tulum several years ago, we knew that our return to the Yucatán had to include another visit to one of the many Mayan historic sites on the peninsula.

Chichén-Itzá was our first choice, since it is certainly one of the most impressive of those ancient cities, and as Viator Ambassadors we were able to join their Early Access to Chichén-Itzá with a Private Archaeologist tour from Cancun.

Our archeologist guide, Danny, shows us around Chichen-Itza in Mexico

By heading out at dawn we were able to beat most of the crowds and heat.

Our archaeologist guide, Frank, used the travel time to explain the history of the site, the Maya people, and what we were about to see.

A huge part of that history is held within the architecture.

By studying the engraved writings and precise alignments of the buildings archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of information about the people who built them.

As Frank described things, he promised blown minds, which we took as a challenge… go ahead, Frank, make our day.

He showed us examples of the Mayan written language, the only one in the Americas at that time, and their advanced numeric system based on twenty.

Demonstration of the Mayan Calendar at Chichen Itza in Mexico

Their mathematical theory, one of only two in the world that incorporated the concept of zero, was as precise as any on the planet, as was their famous calendar.

All very impressive stuff, the kind that gets people talking about aliens helping out and the like.

But we would need to see more if our heads were going to explode.

Sellers setting up their booths at Chichen Izta in Mexico
Vendors were just setting up their booths as we arrived to the site.
Restoration work being done high atop the pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico
Restorations being done high atop the pyramid.

Arriving at the site, what we saw of Chichén-Itzá was only the central area, the downtown if you will, of what was once a thriving city of over fifty-thousand people.

The focal point was the pyramid temple of the feathered serpent Kukulkan, built to honor one of the Mayans’ most important gods.

The pyramid at Chichen Izta in Mexico

The pyramid that the Spaniards mistakenly called El Castillo was already some five centuries old when they arrived in 1532, and the city had been mostly abandoned.

We now know it was a temple, not a castle, and it holds a few surprising secrets. The four sides are perfectly aligned with the directions, and Frank explained how the entire structure served as a calendar.

The carved stone heads of Kukulkan at the base of the pyramid of Chichen Itza in Mexico

There are ninety-one steps on each side, for a total of 364.

Adding the one at the top makes it 365, as in the days in a year.

The stairs are also designed so that on the spring and autumn equinoxes the sun casts a shadow that forms a serpent descending to connect with the carved stone heads of Kukulkan at the base.

The stairs are part of calendar in the pyramid of Chichen Itza in Mexico

Standing in front of the staircase Frank demonstrated another remarkable feature of the pyramid, some amazing acoustics were incorporated.

First he played us a recording of the call of a quetzal, the bird whose feathers adorn the serpent, then sharply clapped his hands. The sound that echoed back to us was identical.

Watch: David demonstrates this phenomenon

As we stood in awe he said, “That may be a coincidence, but I doubt it.” We spent a few moments trying to wrap our minds around that, but our craniums remained intact.

The foundations for the pyramid extend hundreds of feet out from the base of the pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico

At the base of the giant structure excavations reveal an incredible feat of engineering.

The foundations for the pyramid extend hundreds of feet out from the base, and even more impressive, the entire central area was built up and leveled out into an artificial plateau to create an acceptable building location for the massive temples and ball court.

Extraordinary stone work to be sure, but not as mind boggling as the work of the Incas, so our brains endured.

The Great Ball Court at Chichen Izta in Mexico

The Great Ball Court is the largest, and best preserved, to be found throughout Mesoamerica.

The game, or something similar, was played all across the region in highly ceremonial situations.

Two teams of four players vied to put a nine pound solid rubber ball through a stone ring about twenty feet high, without using their hands or feet.

Stone ring at the Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza in Mexico.

It sounds difficult, because it was.

Massive bruises, injuries, and even deaths were a common occurrence, but often that was only expediting the inevitable, because the winners were sacrificed anyway.

Yes, the winners, which probably blew their minds, but the rulers just couldn’t go around offering up losers to the gods.

Seating for rulers at The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza in Mexico

This was not a spectator sport for the masses, which is why the court lacks any grandstand style seating.

