Thursday, September 29, 2011

recollections

When I got back from Europe I began a long search for a steampunk outfit suitable for the Goblin and Gears Fantasy Ball.  Not having the skills nor the willpower to make my own ball gown, I turned to the web for hours at a time, hemming and hawing over various Victorian dresses, steampunk outfits, and variations of the two.  My boyfriend made fun of my apparent obsession, mostly because while I was doing this I often failed to hear several questions and comments he directed toward me.  He has no idea that I went into a few local vintage, consignment, and lower end secondhand stores as well.

While I eventually settled on a custom-made dress through an eBay seller (which the seller is still in the process of making) I did find a few items that did pique my interest and almost resulted in purchases.  The only reason I did not purchase them was because they were either too plain, too Victorian, not fancy enough for a ball, or not unique enough for what I was looking for.

The first website I seriously searched with much interest was Recollections, makers of mostly 19th century historic clothing. Most of the items appear to be from the American Civil War era, but there is an excellent selection of later Victorian outfits as well.

"Some" of my favorites are featured below:

image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections

image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections
image source: Recollections
Yes, not all of these are "ball" gowns persay.  I got easily distracted- something else my boyfriend mocked me for.  And they're not all within a reasonable price range- many of these outfits were $350+ (and that's NOT including the undergarments that would make some of these skirts poofy or swishy in a truly Victorian ballgown way), and the most I was willing to spend was $250.

Eventually it was the price that got to me.

Despite the high prices of the gowns, I will definitely check out Recollections for an authentic everyday Victorian outfit within the $100-$200 range as soon as I rebuild my bank account from its recent European trip beating.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"brains!"

A clip I filmed from the Voltaire concert at the Rex Theater this past Monday.  It wasn't on yesterday's post about the concert because YouTube took way too long to upload it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

wickedly fun evil- voltaire at the rex theater

Last night I attended a concert at The Rex Theater in Pittsburgh's very own South Side neighborhood.  The artists to perform at this former vaudeville theater?  Hellblinki, This Way to the Egress, and Voltaire!

I showed up in... well, a sort of mallgoth look.  I'm currently waiting for a dress to be made for the Goblins and Gears Fantasy Ball and have several other events to attend this October and November, and since this concert was not necessarily a steampunk event, I wanted to save the steampunk outfits that I do have for those events:

I was trying to go for a nonchalant look, but look like I am trying to be emo or
"I'll kick your ass!" type of an attitude instead.
Damn it, I am a mallgoth.
After meeting up and chatting with several members of the Steel City Steam Society, the show began.

Hellblinki.  How can I describe it?  Part punk rock that just puts you in a crazy dance mood, part dark cabaret with a bit of a gypsy feel and ghost noises attached.  The three-(wo)man band consists of front man Andrew Benjamin (lead singer, guitar player, and drummer),  Valerie Meiss (female vocalist, ukelele player, and a wide and random assortment of percussion instruments and background noises) and Brad Lunsford (bassist, keytar player, and organ pedal operator).  They were an absolute pleasure to listen to- none of the songs disappointed, and the energy and dark humor of the band between sets made for great audience interaction.

I tried to record one of their songs on my camera, but I could not find the damn record button in the dark theater.  One would think that I would know this camera inside out by now after having spent two weeks pretty much glued to it while in Europe.  Instead you have some poor photos taken without flash:



The second band, This Way to the Egress, was a mixture of dark cabaret and circus-y songs mixed with electronic sounds that was playfully dark and delicious.  At least what I heard of them.  At this time your blogger was spending time chatting with the head of the SCSS about corsetry and the evils of Facebook in the lobby.  So while we could see and hear the show, we weren't really paying the best of attention to this particular band's performance.  They did praise the "wonderful" urban decay of our dying city of Pittsburgh.


Next up: Voltaire.

