Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Travels of Terror: Great Places to be for Halloween

I love Halloween!  It's the special, mysterious time of year when we celebrate spirits and let our dark sides out!  It's a time when change is in the air, from the leaves to the weather to our own preparations for the winter.  My birthday is also right near Halloween, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

As much as I love Halloween, I am absolutely terrible at finding suitable (read: comfortable) costumes, and I always wait until the last minute.  Every year, I find myself wishing that I could just get outta town, forget about the whole dressing up and collecting candy affair, and get out into the world to have a really unique Halloween experience.

Here are my top travel destinations for Halloween (in no particular order):

Labyrinth Guardian
1.  Budapest.  Any historical European city could be a great backdrop for a spooky Halloween, but Budapest is somehow unique.  The entire city has an almost ominous feel, as if everyone has a secret they are keeping from you.  The archaic gothic architecture also helps to set the mood, and it's easy to imagine being ambushed by Hungarian vampires as you walk quietly along the cobblestone streets--and I'm talking about classic vampires, not those broody, whimpering creations.

The best thing about Budapest, and the reason it was the first place I imagined, is because of its Labyrinth.  Beneath Buda Castle and Castle Hill, the Budapest Labyrinth takes you on a tour through the city's fascinating and tumultuous history through subterranean tunnels and caverns with mysteries around every corner!  The caverns are lit sparsely, and you may find yourself frequently walking through dimly lit passageways only to suddenly come face-to-face tall, frightening men--only to realize that they are only statues; the guardians of the labyrinth.  The labyrinth's Renaissance Hall is a charming respite from fear; it is a bright room with a fountain in the center where dark red wine flows, giving the room a tangy, somewhat comforting smell.  Stone benches are placed in the room to allow you a brief moment for contemplation before venturing back into the darkness.

Art of Funerals   
2. New Orleans.  If you're like me, you've played Gabriel Knight enough times to know exactly where Jackson Square and Lake Pontchartrain are in relation to the Voodoo shop, and you know exactly what those sneaky Rada drummers are up to.  If you're not like me, I hope you can imagine the powerful spirit and resilience of New Orleans.  If anyone knows how to party, it's the Big Easy, and if you think Mardi Gras is the only thing New Orleans has going for it, take a closer look at those back alleys (not too close a look... stay safe!) and listen closely to all that jazz.

This sparkling city can fulfill your every Halloween desire: from trick-or-treating at the zoo and costume contests to cemetery soirees and haunted bayou, New Orleans has it all!  Be sure to stock up on your voodoo accoutrements at voodoo shops and at Marie LaVeau's place.  Just be sure to watch for stray spirits, and beware of the tangled webs of voodoo magic before you weave!

3.  Mexico.  Dia de los Muertos (and All Saint's Day) is celebrated around the world, but nowhere more vibrantly than in Mexico, and in Oaxaca specifically.  The Day of the Dead is a time to celebrate the memory of friends and relatives who have died.  Celebrating and honoring death is inherently a somber and thought-provoking event, but it's also meant to remind us of the time we have, and how we should use it (to have fun!).

In Oaxaca, travelers have the opportunity to visit craft marketplaces where you can purchase your very own catrinas (shown on the right), or pottery and other crafts.  You can also wander the streets and markets to absorb some of Oaxaca's beautiful sights and history until the sun goes down and the candles burn brightly. Visit cemeteries to see carefully adorned gravestones, and bring candles and marigolds with you to help decorate!  The key to enjoying this day is to support cultural traditions by supporting and respecting the locals, and if you're a shutterbug like me, be sure to know when and what is appropriate to photograph. 

Immerse yourself in the colors and soul of Dia de los Muertos, and you may live more vivaciously!

An Ostentatious Tour Display
4.  Gettysburg, Pennyslvania.  Yes, really!  Gettysburg's main streets are crowded with more and more ghost tour booths every year, thanks to the growing gossip that restless Civil War ghosts are trapped in town like water in a snowglobe.  Any hotspot historical Civil War battlefields and towns are likely to have ghost story tours sprouting out of nowhere, but Gettysburg has become the Pandora's Box of pandering ghost entrepreneurs.  Word to the wise: if (when) you meet someone who claims their profession is "paranormal investigator", make an X-Files joke and move away quickly!

Go on one of the Ghosts of Gettysburg tours (the original Gettysburg Ghost Tour!) to hear some of the frightening Civil War spirit encounters had by locals and tourists alike.  And when you're finished having the poltergeists scare the pants off you, I recommend dinner at the Dobbin House, which is my all-time favorite historically spooky basement tavern.  The tavern is lit mainly by candlelight, so your mind can wander anachronistically with the flickers of the flames, and you can imagine yourself in that chilly basement carousing with Civil War soldiers (or their ghosts!). Gettysburg is the perfect place to walk the once bloodsoaked battlefields in search of the paranormal, but don't be too afraid when you feel that distinct supernatural chill in the air; it's autumn, after all!


  1. These sound like some great places to visit, and I'll have to make a note about Gettysburg (I've only been there in summer). However, I have to say, the ghost tours here in Edinburgh are pretty awesome. I made sure to go on one this Halloween, and it was full of true stories about the various hangings and other not-so-nice happenings in the city.

  2. Hah, Pinder was just in Edinburgh! Wish he could've stayed through Halloween...

  3. Great article, Nomad. I like this perspective of spending Halloween--perhaps the next time I plan a trip, I'll keep this holiday in mind for some unique fun times. :)

    I can also see now why you love Halloween so much, knowing you've visited some of these destinations. ;)