The opposing rulers would sit on opposite ends of the stadium, which is nearly the size of two football fields, with a small group of dignitaries.

The court also gave Frank a chance to further prove the Mayan understanding of acoustics.

Carvings in the stone of the entrance of the stadium at Chichen Itza in Mexico
Carving on the stone entrance of the stadium.

There should have been no way for the rulers to communicate across that distance, yet the court’s designers solved the problem.

When Frank spoke into the seating area on one end, we could hear the echo bouncing back all the way from the other. The shape of the royal boxes made it possible for the leaders to easily converse.

Very impressive, but still our minds remained whole.

The Group of a Thousand Columns at Chichen Itza in Mexico

After checking out several other incredible structures in the central area, such as The Platform of Venus (named for the planet, not the Roman goddess), The Tzompantli (Skull Platform), The Temple of the Warriors, and the Group of a Thousand Columns, we made our way down a sacbe to The Cenote Sagrado.

Carvings on Group of a Thousand Columns in Chichen Itza in Mexico
Many of the columns are intricately carved.
Heads on the side of a building in Chichen Itza in Mexico
Faces on the corner of Tzompantli (Skull Platform).
The Venus Platform in Chichen Izta in Mexico
Carvings on the Platform of Venus.
Artwork on a building in Chichen Itza, Mexico
Carvings on the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars.
Temple of the Warriors in Chichen Itza in Mexico
Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors).
The top of Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza, Mexico
The top of the Temple of the Warriors.
A sacbe is a raised road, paved with crushed rock, and the Mayans built hundreds of miles of them all across the peninsula. Today venders line the sacbe at Chichen Itza in Mexico
Now venders line the sacbe.

A sacbe is a raised road, paved with crushed rock, and the Mayans built hundreds of miles of them all across the peninsula.

The design was so durable that they are still easily recognizable today, in fact, many are still in use, incorporated into the right of ways of modern highways and railways.

Very sturdy, just like our minds.

Venders share a meal below the sacbe at Chichen Itza in Mexico
Venders share a meal below the sacbe.

The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza in Mexico

The Cenote Sagrado, or Sacred Cenote, is an enormous sinkhole filled with fresh water.

These holes are very common in the Yucatán because the ground is solid limestone, which dissolves away leaving caves and holes that fill with rain water.

The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza in Mexico

The city took its name, Chichén, in reference to the two cenotes, or wells, that the city was built around. Itzá, refers to the people who lived there.

But as precious as water was, the Sacred Cenote was not used as a water supply. It was a hallowed place of sacrifices to the rain god Chaac, who was believed to live at the bottom.

This was proven by the discovery of many bones and offerings when divers explored its depths.

Temple of the Descending God at Chichen Itza in Mexico
Temple of the Descending God
The Osario at Chichen Itza in Mexico
El Osario (The Ossuary)
La Iglesia (The Church) at Chichen Isza in Mexico
La Iglesia (The Church)

We moved on for a look at another group of slightly older ruins just off from the main area.

These feature the Nunnery and the Church, also misnamed by the Spanish because of their appearances. Las Monjas, the Nunnery, actually served as a governmental palace, La Iglesia, the Church, was a more nearly correct name since it was a small temple.

Las Monjas or The Nunnery at Chichen Itza in Mexico
Las Monjas (The Nunnery)

Detail of a building at Chichen Izta in Mexico

El Caracol, the observatory, at Chichen Itza in Mexico

Nearby, El Caracol, towers above the other ruins.

The name means the snail, and stems from the shell-like spiral staircase inside, but research revealed that the structure was actually a sophisticated astronomical observatory.

El Caracol, the observatory, at Chichen Itza in Mexico

Remarkable calculations, mostly based on the 584-day cycle of the planet Venus, were involved in designing the windows along the stairs so that they line up perfectly with over two dozen cosmic events such as eclipses, equinoxes, and solstices.

The theories and mathematics involved have been compared to those of Newton or Einstein.

Okay… minds blown.

(To tell the truth, they really were blown from the moment we spotted the pyramid)

The crowds at Chichen Itza in Mexico
Told ya we beat the crowds! Here’s the scene as we were leaving.
David poses with Mayans at Chichen Itza in Mexico
We couldn’t resist!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Mexico!