Backed up by most of the members of This Way to the Egress and Valerie Meiss from Hellblinki, Voltaire played a nicely varied show of songs from most of his albums.  Opening up with "Death, Death, (devil, devil, devil, devil, evil, evil, evil, evil) Songs," Voltaire then flew energetically through "Brains!", "Almost Human," "Zombie Prostitute" (featuring a local burlesque dancer complete with patches of rotting skin) and "All Women Are Crazy."

"She's a rotten kind of cute..."
"...for a Zombie Prostitute"
Voltaire is certainly a curiosity of a performer, making audience interaction a priority.  Constantly making fun of himself and his goth-ness as well as his current band members, the audience, women, men, and whatever else comes across his fancy in the course of the concert, the audience just latched onto him and his banter.  Even when the audience did not seem as energetic as I had hoped, Voltaire would boost our egos and praise Pittsburgh's awesomeness on a Monday night (with much appreciative laughter from the audience, who knows that the only things there are to do in Pittsburgh on a Monday are Monday Night Football and surfing the web.)   By the end of the night everyone seemed to feel closer to not only the musicians but to each other, as corny as that sounds.  Mostly because we were trying to catch each other's eyes every time a new self-depreciating joke or comment was thrown out at us to see if our neighbors appreciated it as much as we did.  And, when Voltaire invited us to shout out the many dirty words during verses of "The Dirtiest Song That Ain't" a sort of "partners in crime" type association had developed between audience members, especially after Voltaire said at the conclusion of the song, "Heehee, I didn't say one dirty word."

This was, sadly enough, the best photo I managed to get of Voltaire.
He also explained in great detail the story behind the name of his newest album, Riding a Black Unicorn Down the Side of an Erupting Volcano While Drinking From a Chalice Filled With the Laughter of Small Children (or, as Voltaire quipped, "The song that Iron Maiden failed to make.")  Want to learn the story?  Go see his show.  You won't regret it.  I am definitely not Voltaire's most enthusiastic fan- I don't even own one full album of his- and I had more fun at this concert than I did at the MCR concert I attended last Thursday, whose music I enjoy listening to on a more regular basis.

Of course the show ended with the classic song, "When You're Evil,"  which many voices sang along to with much gusto.  A perfect note to a perfect concert.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"the bridge of sighs"

Recently I came across this rather poignant poem from the mid-19th century.  Written by Thomas Hood in 1844, the poem describes the death of a young homeless woman who threw herself off Waterloo Bridge.

image source: Victorian Web


"The Bridge of Sighs"

One more Unfortunate
Weary of breath,
Rashly importunate,
Gone to her death !

Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion’d so slenderly,
Young, and so fair !

Look at her garments
Clinging like cerements;
Whilst the wave constantly
Drips from her clothing;
Take her up instantly,
Loving, not loathing.

Touch her not scornfully;
Think of her mournfully,
Gently and humanly;
Not of the stains of her―
All that remains of her
Now is pure womanly.

Make no deep scrutiny
Into her mutiny
Rash and undutiful:
Past all dishonour,
Death has left on her
Only the beautiful.

Still, for all slips of hers,
One of Eve’s family―
Wipe those poor lips of hers
Oozing so clammily.

Loop up her tresses
Escaped from the comb,
Her fair auburn tresses;
Whilst wonderment guesses
Where was her home ?

Who was her father ?
Who was her mother ?
Had she a sister ?
Had she a brother ?
Or was there a dearer one
Still, and a nearer one
Yet, than all others ?

Alas ! for the rarity
Of Christian charity
Under the sun !
O ! it was pitiful !
Near a whole city full,
Home she had none.

Sisterly, brotherly,
Fatherly, motherly
Feelings had changed:
Love, by harsh evidence,
Thrown from its eminence,
Even God’s providence
Seeming estranged.

Where the lamps quiver
So far in the river,
With many a light
From window and casement,
From garret to basement,
She stood, with amazement,
Houseless by night.

The bleak wind of March
Made her tremble and shiver;
But not the dark arch,
Or the black flowing river:
Mad from life’s history,
Glad to death’s mystery
Swift to be hurl’d―
Anywhere, anywhere
Out of the world !

