Hocus Pocus and Halloween in Salem, MA

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Celebrating Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts has been on my bucket list for a long time. Most people know Salem as the location of the 1692 Witch Trials and, as a result of this dark past, Salem’s residents take All Hallows Eve very seriously. Salem actually runs a month-long celebration of Halloween called ‘Haunted Happenings’, with plenty of shows, exhibits and museum tours to be had throughout October.

Jasper and I were so excited to celebrate one of the best holidays in Salem, we felt we simply couldn’t do it alone, so my sister Molly came to join us, just for the occasion. And we tore it up: boss-witch style. Here is a list of what we got up to in this old town, full of darkness and intrigue…

“It’s just a bunch of Hocus Pocus!”

Molly and I (and our two other sisters) first encountered Salem as children watching the family film and cult classic Hocus Pocus, starring Bette Midler (Jasper *reluctantly* watched this film a little more recently). If you have not seen this hoot-a-second movie then you might want to skip this section (and make a mental note to watch Hocus Pocus ASAP). If you have seen it, then you may be surprised to find out that most of the film was actually shot in Salem itself! Which means that there are plenty of film locations dotted around town, including…

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The Town Hall. Remember this? Where Max and Dani’s parents get drunk and Bette Midler sings ‘I Put A Spell On You’? #classic

You can find Salem Town Hall at 93 Washington Street.

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‘Alison’s House’, home to the most boring looking Halloween party ever. AKA ‘Ropes Mansion’. And look who we bumped into….

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It’s the Sanderson Sisters!

You can find Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street.

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‘Max’s House’. That super cool window at the top remains intact- not blown up by witches and/or teenage angst. Note: this is a residential house, so no trespassing, loud noises, or sprinkling salt barriers around the premises.

‘Max’s House’ is a little drive out of Salem city centre at, 4 Ocean Avenue.

Halloween Night

If you want to feel famous for a night, get an amazing costume and come to Salem on Halloween. We spent hours wandering through the streets just taking photos of people and telling them how amazing they looked. It wasn’t just us though, we were part of many ‘fangirling’ hoards, scrambling for photos of the best-dressed. We figured that there are approximately 3 different types of costumes…

  1. Genuinely terrifying:

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2. Amazing, but nothing to do with halloween:

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3. Cult characters/people in terrible 90’s clothes (it can be difficult to tell the difference)

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Yes, this is us.

There is a feeling of friendship as people walk the streets. You see strangers dressed as related characters converse without breaking character; Little Red Riding Hood commenting on how big Grandma Wolf’s teeth are, the Mad Hatter inviting Alice to tea, the Pope catching up with Satan (not even joking). In any case, for a guaranteed great time, get yourself a costume and don’t forget your camera.

Honourable Mentions:

 Stickwork

This sculpture in the centre of town is pretty hard to miss. Created by artist Patrick Dougherty, this installation is created by woven sticks and branches to create a wholly natural, almost Pagan looking piece, which juxtaposes against the manmade surroundings. If you want to see it, you’ll need to be quick: the exhibit is only on view until 31st March 2017.

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Bewitched Statue

In the centre of town is a statue of Samantha from the 60’s sitcom ‘Bewitched’. It draws in a large crowd, which is perhaps why a fundamentalist Christian picked this spot to yell continuously for eight hours. This is the only picture I managed to get without him in…

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Beautiful Houses 

We probably spent a good two or three hours just wandering around the residential areas of Salem, gazing at their beautiful, quintessentially New England houses. If you love architecture, we suggest you do the same.

 

 

Halloween in Salem has now been ticked off my list, and it was everything I hoped it would be. If you love Halloween, Hocus Pocus, or just beautiful New England towns, get on your broomstick and fly over here!

 

What about all the witches though!? Don’t get your cauldron in a bubble; we’ve got a whole extra post just about Salem’s most famous residents. Find it here.

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Witching Hour: Top Magical Spots in Salem, MA

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Salem, Massachusetts is the location of perhaps the most famous witch-hunt in human history and it does not shy away from its dark past. As a result, Salem has become a place of remembrance for those persecuted in the late seventeenth century with many memorials and museums dedicated to the victims of what is often considered one of America’s darkest moments.

