“Summer” and “goth” aren’t exactly an ideal combo. Black layers don’t usually make good warm weather clothes, and it’s hard to keep a pale complexion without them. But if you’re going to brave the heat, the best way to do it is near the water in a gorgeous, foreign country you’ve never visited before.
Croatia has been having a serious tourism boom in recent years, thanks in no small part to Game of Thrones. I’m not a fan of either the books or the show (gasp! I know!), but you definitely don’t need to be to enjoy visiting the country. Coastal cliffs paired with water so blue that it seems unreal and ancient architecture around every corner…the place is just plain beautiful!
Cafe Buza is mentioned in just about every Dubrovnik travel guide, and it’s for good reason. The drinks are nothing special, but where else can you sit cliffside with castle walls rising behind you? What’s nice about the bar area is that it’s open to the public, meaning you can hang out even if you don’t order something. I actually walked in with a drink from another bar and no one batted an eye.
There were a lot of interesting cemeteries in Croatia, but unfortunately I only had time to visit one. I’m not even sure what the name was – it’s a small cemetery between Bobovišća and Ložišća on Brač. While the cemetery itself was quaint with some lovely tombstones and memento mori, the view was it’s best feature.
Of course, the trip gave me a good excuse to stock up on some summertime goth goodies, like this pool float from Blackcraft Cult. And goth-inspired swimwear and beach accessories are getting easier to find these days (thankfully).
If you’re thinking of heading to Croatia, here are my tips:
Bring water shoes. The beach shores are almost entirely made of rocks (there are very few “sandy” beaches in Croatia), and if you plan to go swimming in the waterfalls at Krka National Park (which I recommend), the lake bottom is nothing but slippery rocks. I didn’t have any water shoes, and I sure wish I had.
Uber is present in the major cities, but not always super useful and not always cheaper than a traditional cab. I try to avoid using Uber when possible because of their questionable business practices and the fact that these types of sharing services undercut wages for service industry workers. However, sometimes in countries where you don’t speak the language, Uber makes getting around easier because you can simply put your destination into the app. If you’re going to use Uber in Split, be aware that drivers can’t pick you up anywhere; there are designated “pick up” spots in the city.
Finally, don’t believe anyone that tells you Croatians are cold, unfriendly people. Multiple people told me this before the trip, and I found it to be completely untrue. Nearly everyone I met was warm, friendly and happy to help a lost and/or confused tourist.
The place is fairly small, but they pack a lot in. When you first walk in, you enter at the bar level. The bartender will greet you and give you the lay of the land. For a few pounds, you can pay admission to the museum, which is located on the lower lever down a precarious spiral staircase. You’re allowed to take beer or wine with you down into the gallery (cocktails are only allowed upstairs in the bar area, however). The admission price includes a little souvenir book, so my advice is to hit the gallery first, then pull up a table in the cocktail lounge and read all about the weirdness you just saw, like the gold-plated hippo skull that was owned by Pablo Escobar, Fiji mermaid or a taxidermied goat with wings.
The museum/bar hosts a lot of unique events, from literary readings to taxidermy classes, so make sure to check the calendar if you’re planning a visit. When I visited recently, they were hosting a temporary exhibition of witchcraft art and artifacts on loan from Cornwall’s Museum of Witchcraft. (Note to self: plan a future trip to Cornwall.)
If you’ve never been to Prague, I’ll start by saying this: Prague is easily the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. (Sorry, Paris!) Every inch of the city feels like being inside a castle, and that’s well before you ever even step behind the literal castle walls! But beyond it’s beauty, Prague is also chock full of dark, creepy sites. I only had three days to spend there, which I realized almost immediately would be far too short of a stay (spoiler: I was right). However, in those three days, I managed to pack in as much as possible, so here are my picks for some of Prague’s best dark sites.
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral is located within the castle walls, so here is where my first Prague travel tip comes in: do not plan your visit for a Saturday morning. Even on a rainy morning, the line of visitors waiting to get inside the gates wrapped all around the square, and it took us nearly an hour of standing in line to even get to the security checkpoint. However, I will say that even with the super long line, it was totally worth visiting. The castle compound actually houses several major historical sites, in addition to the cathedral. There are various ticket options, and different tickets get you into different areas, which leads me to tip #2: do a bit of research on what spots you specifically want to see before you go, so you know which class of ticket you want to buy before you get there.