In she plunged boldly,
No matter how coldly
The rough river ran,
Over the brink of it, ―
Picture it, think of it,
Dissolute Man !
Lave in it, drink of it,
Then, if you can !

Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion’d so slenderly,
Young, and so fair !

Ere her limbs frigidly
Stiffen too rigidly,
Decently, kindly,
Smooth and compose them;
And her eyes, close them,
Staring so blindly !

Dreadfully staring
Thro’ muddy impurity,
As when with the daring
Last look of despairing
Fix’d on futurity.

Perishing gloomily,
Spurr’d by contumely,
Cold inhumanity,
Burning insanity,
Into her rest.
―Cross her hands humbly
As if praying dumbly,
Over her breast!

Owning her weakness,
Her evil behaviour,
And leaving, with meekness,
Her sins to her Saviour !

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"the mechanical grave"

Here's an interesting teaser trailer for a new steampunk series called "The Mechanical Grave":


The synopsis of the show is as follows:

The year is 1895. Steam-powered ships fly through the air. Clockwork robots have replaced servants. And a grisly murder has taken place in the dark night of New York City. Called to the scene of the ritualistic murder of a young woman, newly appointed police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt discovers Detective Wayne and his police officers power usurped by two special investigators appointed by the White House: Occultist Edgar Allan Poe, a clockwork automaton housing the soul of the literary legend, and Mrs. Emma Entwistle, a dangerous assassin with a unique connection to the otherworld. When they illicit information from the demon Neshrew, a much darker and more dangerous plot of world domination is uncovered.
 Does anyone have any information on where and when it will appear?  All I can gather from their Facebook page (seemingly the only real source of information) is that this show will come out mid-Fall 2011.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

review: sucker punch

*Warning: Here Be Spoilers for the movie Sucker Punch.  Do not read if you do not want the movie ruined for you.*

image source: Boom Tron
I never thought I would be writing a review on Sucker Punch, the 2011 action film directed by Zack Snyder (of 300 and Watchmen fame.)  I can't remember when or how I first learned of this film- I believe I was either shown a teaser trailer or saw some initial images released before the film came to theaters- but I do recall my boyfriend Scott pointing out that it was apparently steampunk-inspired.  From the images I saw, however, the connection to steampunk seemed loose at best and his strong urgings for me to see it to review on my blog were, in my opinion, a ploy to get me to watch a movie where a bunch of hot chicks ran around in short skirts and thigh-highs kicking ass in a confused, plotless action movie that was based around the target audience of males being too distracted by the amount of skin displayed by the female leads to realize that the movie itself sucked.

Life intervened with Scott's plans for a night out at the movies.  So the movie came and left theaters and I forgot about its existence.  Then Sucker Punch came out on DVD.  Thus began Scott's search of every RedBox we came across in the city of Pittsburgh for this particular film.

He finally succeeded in his search last week.  At first I told him that I would pass on the movie.  But he reminded me of its steampunk inspiration.  It didn't take much prompting after that- I was in the mood for a movie, and I could always pull out a Sudoku puzzle if the movie became too much of a nerdy gamer guy's wet dream.

The premise of the movie is very simple- a girl is sent to a mental institution (that, oddly enough, looks like a spooky haunted Victorian mansion on the outside, despite the fact that the movie seems to be in a relatively modern setting) by her abusive stepfather.  Moments before a scheduled lobotomy is performed on her (which her stepfather bribed the head orderly to arrange) she disappears into the recesses of her mind, altering the mental institution and the people in it to deal with the reality of her own grave situation.  Here she has created her own dark Wonderland, where the head orderly is the owner of a club and prostitution ring, the head psychiatrist is the dance instructor of the club, and the girls she meets in the mental ward are performers/prostitutes in this club, all held against their will.

