Colorado: Stanley Hotel (part 2)

Continuing our tour of the Stanley Hotel...

(note: part 1 of the tour here …. or you can see the ghost tour we took a couple years ago in Scotland)

As I mentioned before … our tour guide Ryan couldn’t really GUIDE us from outside the guests’ rooms. But he did let us know what to expect, what we would be looking at, and would silently point out some stuff as well. (kind of like Jimmy, our tour guide for the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy)

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This is the front door of the CURRENT Presidential Suite. The original presidential suite started about 6-8′ closer to the camera, and took up I think 3 or 4 (now) rooms in the corridor.

Again, this is where Stephen King stayed when he got his inspiration for The Shining.

This is also where, in the 20s I think, there was a HUGE explosion and a housekeeper was severely injured. She didn’t die, but she is still rumored to haunt these rooms. Especially crawling into bed between an unmarried couple… because, you know. The scandal!

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OK. Let’s put your ghost hunting skills to work!

The collage below is 1 image – you should be able to click (twice) on it to see it bigger.

I want you to look at these images and tell me if you see a ghost. … or anomaly of some kind. All photos from Andrew’s cell phone.

This stairwell is called ‘the vortex’ and tends to have a lot of activity.


This photo below is up in the bell tower. Apparently a guest scratched that there and the hotel decided to leave it :)

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Another one of the haunted rooms …. it *happened* to be being cleaned when we walked by (benefit of the 11a tour time) so the door was open for us to peek in.

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the LONG hallway (there were no creepy twins at the end though)

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And then after seeing the hallways and the (doors to the) rooms, we headed down to BELOW the basement … to see where the hotel was built on quartz and limestone.

Ryan claims that no one has ever died at the hotel (ghost hunting shows find non-hotel historians who say there have been deaths), so the hotel’s theory is these quartz and limestone is the power that holds the HAPPY spirits to the property and gives them energy. This big rock behind Ryan (in the photo below) is directly under the Vortex, (not) coincidentally.

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And with that the tour was over! Bummer. I love tours.

We didn’t want to pay hotel prices for food, so we took a quick glimpse of the bar (also inspired The Shining) and headed out.

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(the back of the hotel)

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I would definitely go back for a ghost hunt :)


Colorado: Stanley hotel tour (part 1)

You all know I love guided tours. I love them. LOVE THEM. So when we found ourselves Sunday night with no definite plans for the next day I thought, “TOUR!” The Stanley Hotel – well known from inspiring The Shining and appearing in several ghost hunting shows – is in Estes Park. The hotel offers various ghost-hunting, history, fire engine and other tour options. The Stanley Hotel tour that we were able to book was just the first one listed : The Stanley Tour. Larger group, good overview, and LOTS of availability. We went online Sunday night and booked for 11a Monday morning.

We woke up, left Kevin at home (he claimed he was going to write, but who knows), drove to Estes Park. When we pulled into the parking lot we had to give the security guard our confirmation number that we actually had tour tickets before being allowed to park. Slightly weird, considering it is a hotel with a restaurant that you would think they want guests to visit.

The Stanley Hotel is kind of amazing …. I think I love it.

Learned recently that Kristen Schaal got married there and I am so jealous. Seems like a perfect blend of outdoors and historic mansion-ish.

It opened in 1909 … so not terribly old (not like Europe, or even New England) but old enough for the West. And old enough to have ghosts and all kinds of stories …

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While I would like to use this space to recount the hotel’s history and details … you should probably just read the Wikipedia article if you care.

First step was to FIND the tour. It’s in the basement, in case you’re wondering. There’s a whole room set up with a welcome desk-area near the door (where we checked in and got our tickets printed and our we’re-on-the-tour stickers) and then the rest of the room has rows of chairs and a TV screen.

Because it’s a working hotel, our tour did not include actually entering any of the guest rooms – instead they have produced a short, 5 min video that gives you a little tour of the (haunted) guest rooms. Just so you can see the inside.

