Archive for May, 2011

Edinburgh, Scotland is probably the best example I have to use as a way to see everything, including the fun touristy things.  Obviously Edinburgh Castle is a must.  It’s there, it’s big, it’s a castle, it’s historic and, it’s not *really* a typical tourist trap.

Then there’s Mary King’s Close.  A well-preserved part of Edinburgh’s past with the original street and homes that were long built on top of but… it’s also supposedly haunted.  So that kills two birds with one ticket!  Greyfriars Cemetery is another must stop.  It’s old, it’s creepy, it’s also supposedly haunted and it is a photographers dream… not to mention if you walk down the right street you can also pass the building where it’s rumored J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book – which is a must for any Harry Potter fan.

(Above: Covenanters’s Prison. 
    Now closed to the public)
I was fortunate that on the day I was at Covenanters’ Prison there
   was a ceremony starting to which they invited me in to watch.

Other ‘must see’ places within Edinburgh itself include St. Giles Cathedral – I actually spent five hours photographing in there one time!  Another, and this is an odd one and by no means based solely on my love of coffee but the Starbucks at 128 Princes St – it has one of the most amazing views of Edinburgh Castle!  However, for convenience, there is also a Starbucks along the Royal Mile for that much-needed refill as you explore the more historic side of Edinburgh.  I am sure there are plenty more tourist sites to see in Edinburgh that I’ve missed (Holyrood being one of them – it’s still on my list).

I don’t know about anyone else but whenever I travel I have to rent a car!  I cannot stand not being able to get where I want when I want.  Obviously going from the US to the UK, driving can be a tad tricky with that whole left side of the road thing so for the more daring, rent a car!  There are so many things to see within driving distance of Edinburgh or, better yet, plan a route that takes you in a loop and stay at any of the many bed and breakfasts or even some of the hostels (the one in Inverness is a castle and, again, supposedly haunted).

For anyone who is interested in the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, the paranormal, Angels and Demons or history, Rosslyn Chapel is an absolute!  Located just south of Edinburgh in Midlothian, it is a tiny chapel with a lot of history and a lot of mystery.  Built in the mid 15th Century, it was rumored to have been the hiding place of the Holy Grail, a vortex to the ‘other side’ and a theory states that many of the designs and symbols located throughout the chapel are related to the Knights Templar and the Freemasons.  Legends and rumors aside, it is well worth the visit for anyone.  Be sure to take time and wander down a small path beside the chapel that goes along a cemetery.  That path will lead you to the remains of Roslyn Castle (though don’t go too far, there is a private home now at the end of the drive).

Once there, if you follow another path down the hill, you can walk around the
   exterior of  the current home and see that it is built on top of the old castle.

A stop by Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans, is always a nice ‘hey look there’s the exit let’s stop’ stop.  Do not, however, plan your day around it.  It’s random remnants of an old wall.  Well worth a quick stop to be able to say “been there, done that, got the pictures.  There should be an exit somewhere near Roslyn.

Stirling is another great little stop.  Easily done as a day trip (along with other things thrown in), be sure to stop at the Old Town Cemetery and Church of the Holy Rude just below Stirling Castle – one of the best kept secrets of Stirling.  I have not yet made it to St. Andrews but I hear that is also a ‘must-see’ trip that can also be done as a day trip from Edinburgh or book a room and stay the night there.

For those who are interested in the more paranormal aspects of Scotland – I highly, highly recommend taking some of the evening ghost tours available most nights in Edinburgh.  Take more than one!  I took one that took me to Greyfriars and had access to Covenanters’ Prison the one night.  The other night I took one that ended inside the Edinburgh Vaults.  They all will walk you through the town and do a wonderful job of combining actual history with the legends and rumors and ghosts.  And, for another day trip outside of Edinburgh, no ghostly visit would be complete without a visit to Glamis Castle, believed by some to be the most haunted place in Britain!

Overall, Scotland has it all.  If you have the time, drive around.  See the Highlands, see the Isles, see it all!  Often in my travels I try not to repeat a visit to a place but there are two exceptions – Vancouver, B.C. and Scotland.

*All statements are based upon my own experiences and opinions.


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Figured I’d try to impress with throwing some French in the subject line as the rest of the blog may be anti-climatic (sort of how many of us were highly disappointed there were no zombies wandering around May 21 but I digress).

In my first blog about HDR technique I chose an autumn tree – not necessarily the best subject but the only one I had quick access to at the time.