image source: A.V. Club
With four of the girls the main character, now revealed to be called "Babydoll," plans an escape plan based around her ability to mesmerize all men who watch her while she's dancing.  Their goal- collect four items to help them escape, which items need to be collected while the men are too distracted by Babydoll to notice that they are being hoodwinked.  During Babydoll's dance scenes the viewer is not treated with any footage of her dancing, but is instead sent further into her mind, where their escape plan transforms into military objectives to be met in multiple fantasy worlds.  Accompanied by her four female partners-in-crime, Babydoll fights steam and clock-work powered zombies in a WWI trench warfare situation to retrieve a map, slays a dragon in a castle surrounded by Lord of the Rings-type orks for a fire source, and get a bomb from a train guarded by alien robots.

image source: Entertainment Weekly

This movie has surprised me.  It wasn't good, but I can't say that it was bad either.  There is no real complex plot.  The movie does play out like a video game.  It starts with a conflict, and then one big goal to accomplish.  In order to accomplish that goal several smaller tasks must be completed to collect all of the items to complete the final goal.  Add the impractical clothes of the female leads in the fight scenes and their superhuman ability to defeat scores of foes without obtaining so much as a scratch, it does truly deserve the label of a male gamer geek's wet dream.

Sucker Punch is not a girl-power movie in the least, although it tries so hard to be.  Despite the five female leads working to escape the exploitation of the club owner, the women themselves seem to be exploited by the filmmaker by the garb they wear in the club and battle scenes.  There's just too much that appeals to men that I cannot say with any certainty appeals to women.  Sure, it's great to see women kicking ass in the style of King Leonidas in his men in 300, but I like that kind of a film, and most women I know do not.

What this movie did have, however, was a nearly flawless compilation of music and scenes that flowed easily into each other.  It wasn't the confusion of "A dream within a dream within a dream" that Inception is mocked for.  It is known that the head psychiatrist at the mental institution practices a sort of therapy where the patient takes herself out of the pain of the present world to create a new world for herself, which is precisely what Babydoll does in her most difficult moments.

But the very human repercussions of her playacting in her mind also have very real consequences for her in the real world, showing that one cannot escape their reality no matter how hard they try. In a way I was greatly reminded of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There as well as the psychological backstory behind American McGee's video game Alice.  The comparison could not have been most obvious than in the first "battle" scene with all five female leads against the steam and clockwork powered knights, where a cover of "White Rabbit" played in the background throughout the entire scene:


The musical selections in this movie were excellent.  Most of them were cover songs, but were obviously carefully chosen due to their lyrics.  They all made sense with the various scenes, and most of them were by female musicians in an attempt to cultivate the "girl power" and the "escape from reality" themes the movie tries to portray.  It was nice that the lead actress, Emily Browning, also sang some of the songs.  My particular favorite was her cover of the Smiths' "Asleep":


There is no real deep meaning in this movie- it is mostly purely scantily-clad females kicking ass and taking names.  But if you did like 300 or like video-game inspired movies I think it's worth a shot.  It also helps if you're a heterosexual male.

FYI: Scott's opinion of the movie was that he had never liked watching such a sucky, plotless movie so much (i.e. he succumbed to the brainwashing caused by the wardrobe choices and flawless physiques of the females.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"how can it be wrong?"

I'm just too friggin' tired to write an intelligent blog post.

Instead you get Professor Ratigan singing Voltaire (who, by the way, will be at the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh's Southside next Monday.)  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

pittsburgh villa of the gilded age

Last weekend I was honored by a visit from my youngest sister, Jordan.  Looking for something unique to do, we took a drive to the nearby Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh to tour the 19th century mansion of the "robber baron" industrialist Henry Clay Frick.  Perhaps an appropriate pilgrimage for us, as the steel industry built by men such as Andrew Carnegie and Frick were the reasons that our great-grandparents were able to obtain jobs in this country when they first got off the boat.  Even my father worked in the riverside steel mills in the summers of his college years.