A trip to Salem would be incomplete without visiting at least one of the following sites…

Salem Witch Museum

The Witch Trials of 1692 are Salem’s –and possibly one of America’s- most famous historical events. In the space of a few months, mass hysteria gripped this small Puritan town resulting in the executions of 20 residents. Salem’s Witch Museum is a hugely popular museum, which has an interactive display detailing the trials themselves. It is really interesting and informative (though a little corny!). If it’s your first trip to Salem, or you know little of the trials, we suggest you start here.

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Another must-see spot is the Witch Trial memorial site which shows the names of all those persecuted in 1692 etched into large blocks of stone. Many still lay flowers in remembrance. Next to the memorial is a large graveyard, home to graves of many Judges who presided over The Witch Trials. It’s pretty spooky walking through here after dark, that’s for sure.

 

The House of the Seven Gables

If Salem’s history interests you, visit The House Of The Seven Gables. Originally owned by Judge Hathorne, this beautiful -if bleak- house was also home to his great-great-grandson, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was famously haunted by his grandfather’s involvement in The Witch Trials.

The Witch House

One of the oldest houses in Salem and home of another judge, Jonathathewitchhouse1-lostness-co-ukn Corwin, this house, known as ‘The Witch House’, has been kept by the City of Salem as an example of everyday life in a late seventeenth century Puritan town. Take a self-guided tour through the building and learn about the, let’s face it, bleak lives of the inhabitants of Salem in 1692. Although a simple little museum, this was probably one of the most enjoyable and informative ones we visited. 100% go here.
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Witch Shops

Because of its ties with witchcraft (even though imaginary), Salem has become a Mecca for Pagans, herbalists and spiritualists who now call themselves ‘witches’. There are plenty of witch supply shops around the town that provide herbs, crystals and even cauldrons for those who want to practice ‘witchcraft’. Our favourite was a little shop called ‘Hauswitch’. We have to admit that we are a little obsessed with this shop. Not only do they sell beautiful home wear, art, and spell kits, but they run meditation classes and tarot card readings in the evening. It is a feminist heaven and I really want to join their coven.

 

Salem did not disappoint. Regardless of its busy tourist industry, it hasn’t lost any of its New England charm. If you love architecture, history, or just a good ghost story, it is well worth the trip. There really are few towns out there whose identities are so wrapped up with their own history, but when this happens it creates a place full of intrigue, energy, and…magic!

Japan’s Must-Try Foods and Restaurants

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Visiting Japan without sampling their cuisine would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. And, speaking of France, Japan has actually overtaken them in number of Michelin-Starred establishments- so that just proves how amazing their cuisine is! We have compiled a list of the best food we tried and the most interesting restaurants we visited. So, in no particular order…

 

Sushi at Tsukiji Market

In the west, when we think of Japanese food, we think sushi. Perhaps this is because it seems to encompass Japanese life and culture in itself; simple yet artful, masterful and full of ritual. Probably one of the best places to eat sushi is at Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The market draws in tourists who watch at 3am as monster tunas, fresh from the ocean, are auctioned to different restaurants. Needless to say, the sushi restaurants next to the market provided the most delicious sushi we ate in Japan. A testament to the freshness of their fish, and also the popularity of the sushi in Tsukiji, is that past 3pm most restaurants have completely run out- so make sure you make it for lunchtime, or even breakfast!

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Moomin Café

If you weren’t aware, The Moomins are fictional characters from children’s books by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. They are cute, whimsical and quirky, so it is hardly surprising that Japan goes mad for them. If you too go mad for the adorable trolls, prepare to be impressed. The Moomin Café and Bakery, situated in the Bunkyo area next to the Tokyo Dome, has a variety of Moomin themed food and gifts. BUT the best thing is, that you actually get to sit with a Moomin character while you eat! The characters ‘rotate’ tables, choosing who they want to sit with- so who knows which one you’ll meet!