For this one I delved into my collection of images from the United Kingdom, England to be precise here.  I took this image of Lacock Abbey:

And converted it to this using Photomatix Pro:

I think this image worked out much better than the previous tree which just goes to show that it is important to know what subjects/images may or may not work for certain techniques and, of course, a willingness to keep trying until you find what works best for you :).

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This series of blogs focuses on traveling beyond the normal tourist sites, while still visiting said sites.  It gives insight into what other options are around and available.  Most travelers want a unique experience when they visit somewhere but what is considered unique to one may bore another to tears.   As always, the information is based solely on my own experiences and opinions (have to keep those lawyers happy!)  :).

Almost everyone when they first start to travel go to the big tourist attractions, whether it be the Louvre in Paris or Big Ben in London, there are just some sites that you have to see, especially if you are not used to traveling.

And there is nothing wrong with that!

However, if you have been bit by the travel bug (not to be confused with bed bugs), then you know how annoying many ‘tourist’ sites can be.  What to do?  How do you find those ‘off the beaten track’ places especially if you are in a country that speaks a different language?

Aside from the typical travel books there are plenty more resources available in this age of technology.  The tools I use most are Google and Flickr (for visual images of places I may be interested in visiting).  With very rare exceptions, I plan on renting a car and just driving around when I go somewhere with just a very basic layout of a route.  In 2009 I even finally braved driving in the UK with that whole ‘drive on the left side’ thing – still not London though.  I’m not that insane yet.

Once you have a place (or places) picked out the next thing to take a serious look at is your own, personal interests and hobbies.  I am a photographer but also work in archaeology and historic preservation as well as the occasional ghost hunt and I adore old buildings, especially ruins.  But for too long the general idea has been if you are someone interested in history or art you should focus on just one aspect when traveling such as visiting all the museums.  Why?  As much as I love museums, living in the Philadelphia area, I have access to many museums on a regular basis from D.C. up to NYC.  So, unless it’s a very unique or unusual museum filled with pieces not normally seen around here, I skip it.  With the exception of the British Museum, I will only stop if it’s a small, hole-in-the-wall museum such as the ones in Sighisoara, Romania – seriously, who could pass up seeing a torture chamber museum? 🙂  Traveling should be fun, not only educational!

I very rarely fully plan out an itinerary – mostly because I’m just not that organized.  The other reason, however, is far too often I have found that once I arrive at a destination there turns out to be things I’d rather see or tours I’d rather go on than what I had initially planned.  One of my biggest regrets is not having taken the Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London though, in all fairness, I was running a 102 fever that whole week from strep throat so I’m sure the others who did take that tour were more than happy I stayed away.  Why Jack the Ripper?  Why not?  Sometimes it’s very important to remember in the midst of experiencing a place or culture that you also are allowed to have fun!  Although, on another trip to England, I did finally get to Sherwood Forest just to be able to say I was where Robin Hood was :D.

So in the weeks and months to follow I will be posting a blog about traveling beyond places I have been to over the  years.  It may be a city or it may be a country.  Please feel free to share any of your unplanned adventure stories as well.

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The idea of introducing paranormal into historic sites is a relatively new idea, at least in the U.S., and is still quite controversial at times.  Almost always the concern is that the history will be lost and the site will simply become known as a ‘haunted house’ which is  a legitimate concern.

So how does a historic site walk that fine line?  Should they walk that fine line?

When I was working at a Philadelphia site in the early 90’s I had actually mentioned the idea of at least letting it leak out that this particular site was haunted.  Not so much promote it nor have ghost hunts at the site but even then a ‘haunted’ site was likely to have more traffic than a non-haunted site.  The idea was shot down.  They were focused on making sure the site was recognized for its history and it’s importance in the founding of this nation (the site dates back to the 1690’s).  Given that anything to do with paranormal was still not mainstream, I understood and life went on.

Then the TV shows happened.  First Most Haunted out of England became a huge hit there and eventually made its way to this side of the pond where it became a hit here as well.  Not soon after, Syfy introduced their American answer to MH with GhostHunters.  And so the wars began.  Yet despite all the bickering over who was faking evidence and who was better or science vs feelings, the real winners in the television wars were the sites featured each week, whether it be a castle or pub in England or a fort or restaurant in the US, tourism was up and so was income.

So began the dilemma for many sites.  Gettysburg Battlefield has long since put their foot (and the law) down and made it illegal for anyone to conduct any ghost investigation on the battlefield – a very understandable stand given the reverence and respect it deserves.  That, however, has not deterred those in town to build an entire tourism industry on hauntings.