If you are at all interested in gothic architecture and dark design elements, you will fall head over heels for St. Vitus Cathedral. While the overall impact of the building is quite something, it was the little details I found throughout that really captivated me, particularly the many gargoyles and grotesque figures serving as rain spouts on the exterior.
Another popular site within the castle grounds is Golden Lane, a perfectly preserved 16th century street with artifacts and displays of life as a castle inhabitant. One of the buildings contains an excellent display of various armor and weapons which make it worth a visit.
I had seen photos of this remarkable spot and was determined to pay it a visit, but locating it proved more difficult that I thought. Though it was clearly marked on all the maps I checked, the garden is behind very tall walls, and finding which street will lead behind those walls wasn’t easy. My advice: follow the signs and directions for the Senate building. The gardens surround the Senate and are filled with bizarre surprises, like a habitat with several huge and intimidating-looking eagle owls. There are also supposedly peacocks that roam the grounds, though I didn’t see any. The most impressive feature, however, is the wall known as The Grotto. From far away, the wall appears to be made of stalactites, but when you get closer, you see there are hidden faces and figures everywhere. Some are subtle suggestions of faces, others are literal figures of cats and dragons and all sorts of other creatures. There are rumors of secret doors within the wall, though no one has every proven their existence.
Prague travel tip #3: Make sure you verify that sites are open before heading out. Prague has a rich history when it comes to alchemy, and I was super excited to check out the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague…and super disappointed when I found the sign posted that the museum was closed for renovation! This discovery sent me to the internet for some last minute research, which is how I discovered Speculum Alchemiae.
I had read that the museum mostly contained recreations of artifacts, which sounded a little lame, but I decided to check it out anyway, and I am so glad I did! It’s not so much a museum as it is a guided tour through a historic home and underground tunnels and caves that made up an alchemy laboratory. Our guide was terrific and shared so much information about religion, history and science in Medieval Prague that I was captivated the whole time. And while some of the artifacts are recreations, they are very well done, and several original artifacts from the lab do remain. If you are in Prague, this spot is a must-visit!
There was one more site that I had hoped to see while in Prague, which my poor planning prevented me from seeing: the Old Jewish Cemetery. Of course, when you’re on vacation, you can start to lose track of what day of the week it is, and I went to visit the cemetery on a Saturday…also known as the Sabbath, and naturally the cemetery was closed. Oh well, I guess I have at least one reason to return to Prague!
New Orleans is one of the few cities in the United States where you can tell a stranger that your travel plans include visiting several cemeteries and no one will bat an eye. In fact, the city’s many cemeteries are some of its most popular tourist attractions. It’s both in spite of and because of this popularity that it can be hard to figure out which cemeteries you can visit and which you can’t.
Websites and social media are chock full of photos for just about every cemetery in New Orleans, but don’t take this as a sign that you can easily pop into Odd Fellows Rest to stage your own photo shoot. Because of crime and vandalism, some of the city’s cemeteries are actually off limits these days. A few are only accessible to tour groups. The guides for these groups actually have to register with the city, and guards monitor who comes in and out with each group. The tours usually require reservations, too, so spontaneity won’t do you much good.
With all these restrictions, planning my tour of Nola’s cemeteries required a lot more legwork than I expected. Save yourself the headache and start your planning by visiting Save Our Cemeteries, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries. Of all the sites I visited, this one has the most up-to-date information on which cemeteries are currently open to the public, what their open hours are, and whether or not a tour guide is required to access them.
Lafayette Cemetery #1
Located in the heart of the Garden District, Lafayette Cemetery #1 is one of the easiest to access. Of the three cemeteries that I visited, this one felt the most European. Surrounded on nearly all sides by trees, the grounds are quite green and somewhat overgrown with weeds. Ferns spring forth from cracks in damaged tombs down every aisle.
Save our Cemeteries works to preserve these aging tombs, and families are expected to care for their loved ones’ and ancestors’ tombs, but the crumbling facades in various stages of repair and disrepair do offer a glimpse into how the tombs were constructed, how the dead were preserved, and what goes into keeping these monuments intact.