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Our tour guide was this cute actor kid named Ryan. This is why I love guided tours – the guides are inevitably former or aspiring actors. I love actors :) Ryan is apparently a college student in Chicago, but has come to work at the Stanley for the last few summers.

Our first stop was the auditorium … a building separate from the main hotel, so we had a little bit of a walk.

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This auditorium is, I believe, a one-third replica of the Boston Philharmonic’s music hall (the Stanleys were from Boston). And Mrs. Stanley loved to play the piano so her ghost is rumored to hang out around here. Of course.

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Ryan was kind of great in that he pointed out the places where ghosts are rumored to have been seen, and then suggested we take multiple photos of the same spot so we can compare images for anomalies. Brilliant – catering to that kind of tourism :)

Obviously Andrew and I did just that.

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This room is below the auditorium …. It originally had a bar and a bowling alley for the men to … I don’t know. Hang out in? I’m not totally clear on when/why this room was used.

Now, though, it’s a piano graveyard. People hear that Mrs. Stanley loved pianos so they donate their vintage, period pianos to the Stanley. But Mrs. Stanley loved HER OWN pianos …. and these strangers’ pianos don’t really have a home anywhere. They live here under the auditorium (where, btw, I think they might have wedding receptions. We definitely saw a couple getting the tour while we were there).

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Next, past the main building to the outbuildings on the other side.

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That little balcony in the middle of the second floor (it’s also on the far left of the photo above) … ? That’s where Stephen King stayed when he got the inspiration for The Shining. The Presidential Suite (at that time). And it must have been some hell of an inspiration – the book was written, edited and on shelves 6 months later.

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F.O. Stanley and his brother made their fortunes in the photography (tech) business … but then, later in life, they got bored? We’ll call it inspired. And they started another company – Stanley Motor Carriage Company.

The Stanley Hotel has this small Stanley Steamer ‘museum’ that was part of the tour. This is why I love guided tours. I wouldn’t have even known to LOOK for this building otherwise, and without the guide I would only have a vague idea what I was looking at.

Sidenote: also on this side of the property is the pet cemetery that began way way at the beginning of the hotel’s being open. Dating back from the days when their guests were friends from back east coming for the summer. And bringing their pets. Apparently, this pet cemetery doesn’t have anything to do with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary … but you never know.

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then back to the front, main entrance of the hotel to tour the inside …. check out that view:

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First stop INSIDE the main hotel was the music room ….

Again, the piano is said to be haunted by Mrs. Stanley’s ghost. So don’t go past that velvet rope.

We also learned a bit more about Stephen King’s stay, how the hotel inspired the book, and all about why the Stanley Kubrick film wasn’t made there. Fascinating. I had no idea any of this stuff ….

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And then, Ryan took us to the landing in the main stairwell.

This is where he told us about the rooms and the ghosts and what to look for and a bit of the history of this part of the hotel. Again, because it is a working hotel, he couldn’t really stand out in front of some poor person’s hotel room and yell to 20 people about the room, so instead he gave us the low down right here…

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tomorrow … the rest of the tour …


Scotland: Underground ghost tour

After lunch, it was about time for our guided ghost tour – with Auld Reekie Tours.

This was the ONLY thing that I booked ahead of time …. 430p on Tuesday afternoon – the underground vault tour!

Last year, Andrew and I had watched an episode of Ghost Adventures (ghost-hunting reality show on the travel channel), when they get locked in to the underground vaults under Edinburgh.

It was one of the better episodes, so when we realized we were going to Edinburgh, visiting the vaults was one of the “musts.”

We met up with the tour guide at the designated street corner (in front of an old church on the Royal Mile)… along with about 12 other people. (sidenote: Mom and Dad did NOT go on the tour with us. Chickens.)

Since the tour goes underground, there was not really a need to wait til dark… but it certainly would have felt spookier.

Our tour guide was a guy (maybe late 20s) named Dominic. Sweet boy; very charismatic. He had that air about him that actors have – super friendly, super charming with a real feel for timing (both comedic and dramatic).

I was suddenly reminded of how much I really love actors!