We are proud to be Viator Ambassadors

We are proud to be Viator Ambassadors – big thanks to Viator for providing this mind-blowing adventure! As always, all opinions are our own. To see more about this tour, click here.

Following in the Footsteps of the Ancestral Puebloans

I think it is safe to say that most of us didn’t know that there were skilled builders creating impressive, sophisticated, enormous stone structures right here in North America over a thousand years ago…
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Pueblo Bonita at Chaco Canyon

I like to look at maps. Always have. As a kid I would sit with an atlas for hours.

Now, later in life, my affinity for cartography helps me discover places to visit that I may have never learned about without it.

One such instance happened a few months ago. I was scanning a map of New Mexico for no apparent reason and noticed a place I was wholly unfamiliar with, Chaco Canyon. The Chaco Culture National Historical Park to be exact.

One of the first things I noticed was the lack of any roads leading to the park. As I zoomed in a few local dirt roads began to appear, but this is without a doubt one of the most remote and inaccessible locations in the entire National Park system. But don’t let that discourage you, because this is also one of the most important pre-Columbian historic sites in the United States.

And don’t get the wrong idea, it is certainly possible to get there. A truck or SUV is definitely preferable, but weather permitting, a car can make it. And after an hour or so of bouncing along a rough dirt road the payoff is definitely worth it.

The ruins at Chaco Canyon offer remarkable insight into the lives and culture of the people who populated the Four Corners region over a thousand years ago. Artifacts found here reveal a society that traveled and traded from Central America to the Pacific Ocean.

It is also very clear that these people were very skilled builders. The construction and architecture is much more advanced than we expected to find. These are massive, up to five story buildings with very precise designs and stonework.

By studying the structures, especially noting the abundance of kivas, archeologists have developed significant theories as to the lifestyle, traditions, and way of life of this highly developed society.

The Great Kiva at Chaco Canyon

Kivas are circular, ceremonial rooms that vary in size from just big enough for a handful of people to meet or celebrate, to large enough for dozens, if not hundreds to participate. With about forty kivas at Pueblo Bonita at Chaco Canyon, it looks as though this was less of a home for many people and more of a ceremonial meeting place for hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors from across the region.

A large kiva at Mesa Verde

Chaco Canyon was the predecessor to several other nearby ancient communities, most notably Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins, that were built as of the Ancestral Puebloans moved north. As soon as we learned that bit of information we knew that we had to visit those sites as well.

Aztec Ruins National Monument is about fifty miles north of Chaco Canyon, actually in the town of Aztec, New Mexico. The name is terribly incorrect, no Aztecs were ever in the vicinity. It stems from the Spanish explorer’s habit of labeling almost anything to do natives as Aztec.

Note the green stripe in the wall.

These ruins are a bit newer than those at Chaco Canyon, and we could see that the construction quality had improved. We were especially intrigued by a decorative stripes of green slate that were included in some of the walls.

There is also a fully restored kiva at the site, which is very impressive. In 1916 archeologist Earl Morris came here to begin excavation work. Almost twenty years later he oversaw the reconstruction of the Great Kiva.

The restored kiva at Aztec Ruins

Another fifty miles or so to the northwest brings you to Mesa Verde National Park. We had visited the Park in the past, but now we were able to see it with a much better understanding of what happened here.

It is the most recent of the three sites, with the cliff dwellings that we see now having been built from around one thousand to eight hundred years ago. By the late 13th century about twenty thousand people were living in the community, but by the end of the century there was almost nobody left.

The Square Tower House at Mesa Verde

However, the people living at these settlements did not simply disappear. They did leave rather abruptly, but the evidence shows that they moved to other areas.

Theories as to why they did this have been bandied about for decades. The timeline has been very accurately determined by dating the tree rings on the timbers that were used in the construction. So, it is known that around the year 1300 the residents of these pueblos packed up and left.

Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde

It is also known that a severe drought hit the region beginning around twenty years before the departure, so it is reasonable to surmise that lack of water, and all of the problems that come along with it, were a major factor in abandoning these dwellings. Yet the fact remains that with no written record left behind we may never know the whole story.