The person of Henry Clay Frick himself is infamous for his "immoral" business practices, including his involvement in the Homestead Strike of 1892.  Pinkerton detectives hired by Frick to bring nonstriking steel workers into a steel mill where striking workers had locked themslves in became involved in a skirmish with the armed strikers.  Seven steel workers were left dead, and Frick suffered so much unpopularity that an anarchist even tried to assassinate him several weeks later.  He was definitely not a supporter of unions, something that has remained a blot on his reputation throughout history.  But he was a very rich man, and his daughter, Helen Clay Frick, donated the mansion, the buildings surrounding the main house, and some acreage surrounding it as a museum for the public, known as the Frick Art & Historical Center.  The rest of his vast land was given as a gift to the city of Pittsburgh as a public park, now known as Frick Park.

The last of a dying breed of mansions that once filled the once fashionable Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh during the Gilded Age (the heyday of this industrial city's once-profitable steel business) the Clayton House is quite a feat in remodeling and expenditure.  The mansion began as an eleven-room, Italian-styled villa bought by Frick and his wife shortly after their marriage in 1881.  After modifications by Pittsburgh architect Andrew Peebles, it was renamed "Clayton."  Further modeling of the house was done in 1892 by Pittsburgh architect Frederick J. Osterling.  The house was the Fricks' primary residence from 1883 to 1905.


In 1905 the Frick family moved to New York City, but kept the Clayton house for the occasional visits they made to Pittsburgh.  After that little remodeling of the main parts of the house was completed, keeping the house in pristine shape to be made into a museum of late 19th century architecture when it was finally opened to the public in 1990.

I was not allowed to take photos of the interior of the house, but if you are in Pittsburgh I highly recommend taking a tour of this beautiful Victorian home.  They had everything from electrical bells connecting to the kitchen to a huge 22-person dining room to an entirely scarlet-colored parlour.  The library is a lovely two-room "family area" that is to die for- wall-to-wall books and leather chairs everywhere.  And the Frick children's two-story Playhouse (once fitted with a bowling alley) currently houses the gift shop and the offices of the Frick Art & Historical Center:

Yes, the Playhouse is about the size of a normal residence.
Didn't everyone have a two-story Playhouse growing up as well?
On site are a greenhouse, a lovely cafe, a car and carriage museum, and a small but excellent art collection exhibiting some of the pieces that Henry Clay Frick collected over the years (he was a patron of the arts as well as an industrial giant).  The grounds are immaculately landscaped and cost nothing to walk through.

The Greenhouse
So if you're in Pittsburgh and want to catch up on local Victorian social, art, and political history, the Clayton House at the Frick and the surrounding grounds are well world your time and money.

Friday, September 16, 2011

neo-victorianisms of eastern Europe redux

I apologize for the short and quick posts of the past few days.  I've been in a bit over my head at work due to the fact that my boss left for India the day I came back from Europe, and I've been doing his job as well as mine.  Blogging and keeping up on the several other blogs I follow just hasn't been as big a priority.

For the moment I can catch my breath and spare some time to share more Victorian-inspired treasures from Europe with you all.  All photos are courtesy of my twin sister Leigh.

Not the best image, but Leigh and I were trying to take photos rather covertly.  This is the interior of the main post office in Klaipeda, Lithuania, a 19th century neo-Gothic styled building.
A wall detail in the main post office in Klaipeda
The Hill of Crosses, outside Siauliai, Lithuania

The story goes that crosses existed on this hill as early as the 1860s to commemorate those who died resisting the efforts of the Russian Empire to Russify the Lithuanian population.  During the Soviet era the Soviets saw the Hill as a sign of anti-Russian and anti-Soviet tendencies, so they bulldozed it.  The Lithuanians rebuilt it.  The Soviets bulldozed it at least two more times, and each time they did so the Lithuanians rebuilt it and replaced the destroyed crosses.  Now there are hundreds of thousands of crosses on this small hill to demonstrate the faith and peaceful resistance of the Lithuanian people.
Cameo rings from a market stall in Riga, Latvia.  Leigh bought the blue one on the right, while I purchased the pink one on the left.  It's so nice to know that I can infect family members with my own neo-Victorian fashion interests.