He wore all black, but not in a creepy way. More like the way stagehands do – to better blend into the set. Or, in this case, the dark, dank underground haunted vaults…

So, we met Dominic in front of Tron Kirk and then he walked our group down a couple blocks and down a side street – then headed very steeply downhill.

Since the vaults are essentially built under the length of the Royal Mile, we had to go down to the entrance – basically just a couple of VERY steep steps off the side of a store front (where the Auld Reekie ticket office is).

The first room is a very faintly lit all-black room filled with glass cases hanging on the walls …. Glass cases with (very amateur) exhibits of instruments of torture.

Very strange.

Seems like the Auld Reekie owner is just interested in torture devices for fun … and decided to create this “exhibit” just to make the ghost tours a little weirder.

It worked.

So, according to Dominic …. The room we started in used to be just a cheap apartment – mostly for college students.

Apparently, one night (late 80s?), the tenants were having a party and a cup got thrown against one of the drywalls …. And instead of bouncing off, it went through!

So these partying college kids took a closer look … The drywall just came crumbling down. As did the 2 or 3 additional layers back there.

And all of a sudden, the Edinburgh underground vaults that had been sealed for at least 100 years had been rediscovered!

Now, it’s not clear to me exactly how many underground vaults there are … but the vaults that the Ghost Adventures crew investigated were HUGE. Several levels, yards and yards and yards.

The vaults that Auld Reekie tours are completely different. I wonder if maybe the vaults are all owned/rented by the owners of the businesses above (just like when they were originally built).

Some photos from various sources of the vaults one - twothree

The vaults that we toured were:

  • 4 or 5 in number
  • Off a single corridor (without apparent connection to other vaults)
  • The corridor was nicely/smoothly paved (likely a recent change for the tourists)

So the tour was about 45 minutes long … and it felt so short!

Dominic took us through each to the vaults in turn, NOT just down the line.

Nope, the order of the vaults visited was deliberately chosen for maximum storytelling power. Started off with your basic vault to learn a bit about the vaults in general, and then into vaults with escalating weirdness….

We actually started in the (dimly lit) corridor ….

Dominic warned us about physical sensations we may encounter – and I immediately began to feel a bit dizzy and light-headed. I’m sure just because we had essentially walked underground into a small, stuffy place. But I can see how some people might get a little freaked out!

We learned about the night watchman ghost that is occasionally seen at the end of the corridor – by guides and visitors. As the tour guide, Dominic needs to always always keep track of all the tourists in his tour. According to him, on one tour he was sure that he saw one of his charges wandering off into one of the vaults at the far end of the corridor … but, as soon as he reached the doorway there was no one there! The watchman has never bothered/harassed visitors; he’s just seen going in and out of the vaults at the far end of the corridor.

The other ‘spirit’ we learned about in that corridor was a woman who pays particular attention to the men.

Dominic told us about one guy, on the tour with his girlfriend, felt a cold hand near his crotch while they were standing around. It was only when he realized his girlfriend was a good 5 or 6 feet in front of him that he ran away screaming!

Which brings me to why Dominic was such an effective tour guide and storyteller : He genuinely seemed concerned. He told us over and over that if we needed to leave for any reason he would drip everything and take us out of the vaults. He gives his groups permission to feel scared, and to be aware of how they’re feeling. He appears equally respectful of skeptics, believers and fence-sitters.He doesn’t over dramatize anything. He doesn’t overplay his hand. … and he doesn’t exhibit any kind of condescension  that a skeptic might.

You can’t help but trust Dominic when he tells you what he himself has experienced … and the calm and reasonable way he tells you that women were getting attacked in a certain vault makes you really consider it might be true ….

He was fantastic!

Again, I really love actors….

So. The specific vault stories:

As I said, the first vault was just a good opportunity to tell us about the history.

These vaults were originally built under the Royal Mile as a place for storage for the businesses above. Unfortunately, the vaults were built/carved out of limestone or sandstone or something else porous. Which means that when it rains in Edinburgh, the rain seeps through to wet and ruin all the goods in the vaults.

Imagine bolts of fabric or barrels of flour sitting in puddles.

Needless to say, the soon were emptied.