While researching these sites, we found that a great deal of what we thought we knew about this area was likely misunderstood. First and foremost being the name that we, and most everybody else, have used to describe these people for years, the Anasazi.

We were under the impression that Anasazi meant the ancient ones or ancient ancestors, but it actually is a Navajo word meaning ancient enemies. This made sense once we understood that the Navajo are not related to the people that lived and built these dwellings centuries ago.

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

So, while enemy may be an accurate description for them, the actual descendants, such as the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna do not care for the term because it certainly doesn’t describe their relationship to the Ancestral Puebloans.

All in all, we were struck by our overall lack of knowledge about this important part of American history. I think it is safe to say that we are not alone, most of us didn’t know that there were skilled builders creating impressive, sophisticated, enormous stone structures right here in North America over a thousand years ago.

It is also safe to say that everyone should try to see them if they get the chance.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Our Favorite Winter Getaways (without going too far away)

With the weather starting to turn chilly we think now is a good time to take a look at some ideas for for a winter getaway and begin planning that escape. So let’s take a look back at a few of the places that we found the best for lifting our spirits over the past few winters… CONTINUE READING >> 

With the weather starting to turn chilly we think now is a good time to take a look at some ideas for for a winter getaway and begin planning that escape. So let’s take a look back at a few of the places that we found the best for lifting our spirits over the past few winters.

Glacier National Park is certainly a year-round destination, and much more popular in the summer months.

Unfortunately, most of the glaciers in the park are long gone, but by visiting in the winter we were still able to get a feel for the once icy landscape.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels along the southern edge of the park and is an amazing way to see it in the snow, but we wanted to venture in a little deeper.

So we rented a car and drove through Hungry Horse to the western entrance of the park and up the famous Going to the Sun Road.

Staying in the nearby town of Whitefish, Montana made the trip all that much better. Not only did we get to experience some real Wild West hospitality, including a dogsled trip through the Rockies, but there were not too many other people crowding up the place.

Probably because most travelers are looking for warmer climes this time of year, duh!

Hawai’i is wonderful any time of year, but when temperatures drop and the wind chill is brutal a tropical paradise moves to the top of almost everyone’s list.

Whether it is a day on the beach or visiting a volcano, our fiftieth state is perfect for a winter escape.

We’ve done both, so here’s a look at a few of the wildly colorful and unique beaches on the Big Island.

Most of those colors come from volcanic activity so we felt like we had to takea look over the edge of a volcano while it was erupting!

Even with the incredible power that lies deep within our planet on display only a few hundred yards away we still felt perfectly safe.

As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to go inside. Yup, we walked inside the lava tubes of an active volcano and lived to tell.

Actually, so far as we know everybody who has done it has also survived.

Skiing is always a popular winter pastime, but we stumbled upon a particularly peculiar variation in Arizona.

It’s not something that can always be done, but when the weather cooperates it is possible to ski all day and then hang out by the pool afterward. Just outside of Tucson lies the southernmost ski area in the United States, Mount  Lemmon Ski Valley.

The drive up the mountain was gorgeous, going from sizzling arid desert to frigid alpine winter wonderland in less than an hour. It was like passing through all of the seasons in one day, and at the top the views were nothing short of spectacular.

Not much further down the road we discovered one of our all-time favorite spots, Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

This little fishing village on the northern shore of the Gulf of California just might be the ultimate snowbird destination. It may be only an hour’s drive south of the border, but it’s a million miles from the hustle and bustle of life back home.

The landscape is mesmerizing, with arid mountains dropping into the crystal blue Sea of Cortez, and here in the heart of the Sonoran Desert temperatures are in the eighties even in the dead of winter.

Mexico is home to many other fantastic destinations all across the vast country. A great way to see the Pacific coast is to pick up a Car Rental in Puerto Vallarta. From majestic mountains to beautiful beaches the region has it all.

Another of our top choices, Cancun and the Riviera Maya. This area along the Caribbean coast is so jam packed with things to do and places to go that we could easily spend the entire winter here, and Cancun airport transportation makes it so easy to get to and from the airport.