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Shave Ice in Kyoto 

So, throughout our time in Japan, people kept telling us to try shave ice, and we were really confused what all the fuss was about. It’s just a load of ice with syrup on it, how good can it be?! Turns out, very good. Like, so good. Like, our new favourite desert good. Although most places in Japan serve shave ice, Kyoto is renowned for it. We stumbled into a small restaurant near the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove -mainly to escape the stifling humidity- and ordered our first shave ice. It was exactly what we needed. The ice shavings are so fine that they melt as soon as they touch your tongue, the brown sugar syrup is deliciously sweet and the bean paste adds natural earthy flavours. All in all, it is one of the most refreshing and tasty desserts we have ever eaten. 10/10 would eat again.

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Animal Cafés in Tokyo

Japan is known for its cute and quirky take on everything, including the humble café. And what could be more cute than slurping a mug of matcha tea with a snoozing kitty on your lap? The correct answer is: nothing. So if you fancy cuddling an animal whilst getting your caffeine fix, Tokyo is the place. They have everything from bunny cafés, cat cafés and even hedgehog cafés!

Read more about our trip to some of Tokyo’s animal cafés here.

 Takoyaki in Osaka

 If you make it to Osaka make sure you try takoyaki- my favourite Japanese dish! Although you can find it throughout Japan, Osaka is credited as the birthplace of these little balls of heaven. Takoyaki consists of creamy octopus surrounded by fried batter, served with sweet sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise. Go to Dotonbori for the best takoyaki in Osaka and gaze at the vendors’ lightning fast frying skills; gigantic octopus adorn the buildings, and there are queues of people waiting to get their hands on this, the mother of all street food.

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Crêpes in Harajuku

Don’t you hate it when you’re craving a crêpe, but you also fancy vanilla cheesecake? Well Japan -the masters of ingenuity and efficiency- have solved your problem: wrap a slice of cheesecake in a crêpe and drizzle it with chocolate sauce. Needless to say, if you’re craving sugar, head to Harajuku. Stall after stall of sweet, syrupy, chocolaty, sugary goodness will keep you buzzing for hours.

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Find out more about our trip to Harajuku here.

Kobe Beef

A regular steak can cost upwards of £70, but if your budget can stretch to it, try Kobe beef. Failing that, try ‘wagyu’ beef, which can be cheaper. Wagyu is the generic term for Japanese cows which produce high quality, marbled, tender cuts of meat. In other words, Kobe beef is an example of wagyu meat specifically raised in Kobe. It has gained renown worldwide, and this demand has raised the price of Kobe beef substantially. Wagyu meat from other areas of Japan are therefore more likely to be cheaper, but still very good. We actually tried Kobe beef whilst on a cooking class in Kyoto, which was a much more affordable way of trying it. It was potentially the most delicious meat we’ve ever tasted- it literally melted in the mouth. *drooling*

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If this list doesn’t whet your appetite, nothing will. So if you love food, head to Japan and eat and eat and eat- it will be the best decision you ever make!

 

3 Must-Do Icelandic Day Trips: The Essential Tours for the First-Time Icelandic Tourist

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There are certain people who regard ‘tours’ as ‘not real travelling’. Please do not listen to this snobbish garbage. Tours are awesome. Sure, there is something more adventurous about hiring a car and discovering everything by yourself, but sometimes tours are the most cost-efficient and time-efficient way of seeing what a country has to offer. Plus there’s no need to worry about flat tyres and arguing about directions. Win/win.

Our trip to Iceland was short and limited to a relatively tight budget (no £300pp helicopter lava tours for us!), so we went to the local tourist information centre and, after looking through the vast array of tours, decided on just 3: The Golden Circle, The Blue Lagoon and The South Coast Tour. Here’s a rundown of what each tour had to offer…

  1. The Golden Circle Tour 8360 ISK (£46 pp)

Surprise surprise! Of course we were going to pick The Golden Circle Tour! You can’t speak to any Icelandic tourist without hearing them say ‘Oooh have you done The Golden Circle yet?’ So, we had to see what all the fuss is about. The trip included:

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Þingvellir National Park

  • Þingvellir National Park. UNESCO world Heritage site.