In Edinburgh (at that time at least) it was illegal to sleep on the street. So all the homeless – prostitutes, drunks, families whose breadwinner had died, etc – started “living” in the vaults.

The vault is really just a stone room – maybe 20’x20’ … no walls, no running water, no toilets.

About 25 people would “live” in one vault, just using one corner as a ‘bathroom’ … but in reality just a pile of feces… Eventually it’d creep farther and farther into the room, mixing with the dirt on the floor, mixing with the water that seeped down, all over the floor where people were sleeping.

In order to eat (and mask the stench) they would build a fire…. But there’s no vent, windows or chimney of any kind. So they built the fires by the door to the vault, filling the corridors with smoke.

Some of the vaults were partway between the graveyards and the medical schools. Since autopsies were illegal, med students would buy the corpses on the black market to dissect. Grave robbers found the vaults handy for hiding bodies.

No law enforcement would come down to the vaults – to the stink and disease – so criminals pretty much had a free rein. Rapes, murders, stashing stolen goods …. I’m sure it ALL happened in the vaults.

And then – eventually – the city had had enough and just sealed up the vaults. And sealed up all that pain and crime and hate and death with it….

So sad….

The second vault that we visited had a big stone circle in the middle of the room. Apparently a local Wiccan group had connected with the Auld Reekie owner to use this vault for their wiccan/heathen ceremonies…. But after a few weeks some strange things started to happen in that vault after it was locked up for the night …

Things like … scratch marks on the inside of the door, and all the furniture in the room getting piled precariously in one of the corners.


So the head of the wiccan group decided to stay overnight, locked in that vault, to figure out what was going on. The Auld Reekie owner locked this guy in with his sleeping bag. He chose to sleep in the stone circle – as the Wiccans believe that circle was a source of protection from various spirits.

He woke up in the middle of the night…. Hearing some kind of scratching or scuffling along one of the walls. As the vault has no windows or chimney at all, or course it was pitch black. So this guy had pretty much convinced himself that he was hearing a rat, the scuffling/scratching started heading up the wall and onto the ceiling!

Between hearing a series of voices just outside the stone circle and other bizarre happenings, he had had enough.

Once it got to what he thought was morning, he was gone – waiting at the front door to be let out.

That same day the wiccan group moved all their stuff to a different vault – permanently.

They left the stone circle, though.

It was thought that the circle was now – instead of a protection – a portal or doorway to evil spirits.

Dominic – bless his heart – raised his credibility even more. He says “Now, some of the guides will tell you not to step into or walk through the circle. But I know you all are adults. If you want to step into the circle I’m not going to stop you. Now is the time to do it.”

… and of course no one did.

Although I fully expected Kevin to.

We moved on to the last vault then, and as everyone filed out of the vault, I saw Kevin put one foot into the circle and then out again.

Show off.

He was carrying Chelsea’s bag at the time so we joked that a ghost would attach itself to her bag and he was going to carry it the rest of the trip.

The final vault required an explanation and warning before even entering.

We were strictly instructed to separate by gender at the door – boys to the left, girls to the right. Which put me right next to a bunch of strangers and Chelsea in the scariest of all the vaults.


According to Dominic, through many tours there would be scratches, pushes and other physical attacks on visitors. They eventually tried a few different combinations and by having men on one side and women on the other the attacks stopped.

On top of that, we were strictly instructed to turn off all electronics – phones, cameras, etc. Electronics of all kinds have been known to malfunction and break after visiting this vault. Of course, we had my mom’s cell phone on us and didn’t know how to turn it off. So far it’s fine.

Furthermore, the safety (electronic) light above the door wasn’t on. Dominic told us they just can’t get the light to work. They’ve had any number of electricians come look at it, and one day they went through something like 30 lightbulbs.

So the room was lit solely by Dominic’s flashlight …. But of course, since electronics have issues in this room, he told us all about the times that his flashlight has just stopped working (of course, he called it a “torch” since he’s British and adorable).

I know this sounds like just a bunch of talk. I fully acknowledge that not a single weird, paranormal or unnatural thing happened to our tour group.