In 2009 I was working with Delaware Ghost Hunters.  We had been asked by Fort Delaware to help them with their October Paranormal events.  It was a new venture for both of us.  Each weekend visitors paid to come out to the island where they could be part of their own paranormal investigation.  We were the paranormal team that would answer questions and help them out while the fort provided their own employees to talk about the history.  In just that one month over $70,000 was raised to go towards funding the site!  Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia averages about $40,000 per year with their paranormal programs.  Most recently Graeme Park in Horsham, PA and Bolton Mansion in Levittown, PA have asked for help with establish programs for this additional, and much needed, income.  Each program is set up with respect to history and with the intent of never allowing the paranormal aspect to overshadow the factual history and importance of these sites.

Still, despite the numbers, there are many board members of many historic sites that are 100% against the use of paranormal programs for raising funds.  Are they wrong?  No.  Because of TV there are many paranormal groups that have formed consisting of members and founders who have no interest nor appreciation of nor respect for the history.  These are the groups that give this venture a bad name.  I, personally, have witnessed many times when some paranormal investigators have gone into a site and sat in chairs that they weren’t supposed to or picked up museum objects that were off limits and yes, even broken things and given the attitude of “we’re here to help you, this isn’t my fault”.  Why do some feel that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want or touch whatever they want?  Because they do it on TV.  Unless special permission is given it is never okay to touch museum pieces whether it be china or furniture.  It is actions like that by a few that have given sites and board members the absolute right to be hesitant about the paranormal community.

However, despite the mentioned concerns, the fact is in today’s economy many sites are up against the wall with choices of either close altogether and risk a house or building being torn down or destroyed by neglect or finding a way to meet in the middle with the paranormal world to bring in an additional income that could be the difference between open doors or padlocked doors.

Somewhere, somehow, the paranormal community and the historic community must find a way to work together to survive.

**All views are my own based on my own experiences.

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Thanks to Twitter I have been reading and seeing a lot about HDR photography.  At first I thought I was missing some new lens or something but no, it is a post-processing er, process. 🙂  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range Imaging (yes, the I is left out of the anagram).  In simple terms it appears to be the digital equivilant to the old ‘sandwich’ technique used with slides.  Three bracketed  images, though it can be more than three and sometimes just two, are merged together to create one image.

The most talked about program to do this is Photomatix, though some do use Photoshop or other digital darkroom programs.

However, I am far from an expert on HDR, I only tried to figure it out the other day.  That all said, here is an image I took in the fall… no post-process done at all:

It has bright, autumn colors already.  As a photographer, I can see where this really could ‘pop’ just a bit more.  So, I decided to use the above image as my experimental piece for HDR as color seems to work the best.

The result using Photomatix:

Again, I would like to state, this is my first attempt.  There are many amazing HDR photographers (many of whom are on Twitter and well worth following) who have nicely taken the time to write blogs or even post YouTube tutorials about HDR.

For more HDR images be sure to Google HDR or check out Flickr.

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If you’re reading this you may be asking, who is this person?  Surely someone doesn’t really do all that she claims to.

But I do.  I have been involved in the archaeology/historic community in the Philadelphia area for nearly twenty years, starting out at Historic Rittenhousetown back in 1990.  I volunteered at an excavation after making the decision to leave the acting world for a bit.  As it turned out, I loved it!  Over the years I continued digging, giving tours, working with program development, etc. while at the same time diving a bit more into my love of photography.  Eventually I jumped into the world of professional photography (wildlife and travel) as excavations in the Philadelphia area came to a near halt.

As luck would have it, Philadelphia once more became a center of television and movie filming so, already established in local archaeology and as a photographer, I jumped back in which is what I’ve been juggling for many years now – while throwing a bit of paranormal investigations into the mix.  Why paranormal?  I was working at another archaeology site that many local paranormal groups wanted to investigate.  The site pretty much handed over the paranormal part to me so I was able to sit in with them and realized that, while interesting from a ‘what is it’ perspective (and having always been interested in haunted places), it would also provide a wonderful opportunity to see historic places when there were no tourists around.  Over time this turned into a way to help struggling historic sites use the paranormal aspect to raise money while maintaining the importance of the actual history.

So ultimately, I have been fortunate enough to be able to utilize my experiences as a photographer, all aspects of historic involvement, acting and yes, even paranormal together to help preserve sites.

In this blog I will post about all sorts of different topics from archaeology news to historic site events and fundraisers to photography tips or just simply a journal of my travels.

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