From the historic and mind blowing Mayan ruins in Tulum and Chichén-Itzá, to Rio Secreto, a river that flows for miles underground, this mystical region never ceases to amaze.

Taking the extra time to really explore led us to another gem, Valladolid. This inland hideaway on the Yucatan Peninsula has been named by the Mexican government as the best preserved colonial city in the entire country.

And of course the incredible food from the region makes it so we never want to leave.

But then summer will come along and we will certainly be looking for places to cool off by then.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

The Macabre Human Bone Church of Sedlec, Czech Republic

Halloween coming up got us thinking about the spookiest thing we have ever seen in our travels. There have been a few, but this church stands out as the scariest thing we encountered along the way…
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The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

We had dreamed and discussed a trip to what Veronica happily calls “The Motherland” for a long, long time.

A recent trip to Europe finally afforded us that opportunity. In our little rented car that we named Benny, we tooled into the Czech Republic with almost no idea what to expect.

Actually, it would be impossible for anyone to expect what we found in the little town of Sedlec — an ancient chapel that came with a very disturbing secret.

Creepy headstones at the graves of The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

It had been used as an ossuary, or mass burial site. Strange, yet not completely out of the ordinary.

But inside the walls of this seemingly peaceful little church is a gallery so ghastly, it must be seen to be believed.

We had heard stories about this place, but words — nor pictures — can begin to explain what it was like walking through the doors.

This chandelier at The Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic contains every bone in the human body

This chandelier at The Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic contains every bone in the human body

Human bones from tens of thousands of people adorn the walls and ceiling, in inexplicable formations.

Strings of skulls and femurs of the dearly departed hang like garlands over the arches and doorways.

Stacks, pyramids, signs, crucifixes, candelabras and a coat of arms surrounded us, all made from the skeletons of the long deceased.

This chandelier at The Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic contains every bone in the human body

We — and every other visitor present — simply gaped in amazement.

Then we noticed the creepy centerpiece of this macabre masterpiece, a massive chandelier containing at least one of every bone in the human body.

It’s hard to say how long we stood staring, time seemed to come to a grinding halt inside the tomb.

What would make someone conceive of such a grizzly undertaking? The tale takes us back to the 1200s:

The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

Before the church became an ossuary, there was a conventional cemetery outside.

In the 13th century, the abbot of Sedlec, Henry Heidenrich, brought back some dirt from Golgotha (the hill where Jesus Christ was crucified) he acquired on a pilgrimage to The Holy Land and sprinkled it over the cemetery.

Suddenly the cemetery became the place to be buried if you lived in Bohemia.

Cherub angel with trumpet and skull

Making the idea of this spot as a final resting place even sweeter, a legend arose that if one was buried here their remains would decompose in just three days.

Who wouldn’t want to avoid – as the ossuary’s literature puts it – “the lengthy process of gradual decomposition?” Soon all of Central Europe wanted in on the action.

Sedlec Ossuary is the common grave of about 40,000 people

When the plague of the 14th century hit, the burial ground had to be significantly enlarged.

In 1318 alone, thirty thousand people were buried in the cemetery.

Around this time the chapel became an ossuary, but was heavily damaged in 1421 during the Hussite Wars. In 1511, large areas of the graveyard were decommissioned and bones from those graves were stacked in and around the ossuary.

Crown adorning one of the four pyramids of human bones

By the time renown architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichl was commissioned to restore the ossuary, in the early 1700s, tens of thousands of souls had been laid to rest in it.

Santini’s unique mixture of the Gothic and Baroque styles were employed in the redesign and stand today.

Although a bit of bone decorating was going on prior to this, Santini kicked it into high gear. Using the hodgepodge of bones laying around, he constructed six enormous pyramids and affixed golden crowns atop them.

The Sedlec Ossuary near Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

The visitors guide states that the decor “may not be quite intelligible nowadays. We might be mistaken when considering the Ossuary’s decoration as mere bizarreness. It makes deep sense in the context of the stirred baroque piety.

Baroque piety or not, this seems to be the only place where people thought it made any, much less deep, sense.

The Schwarzenburg family coat of arms made of human bones at the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

In the late 1700s the ossuary was sold to the Schwarzenburg family who decided to turn woodcarver František Rint loose inside.