However – I WILL tell you that this last vault was noticeably colder than the other vaults. What reason could there be? These are just stone rooms with no vents or ceiling fans, obviously.

But if I’ve learned anything from watching numerous seasons of Ghost Adventures – I’ve learned that pockets of cold air can indicate the presence of a ghost or spirit.

I’m just saying….

So, of course, since this was the final vault, Dominic was using his full power of anticipation and storytelling to really give us a chill.

Starting with dividing us from our other group members, plus the turning off of electronics and the light in the vault not working … needless to say, it is easy to see how someone could get all keyed up.

As he was explaining to us how he had to carry a backup “torch” because of the strange problems in this vault, his current “torch” began to flicker – until it finally went out completely (conveniently at a dramatic moment in his narrative) …. Spooky ….

Just before the vaults were sealed shut, there was a huge fire in old town Edinburgh (1824, I think). To escape the flames and stay safe many families sent their women and children into the vaults.

Initially this seems like a good idea – the stone walls and floor certainly wouldn’t burn. Instead, with the fire raging through the city, the walls of the vaults started heating up more and more  … just like a brick oven.


All those people were just cooked. … Just baked up like meat.

Ugh …. Bleck bleck bleck….

Not long after (around 1830 or so) the vaults were closed off and forgotten about.

So sad. So gross and so scary …

I can’t remember exactly how Dominic tied up the tour, but part of our ticket included a bit of shortbread and whisky at a pub next door.

We were guided to the pub at then Dominic disappeared (he had another tour to guide). Too bad… He was pretty much amazing. I would have loved to have a chat with him.

Not at all surprisingly, the whisky was not great. Not that I know – Andrew drank mine.


Scotland: Edinburgh Castle (part 1)

When we arrived in Edinburgh the sky was cloudy and overcast, but nice.

By the time we hiked up the hill and through the narrow “close” to the Royal Mile it was drizzling.

But by the time we had walked up to the very top – to Edinburgh Castle – it was raining. Hard. And it didn’t let up for hours.

I had just been thinking that morning that I had bought a new umbrella for Alaska and Scotland and hadn’t used it yet …. And then the sky opened up.

We began at Edinburgh castle in the pouring rain – trying to share umbrellas and guarding expensive cameras from the water.

But with only a few hours to spend, we had to plough ahead – in spite of the rain!


The fortified birthplace of the city 1300 years ago, this imposing symbol of Edinburgh sits proudly on a rock high above you. While the castle has been both a fort and a royal residence since the 11th century, most of the buildings today are from its more recent use as a military garrison.

Edinburgh Castle is a collection of buildings within the perimeter of the outer wall … so every time we went from building to building it was out in the rain again.

Andrew got tired of trying to stay under the umbrella with me (and my purse) and got pretty wet. But he was wearing 2 jackets so he ended up staying pretty dry (except for his hair which was dripping wet in no time).

Andrew and I didn’t really want to do the guided tour at Edinburgh Castle. Mainly because since it was a free tour, there was a BIG group of people. But the other 4 did the tour and Andrew wanted to hear a Scottish person talk so we caught up with the group part way through.

Our tour guide was named Andrew (but bald with crazy teeth). He seemed nice and was knowledgeable – as far as we could tell in such a large group.

He walked us up by the Military prison, and then around near St. Margaret’s Chapel, and then dropped us off in the square near the Royal Palace and Crown Jewels.


Scotland’s crown jewels, though not as impressive as England’s, are older and treasured by the locals. Though Oliver Cromwell destroyed England’s jewels, the Scots managed to hide theirs. Longtime symbols of Scottish nationalism, they were made in Edinburgh – in 1540 for a 1543 coronation – out of Scottish diamonds, gems and gold… some say the personal gold of King Robert the Bruce. They were last used to crown Charles II in 1651.