St. Louis Cemetery #1
St. Louis #1 is probably the most famous of the city’s many cemeteries, likely due to its notable residents like Homer Plessy (and one very out-of-place and not-yet-used tomb belonging to the actor Nicolas Cage). Because of vandalism, this one of the cemeteries that you can only visit as part of a supervised tour with a registered tour guide. There are plenty of companies that offer tours, ranging from historic to campy. While the vampire and voodoo stories of New Orleans fascinate me, I prefer to hear the history behind the lore rather than indulge in sensationalism. The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau recommended Historic New Orleans Tours, and as the name promised, our guide was knowledgeable on history and quick to dispel myths and misconceptions, particularly when it came to Voodoo.
Marie Laveau‘s tomb is a big draw for tourists. I didn’t really know much about the legend of Marie Laveau, known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” assuming that 99 percent of what I’d read on the internet would be more fiction than truth.
As you can see, lots of visitors like to leave offerings at her tomb (many think that it brings luck), but our guide insisted that this was actually a little disrespectful. He pointed out that a true Voodoo offering should reflect the person to whom it is offered. The hairbands could be seen as true offerings, since Marie Laveau worked for many years as a hair dresser, but the rest (like the Mardi Gras beads) were essentially like leaving trash in front of her tomb. Our guide went on to talk a lot about Voodoo and its connection to both Catholicism and the city’s history. If you’re at all interested in the truths behind this practice in New Orleans, rather than the superstitions and myths, this is a great tour to take.
St. Roch Cemetery
While Lafayette #1 teemed with green and Old World vibes, St. Louis #1 was something of a densely packed city within a city. St. Roch Cemetery was altogether different from both. Most of the tombs are much lower to the ground, and a good number of tombstones line the surrounding walls. Many guide books are quick to point out that visiting cemeteries in New Orleans isn’t always super safe. Some advise caution around cemeteries near “high crime” neighborhoods. More than a few sources point out the St. Louis #1 is near a housing project, so tourists should be cautious walking to and from it. Personally, I felt quite safe on the way to and from St. Louis #1, but we were walking with a tour guide who knew the streets well. My visit to St. Roch did give me the slightest unease though. While it’s not far from the Bywater, a gentrifying neighborhood, St. Roch cemetery is certainly on the outskirts of any areas that tourists frequent. Along the way, I passed several houses that still bore the “X-code” marks of Katrina. Once there, you do feel quite isolated. I’d advise not going alone and visiting during daylight hours.
One of the biggest draws at St. Roch is the chapel. In the 14th century, St. Roch ministered to victims of the plague. Because of the legend surrounding his healing powers, visitors to the chapel over the centuries have left a variety of oddities as offerings (everything from glass eyes to prosthetic limbs), hoping their offerings would lead St. Roch to heal their ailments.
Having only 3 full days in New Orleans, I only visited 3 cemeteries, but each one was remarkable different. And there are many, many more left to see…something to bring me back for a future visit.
Do you have a favorite New Orleans cemetery, or tips for visiting? Share it in the comments below!
Tucked into a residential pocket of San Diego’s upscale Mission Hills neighborhood, there’s a sunny neighborhood park that’s home to an unexpectedly spooky surprise. Once a cemetery, Pioneer Park today is a prime spot for families to gather for a barbecue or for residents to play a game a fetch with their dogs, but look beyond the playground equipment in the southeast corner of the park to see what really makes this park unique: dozens of historic tombstones and grave markers.
In the later half of the 19th century, this modest plot of land served as a Catholic cemetery and remained so for a century. Hundreds of San Diegans were laid to rest here (estimates range from 800 to more than 4,000 people were buried here), including members of several of the city’s most notable families. But by the 1970s, the cemetery had fallen into disrepair and the city moved to turn the land into a community park. The bodies were left in their graves beneath the ground, but the majority of the tombstones were cleared out, save for a few beautiful rows at the park’s edge, which remained as a memorial.
With arching pepper trees and eucalyptus encircling the park, the corner with these remaining tombstones makes for a lovely picnic spot. If you go late at night, you might find local teens hanging out, imbibing in illegal substances, but on a sunny afternoon, it’s the perfect respite from San Diego’s bustling beaches.