Using two of the six pyramids, he constructed the highly disturbing Schwarzenburg coat of arms. The “leftover” bones were reburied.

It is Rint’s work that struck us speechless.

Close up of the coat of arms in the Sedlec Ossuary

There’s a bird (whose wing looks as though it may be made out of a hand or foot) pecking the eye of a Turkish soldier, symbolizing a war victory.

Rint even “signed” his name in bones on a wall, for a little added flair.

Nearly as bizarre as the ossuary’s decor, is way the literature is worded. Someone seems to have turned somersaults justifying the ossuary’s unique ornamentation:

Jan Blazej Santini-Aichl vision

It’s guessed that the Ossuary is a common grave of about 40,000 people.

This work reminds us of the fact and the worth of eternity. God has concluded a covenant that puts us under an obligation to responsibility towards God and our neighbors.

The observance of the covenant will be appreciated when we die.

What? Well this should clear things up:

Sedlec Ossuary is the common grave of about 40,000 people

In the corners of the lower chapel your attention can be caught by giant pyramids made of bones.

These bones are stowed up without being bound together.

The human bones represent multitudes which none can count facing the God’s throne.

Or maybe not.

The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

It was time to get out, there’s only so much time we could comfortably spend in a grave.

We were having a strange feeling of desecration gnawing at the back of our minds.

Should busloads of tourists really be tromping through this tomb? The measure of respect for the dead seemed to be fairly lost in the crowd, not to mention the cheesy skull trinkets and souvenirs offered on the way out.

Ah yes, some things remain the same throughout our travels…

Exit through the gift shop.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in the Czech Republic!

7 Ideas For An Unforgettable Trip to Europe

After the year we’ve all had, nothing sounds better than a fundamental trip to Europe. Marvelous cities and gorgeous historical sites will welcome and relax you… CONTINUE READING >>

After the year we’ve all had, nothing sounds better than a fundamental trip to Europe. Marvelous cities and gorgeous historical sites will welcome and relax you. If you are still in the midst of planning your European trip, check out these 7 ideas for an unforgettable one.

1. Take a Stroll Across The Charles Bridge in Prague

Built in the early 15t century, Charles Bridge is the oldest bridge in the area. It spreads across the Vltava River and connects the city’s Old Town with the marvelous Prague Castle. The establishment is so well structured and planned out, that it has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

2. See an Opera in Vienna

A cultural jewel of Europe, Vienna is one of the best choices to enjoy an upper crust evening in and treat yourself to an opera. Even if you are not a fan of classical music and arts, this experience is highly recommended to get in touch with the intellectual part of Europe and, hey, maybe one evening of high quality music will open up your mind?

Keep in mind that if you choose to follow this general itinerary, there are many comfortable ways to travel around, like the Prague to Vienna train.

3. Go Wine-tasting in Tuscany

A relaxing afternoon in the finest, local wineries will only make your trip better. Discover new tastes and aromas by visiting Tuscany – a region in central Italy with many dreamy countrysides to get yourself lost in, only to end up at one of the many wine-tasting events where you will experience the magic of true Italian wine.

4. Ride a Gondola in Venice

This is the most popular entertainment in the city of 120 islands. With so many canals connecting the little islands, riding a gondola is the perfect way to see everything and it offers many various routes, depending on how far you want to go. It can also be very romantic. Keep in mind that this pastime is quite expensive, so check the prices before entering the beautiful Venice.

5. Visit The Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland

One of the best waterfalls in Iceland, Skogafoss has a drop of approximately 60 m and a width of 25 m. A lot of drizzling will provide you with a view of the rainbow if you visit the waterfall on a sunny day and you can get really close to it! To get to the Skogafoss you will have to climb an impressive number of steps, but it can get chilly the further you go, so prepare a warm outfit.

6. Explore The Louvre

The most visited museum in the world should surely end up on your bucket list. It is filled with breathtaking pieces of art and artifacts spanning thousands of years. There are many various exhibitions among the never-changing pieces that are there all of the time. Works of da Vinci, Gericault and many others. Not to mention collections from Ancient Greece, Egypt Antiquities and other grand periods of time. The Louvre is both aesthetically and historically pleasing, so we suggest setting aside a whole day for it.