When the Act of Union was forced upon the Scots in 1707 – dissolving Scotland’s Parliament into England’s to create the United Kingdom – part of the deal was that the Scots could keep their jewels locked up in Edinburgh. The jewels remained hidden for more than 100 years. In 1818, Sir Walter Scott and a royal commission rediscovered them intact. In 1999, for the first time in nearly 3 centuries, the crown of Scotland was brought from the castle for the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

The Stone of Scone (aka the Stone of Destiny) sits plain and strong next to the jewels. This big, gray chunk of rock is the coronation stone of Scotland’s ancient kings (9th century). Swiped by the English, it sat under the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey from 1296 until 1996. Queen Elizabeth finally agreed to let the stone go home on 1 condition: that it be returned to Westminster Abbey for all future coronations.

With major fanfare, Scotland’s treasured Stone of Scone returned to Edinburgh on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, 1996.

So our tour guide Andrew left us in the square near the Crown Jewels. Really, the HEART of Edinburgh Castle.

At this time, we had quite the option of sites to see … 4 different buildings/exhibits off of that square alone.


Since the Crown Jewels seemed to have the longest line, we did that one first. There was a line outside (all the way through the middle of the square in the rain) that skipped all of the exhibit and just passed you into see the jewels themselves and then out again.

Then there was a door around the side of the building that took you through a whole exhibit and taught you about the history and all … and then to the Crown Jewels… So we thought, “History? Yes!” …. I love history – and I think my dad loves it even more.

Turns out though that SO MANY people were crowding inside to see the exhibit that we A) weren’t able to stop and read the exhibit because the swarm of people just kept pushing us along …. And B) We were literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd so couldn’t get close enough to read the exhibit.

Oh well …

We DID get to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland – which are no longer actually used since Scotland united with England.

There is a sword, a crown and a scepter. All ancient. All luxurious.

Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed in the room … and I was just too close to a guard to get away with it.

Also with the Crown Jewels was the Stone of Destiny – only recently returned to Scotland. It’s a big, plain block of red sandstone (26”x16”x10”) used for coronations and must be returned to Westminster Abbey to sit beneath the coronation chair when Prince Charles (and/or Prince William) is crowned.

While being pushed and prodded along narrow hallways with WAY too many people, I was reminded of England’s Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. Those are kept in a much bigger space, and visitors are put on a conveyor belt. It’s a slow conveyor belt, but it still ensures visitors are all in and out in a timely manner.

*sidenote* As we were leaving the Crown Jewels, we passed through an open door that had 2 (count ‘em two!) combination locks set in the middle!

Then on to the Royal Palace (pretty sparse), the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial (so cool).


Alaska: Skagway Gold Rush tour (part 1)

Thursday morning – our last Alaska port

Before the trip, I was SUPER excited about visiting Skagway. It was my favorite part of the 2002 Alaska cruise I took with my family, and I tried to impress upon Andrew and Julie and Kaitlin how awesome Skagway is…

This was another early-morning docking.

After breakfast and all we got off the ship probably around 8a or 9a….

Skagway is tiny …. TINY.

Population 800 people and a city center of really just a few blocks…

We knew we wanted to do some kind of history/wilderness guided tour but weren’t 100% sure on which.

We passed several way-too-flashy TOURS booths and got all the way into town …. along the old gold-rush era wooden board walk sidewalks no less ….

We found a small store front advertising guided tours and booked a 2-3 hour tour in a little mini-bus up to the Canada border and back….

There were only 12 people on our tour (including the 4 of us) and our tour guide Joe was just adorable ….

Joe had this definite Boston accent and we learned he visited Skagway on a cruise in 2004 and has worked here every summer since then …. (lives in Oklahoma the rest of the year)…

PLUS! He drove us by his “house” …

Due to private land limitations, house/rent prices are actually absurdly high in Skagway. Apparently most summer tourism workers live in tents or trailers all summer!

Can you picture this 60 or 70-something year old retiree, probably a widower, snowbird getting bored with all his free time so he starts working summers in Alaska?

so cute!

Our guided tour took us first to the Gold-Rush-Era cemetery outside of town.

It’s pretty small – since most of the people were shipped back to the lower 48 to be buried with family.

But there is this HUGE and absurd monument to Frank Reid.