Iceland is smack bang in between two tectonic plates. At this amazing place, you can see the gaping crater where these two plates are tearing apart from one another. It’s also where the old Viking Parliament used to gather. Cooler than the Houses of Commons, that’s for sure.

  • The Geysir Area

You know all those people who go on holiday to Iceland and come back with super cool snaps of an erupting geyser? They almost definitely took them here. Strokkur is the name of the geyser which erupts every 8-10 minutes. So get that camera at the ready!

  • Gullfoss

Gullfoss (meaning ‘Golden Falls’ in English) is often considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. It certainly is beautiful, but if you go in the winter, pack your coat; the water spray in the arctic wind is brisk!

Overall: It’s not difficult to see why The Golden Circle Tour is the most popular day tour in Iceland. We booked our tour through Sterna Travel, and we were so happy we did. Our tour guide was truly a fountain of knowledge, with a real passion and energy for Icelandic history.

*A bonus with this trip*: it departs from The Harpa, so arrive an hour early and take a look around Reykjavík’s beautiful concert hall!

  1. The Blue Lagoon 9700 ISK (£53 pp)

Another classic. But…a pricey one. Like The Golden Circle Tour, The Blue Lagoon is synonymous with Icelandic tourism. It’s world famous and on every must-see Iceland guide going. It was for this reason, that we knew we’d visit the Blue Lagoon before we even departed the UK. But is it worth the price? 9700 ISK got us:

  • Bus transfers to and from Reykjavík
  • Admission to The Blue Lagoon

And that’s it. Compared with The Golden Circle, this can seem pretty steep. But you have to remember that The Blue Lagoon is a spa, and spas are expensive. In fact, in relation to other spas around the world, this price actually isn’t that bad, especially as it includes transport. To make the most of your money, incorporate your visit in your airport transfer– you will zoom right past it on your journey from Keflavík Airport to Reykjavík anyway!

*Tip*: Visit The Blue Lagoon at dusk (season permitting!). It is a less busy time and you will get to see the Lagoon’s beauty both in the daylight and darkness.

  1. The South Coast Tour 12,255 ISK (£67 pp)

This tour was the best value for money by a long shot. It was a 10-hour trip, which stopped off at five locations, each of them better than the next. Here’s the rundown of what to expect:

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Jo behind Seljalandsfoss

  • Seljalandsfoss

This is a beautiful little waterfall that you can actually walk behind. Bring a waterproof jacket though, there is no avoiding the spray behind the falls; this is the first stop and you do not want to begin your 10-hour journey cold and wet!

  • Skógafoss

Another waterfall! Skógafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland. It’s English translation is ‘forest falls’ (“because of all the trees” our tour guide claimed sarcastically). This is a really impressive waterfall that has an almost constant rainbow effect from the masses of gushing water. If you don’t mind heights, you can even climb up the side of fall- watch your footing on the wet rocks though!

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Jasper sat on the rock formations at Reynisfjara

  • Reynisfjara

This south coast beach is known for it’s charcoal-black sand and beautiful basalt rock formations. It is also known for its aggressive waves, which only this year fatally swept up a tourist. This is a beautiful beach, but keep a safe distance from the unpredictable water.

  • Cape Dyrhólaey

This is the southernmost point of Iceland and offers beautiful views of the ocean, more volcanic back sand and amazing arched rock formations. Depending on the season, this is also a popular puffin hangout.

  • Sólheimajökull

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    Sólheimajökull Glacier

This was the last stop on our tour. Sólheimajökull is a large melting glacier, and although our tour did not include the glacier walk (maybe next time!), simply viewing it was amazing in itself.

Overall: This tour was jam-packed with awesome sights, and well worth the money. Again, we booked this through Sterna travel and were really pleased with our guide, who taught us loads about Icelandic culture. We went away inspired!

To sum-up: tours are great, Iceland is great, we love Icelandic tours.

.:. Jo & Jasper .:.