7. Admire The Views of Santorini

Set in the southern Aegean Sea, the island of Santorini is a famous location for travelers who just wish to gaze at the attractive views and soak up Greek culture. Many visit this island just after peeking at one picture, yes, the one with the dreamily blue water and pristine white roofs. But there is so much more to see and enjoy. The narrow streets and wide beaches, small cafes and romantic evenings. You can spend the entire time there just strolling around and will still bring back some impressive stories to share.

We can guarantee – this Eurotrip will be unforgettable and simply everything you could possibly look for in the most perfect holiday. Now let’s not waste any more time and plan this journey!

We are happy to present this collaborative post to offer valuable information to our readers.

Are You Preparing For an Expedition? A Tactical Backpack Is A Great Asset

Ensuring your backpack is strong and ready for the challenges of your expedition will be paramount in your ability to survive and thrive during your adventures… CONTINUE READING >>

If you are preparing for an expedition, then nothing is more important than the gear you carry. Especially when you are heading out to remote locations and will need to be carrying all your supplies, it is extremely important to bring everything you will need to survive, as you are likely to be cut off from anywhere that you can purchase supplies or ask for help.

When you are packing for your trips and adventures, nothing is more important than ensuring your kit is well supplied and in good condition. From carrying your food, water, lights, and your shelter, your backpack can be your most important asset, and its size and composition will make or break what you can bring with you. Supplies will be essential to survival, so you need to make sure you can fit everything you could need.

While you may have a standard backpack laying around the house that has served you for small outings such as a one or two-hour leisurely hike, this probably won’t suit you well for a full expedition into unknown territory. It is always best to be over-prepared than under-prepared as you head off into remote areas for exploration.

When you are looking for a backpack that will meet all your needs there are a few things to take into consideration before making your final choice:

1.   Size

The size of your backpack will be determined by how long your trip will be, and therefore what you will need to bring with you. A smaller backpack will be sufficient for a day or two, while you will want a larger backpack if you are heading out for long stretches. As you need to carry additional days of water, food, and extra gear, you don’t want a small backpack to get you through a week-long hike. Taking care to think of the size and plan accordingly will make all the difference when you head out on your adventures.

2.   Material

It is important to consider what type of material your bag is made out of. Especially for heavy-duty carrying and trekking through rough terrain, you will want a durable bag. Water-resistant materials are a great choice, as are heavy-duty canvases especially if you will be in areas where you could snag your bag on brush or rocks. You don’t want to be in a situation where your bag rips or the straps break, as this will make it harder for you to get to safety in case of any emergencies. Make sure you are considering the quality and material of the bag you choose for your expedition.

3.   Standard or Sling Options

While this may not have been a consideration for you, it is important to consider any possible situations you will be in that may require you to access your bag without actually taking it off. When looking for the right bag, considering a sling option is a great choice, as it allows you to access the contents of your bag without fully removing it. This can save you vital time or allow you access to your kit in the case of any emergencies. You can check out reviews for a modern sling pack to decide if this is right for you. While this may seem like a small feature, it can ultimately save you in an emergency, so it is important to think through all possible scenarios when choosing your backpack type.

There are many factors to take into account when choosing the proper bag for any expedition, and tactical bags will generally check all the boxes. Tactical backpacks are generally made for military or paramilitary uses, so they can be incredibly durable and spacious, as well as lightweight and user friendly.

On an expedition, your backpack will be one of the most important items you can invest in, as it will contain and protect your food, water, and other essential survival supplies. Your backpack is not the item that you want to choose on a whim, and it is one of the items where quality, rather than cost, should affect your decision. Expeditions, adventures, hikes, and trips can be amazing times, but they can also be incredibly hazardous especially if you are going off-grid and out of contact for some time. Ensuring that your gear is safe, sound, and protected can not only save your kit but save your life in the event of an emergency.

Ensuring your backpack is strong and ready for the challenges of your expedition will be paramount in your ability to survive and thrive during your adventures.

We are happy to present this collaborative post to offer valuable information to our readers.