And, of course:

Your backpacking blogger with her new Latvian Victorian friends!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

the invention of hugo cabret

Trailer for a children's steampunk-inspired movie (although the actual movie itself appears to be set in the 1930s rather than the Victorian era) coming out this Thanksgiving:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

spooky cribs!

MTV has finally posted the Extreme Cribs episode featuring Trundle Manor, the gothic lair in Swissvale, PA that I mentioned in this previous post.  Check out the spookiness of that home as well as the Muenster Family inspired home of the second featured house below:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

the "soulless" doll

Here's a fun little thing to do if you're looking to kill a few minutes online.  Orbit Books has created a virtual dress-up doll inspired by the heroine of the steampunk novel Soulless by Gail Carriger.

Just click on this link, let the screen load, and begin assembling outfits for Alexia Tarabotti as she goes about the streets and society of a slightly more paranormal 19th century London than is described in the history books.

A few of my own Soulless doll creations:



Saturday, September 10, 2011

neo-victorianisms of eastern europe

Unfortunately most of the history or fashion items encountered during my travels were of the medieval or modern sort.  But there were a few rare gems during the trip.

The first was Neuschwanstein, the 19th century "fantasy" castle that Bavarian king Ludwig II built as a tribute to his favorite composer, 19th century contemporary Richard Wagner:




Although we were not allowed to take photos inside the castle, we did see a few "modern" conveniences that were included, including a telephone.  The only other telephone that the king could connect to, however, was located at the post office in the nearby village of Fussen.  On the train ride back to Munich I depicted the king's use of this new invention with a drawing:

LUDWIG: Hallo? It's me, Ludwig!
Why did the groundhog cross the Alpine meadow?
Is your icebox running?  Then you better go and catch it!
What is white and blue and expensive all over?  My castle!
POSTMASTER:  My God, SHUT UP!
Also, medieval knights were WAY ahead of their time in helmet fashions.  This one from Prague Castle's perimeter walls looks like it's straight out of a steampunk scenario:


"A Scandal in Bohemia?"  Perhaps Sherlock Holmes has had to take permanent residence in the Czech Republic to ensure that no scandal does occur:

Tobacco/pipe shop in Prague's Old Town
The only real neo-Victorian merchandise we came across was in Riga, Latvia.  The street stalls there had plenty of goods to offer:


CAMEOS!
A lace umbrella.  Too expensive for a poor backpacker like me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

european travels of the non-neovictorian kind

Hello all!  I came back from my two-week trip throughout Europe this past Monday.  A much needed trip that took me completely out of my comfort zone and has left me feeling a bit stunned in many ways.

My sister Leigh and I started out in Munich, Germany, then went to see the beautiful Neuschwanstein castle near Fussen.  The castle was built by 19th century Bavarian king Ludwig II, creator of several fantasy castles and a patron of Richard Wagner:

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria
We then traveled to Prague, the Czech Republic, Wroclaw, Poland, and finally reached Kaunas, Lithuania at the end of our first week.

The land around Kaunas reminded me a great deal of Pittsburgh due to its rolling hills and rivers and sans surrounding mountains.  No wonder my great-grandparents (and other Eastern Europeans) liked Pittsburgh- the topography is so similar.