4 Fantastic Attractions a Stone’s Throw from the 4 Corners

It is possible to set foot in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico all at once. However, the nearby attractions may be even cooler than the meeting of these four states… CONTINUE READING >>

How many states have you been to in one day? Oh, and by the way, airplanes don’t count.

I can remember a few times when driving on Interstate 81 that we passed through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia in the span of about fifty miles.

And in New England it is certainly possible to drive through four or five states in a day. But out West, where the states are big, it is hard to get into more than two or three on any given day. Heck, I recall several times when I drove all day in the same state… Montana and Texas come to mind.

So, a place where you can stand in four states all at the very same time is pretty unique. Yes, it is actually possible to set foot in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico all at once.

This was my third time accomplishing this trick. Once as a small child, then again as a young parent with our kids, and now as an aging wanderer. It has been cool each time. However, now that we have the wisdom of age, we have come to realize that the nearby attractions may be even cooler than the actual meeting of these four states.

A quick rundown of some of these surrounding sites shows just how intriguing this area truly is. Let’s take a look:

Mesa Verde

This is likely the best known of the region’s many native American ruins and holds the title as the largest archaeological preserve in the United States. As one of the five National Parks and eighteen National Monuments declared by President Theodore Roosevelt, Mesa Verde is one of the oldest in our National Parks system. Of course, back in 1906 this was some mighty remote territory, and still is to some degree, so be ready for some winding two lane roads.

As a kid we were allowed to climb around in the ruins, and even later with our kids that was allowed. Now things are much more supervised and visits into the dwellings are only allowed as part of a tour.

Unfortunately, even that wasn’t available on our recent trip because the road to the main portion of the ruins was washed out and impassable. We did get to see the Cliff Palace, largest of the dwellings, from across the canyon. As a small bonus, a ranger pointed out that because of the washout we got to take photos of the famous structure with no people in them.

Not quite a fair trade but we decided we’d count it as a plus anyway.

(Check back here soon because we will explore several of the area’s native sites in depth over the coming weeks.)

Shiprock

This may be one of New Mexico’s most iconic landmarks, but to us we just couldn’t quite see the name appearing in the stone. Maybe we just didn’t get it from the correct angle but we never could quite make out a ship. Looks more like a cathedral to us, but then there is already a Church Rock just across the border in Arizona.

Later we learned that the Navajo name for it is Tsé Bit’ A’í, which means winged rock. Now that seems like a much better description to us.

Either way, this volcanic remnant towers some fifteen hundred feet above the desert and can be seen for miles and miles in every direction.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Opened in 1882 as a part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, this is another of the 4 Corners attractions that I visited as a kid. No, not back in the eighteen-hundreds, more like the nineteen-sixties. I’m old, but not THAT old.

I am happy to report that it hasn’t changed all that much over those past fifty some years. The vintage steam locomotives, rolling stock, depot, and even the old roundhouse are all still in service. Part of the roundhouse is now a museum, which is very much worth a visit.

While talking to one of the engineers, we found out that one of the biggest changes is that the old steam engines have been refitted to burn fuel oil instead of coal. This makes them cleaner, and almost eliminates the fire danger from sparks. An added bonus… no more cinders in your eyes!

Monument Valley

Because it has been used as the setting for so many movies, it can truthfully be said that for many people this valley is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of the American West.

John Wayne and Henry Fonda practically lived here through the nineteen-forties while filming some of John Ford’s most famous Westerns. A little later, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, and a very young Natalie Wood joined in.

Then Charles Bronson and Jason Robards came to play cowboys, and finally Johnny Depp stopped by as Tonto in 2013.

Yet even with all of those classic films shot here, perhaps the most famous scene of all is when Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, while running with the iconic rock formations we are all now so familiar with as his backdrop, suddenly stopped right in the middle of US Highway 163.

Honorable mention:

These five National Monuments are all within about an hour’s drive from the 4 Corners and, even though we have not been to them yet, we have investigated and they are certainly worth a visit.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chimney Rock National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, and Navajo National Monument.

Looks like a good reason to go back for another visit. Hope it doesn’t take another fifty years!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com