Overall I highly recommend visiting Lithuania for the folloing reasons:
  • English is a common tourist language in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda, and we got by in Siauliai.
  • The currency used in Lithuania, the lita, converts in favor of the Euro and the US dollar (at the disadvantage of the Lithuanians, of course- theirs is a very poor First World country).
  • The people and the land are beautiful.
  • The beer is delicious (although it probably doesn't compare to German beer.  I'm not a beer connoisseur, so I wouldn't know.)
  • The architecture is simple but remarkable in the Old Towns and the churches.  The Shrine of the Virgin in Vilnius just glows in the sunlight, and the Cathedral of Vilnius is a great example of Greek styled architecture with a rather gaudily and intricately decorated marble shrine to St. Casimir inside.
  • If you are looking to visit a country that reached the height of its greatness at the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance era (although it is not known for contributing anything significant to the Renaissance) this is the place to visit. 
  • Go to Trakai Castle for the reason I stated above (medieval history) and just because it's awesome:
Trakai Castle.  Yes, it is really that beautiful.
I am not a good enough photographer to make that photo look so picturesque.
There were also a few things I learned about backpacking:
  • Don't expect it to be a relaxing vacation unless you plan to spend more than two days at any given location.  Leigh and I were generally rushing from city to city on our rather wide sweep of parts of Eastern Europe.
  • That being said, also don't try to see absolutely everything.  You will fail and be disappointed.  I actually didn't try to see absolutely everything, so I am glad I didn't try.
  • Make sure your backpack is sturdy.  I had an Osprey Farpoint 55.  It was perfect except for the fact that it made my back rather hot and sweaty after a time.  I solved this problem by adjusting the straps so the bulk of the weight was on my butt sometimes, leaving a gap for air to go onto my back.  When I did this with the entire backpack I could only do that for short periods of time or else I risked hurting my back.
  • Have sturdy shoes.  I bought hiking boots for our heavy walking days.
  • Make sure you have good, thick socks for your shoes, especially if they are sturdy hiking boots.  I also bought ones that were damp-resistant.
  • Dress for all sorts of weather.  I erroneously listened to my twin sister and came to Europe with mostly fall weather clothes- two pairs of long trousers and mostly long-sleeved or 3-quarter sleeved shirts.  Unfortunately the Continent was experiencing something of a heatwave- 80 degree temperatures in the daytime, which is more like Pittsburgh in August.  I sweated my way through Munich, Prague, and Poland.  Only when we arrived in Lithuania did the heat dissipate, making the clothes I brought actually practical for my purposes.
  • Make sure there is room in your backpack for souvenirs before you purchase any.
  • Make sure you know what the exchange rates are for the various countries you are visiting so you know what is a good price, what is a bargain and what is neither of these things.  Leigh and I got burned in Riga, Latvia, due to not doing this.  
  • Be polite and try to learn basics of the local language- such as "Hello," "Goodbye," "Yes," "No," "Thank you," "Excuse me," "How much?" and "Where is..."
  • As soon as you arrive in a city procure a map for that city (if you do not have one already)
Other than that, I became pretty good at reading nonverbal signals from people whose language I did not speak.  When something could not be communicated nonverbally (usually with money exchanges or getting from location A to location B) the information written on a piece of paper was usually just as good of a way to communicate.  Despite a reputation for bad customer service, Lithuanians were so friendly and helpful for the most part.  It may have helped that they had a larger influx of tourists than normal due to hosting EuroBasket 2011, which started around the time we arrived.  

Leigh and I in Kaunas, Lithuania
Although I have been home for a few days, everything seems so unreal to me.  I feel like my perception of reality is off.  It's as if I've been gone for two months instead of two weeks.  I can do normal tasks, but they seem foreign to me and somewhat different.  Anyone ever experience this sense of reality not being as it was after a trip to another part of the world?

Friday, September 2, 2011

caged graves

image source: Hunting Kiwis
image source: Here & There

Here's an interesting burial practice going back to at least the 18th century and became rather obsolete by the end of the Victorian era- covering the graves of deceased loved ones within strong iron cages. 

Why?  To protect the world from a Victorian zombie apocalypse, or just to keep a vampire within his underground resting place, as some of the sites from which I found these images claim?

The answer isn't quite so supernatural.  According to an article in the Columbia Historical and Genealogical Society's newsletter, these iron cages, known as mortsafes ("mort" being a French word for death") were intended to deter body snatchers from stealing the remains of the deceased.  Not a bad idea in a time where human anatomy was still relatively unknown and the only bodies that were allowed to be dissected in many parts of the Western world were those of executed criminals.

Read the full article here- it's very informative and an enthralling read for anyone interested in the society of the 19th century or with a fascination for graveyards.  The few mortsafes still standing are considered to be tourist attractions in Scotland.

image source: LuckyLobos's soup

image source: Seleste DeLaney