Reid was a criminal and a bully and manipulator in his own right, but he killed Soapy Smith – the far worse mob-type leader in town – and so earned the gratitude of Skagway.

History is funny that way….

Pitchfork Falls …

Our guided tour took us up the road that paralleled the trail that prospective miners would take to reach the Yukon and their gold strike. They would have to make SEVERAL (5? 6?) trips up to the top, then back to town and back to the top, etc.

There was a required 1 ton of supplies that were required before the Canadian government would let them move forward.

It seems just crazy.

And intense…

… and bizarre.

Something like 4000 people went up there searching for gold and only 25 or so left Skagway with any wealth…. Crazy, no?

I must not have an adventurous spirit. There’s no way I’d ever climb Mt. Everest, either ….

The landscape up and back was just breath-taking at every turn. Steep mountains carved by a glacier centuries ago. Chance of wildlife (bears, mountain goats and moose) even though we didn’t see any …. and up to this high-altitude region where the trees only grew about knee-high.

Below is ….International Falls (I think) ….

This river comes down the side of the hill and breaks into 2 different streams… and the only river that feeds both the Atlantic AND the Pacific oceans.

Kinda cool ….

We drove up to the Canada border and back down …. More on Thursday ….


The Sistine Chapel was …. sigh. Just fantastic.


We watched Angels and Demons recently … and all I could think about afterward was “I can’t believe I’ve been there”

One of the stories – as told to us by Jimmy, our incredibly adorable Angel Tours guide – is that in the early early 1900s there was a little boy who wanted to be an artist. He had heard about the Sistine Chapel and lived his whole life waiting to see it. Learning about Michelangelo’s amazing work is what helped spur this little boy toward being an artist when he grew up.

When he got older, the dreams of being an artist faded. While he still practiced, he wasn’t as critically acclaimed as he had hoped. This man soon found something else to be passionate about, but he still dreamed about seeing the Sistine Chapel in real life.

As a man, he traveled to Rome and the Vatican city several times but each time he was disappointed. The Sistine Chapel was closed to visitors for restoration, or to vote for the new pope or for another reason.

As he got older, he still wanted nothing more than to visit the Sistine Chapel.

The last time he visited Rome was during World War II. Rumor has it the pope heard this man was coming to Rome, and closed the Sistine Chapel ON PURPOSE to keep him out.

This man was Adolf Hitler. He never saw the Sistine Chapel.

Amazing to think that Andrew and I have seen something that even Hitler at the height of his power didn’t get to see.

Pretty crazy, huh?

p.s. I love history

The Vatican museum has does not allow talking inside the Sistine Chapel – and so does not allow real guided groups. BUT what they have done (which I think is a great idea) is set up in this courtyard several sign/displays of the Sistine Chapel images so guides can show their groups and teach their groups about the paintings.

Also in the courtyard (from Stuardt Clarke’s Rome):

So, what’s with the gold ball in the courtyard! I have gotten many e-mails wanting to know what the unusual sculpture is that is the centerpiece of the Courtyard of the Pinecone at the Vatican Museums.  This bronze sculpture is called Sphere Within Sphere (Sfera Con Sfera) and it measures four meters in diameter.  It was created by artist Arnaldo Pomodoro in 1990 for the Vatican Museums.  Pomodoro’s specialty is the casting of gigantic columns and/or globes.  In this magnificent sculpture, the fractured surface of the outer sphere reveals a very complex inner sphere that represents the harsh difficulties that the modern world finds itself in at the end of the second millennium.  One needs to view this masterpiece from every angle.  Many people want to have their picture taken beside it, so be prepared to stand for a while before getting a picture of it in the way you wish to.

Jimmy was THE BEST!

He was so knowledgable about the Sistine Chapel and all …. and he would get super excited or animated about something and start talking really fast.

Pretty funny!

We learned a little bit about the commission of the artwork, about the method of how Michelangelo painted, about the themes of the images, and the style he painted in. About how the first few images are very detailed, and then when he got to the floor and realized noone would be able to see those details he started painting much more simply. We learned about the self-portrait in The Last Judgment. and a million other interesting details ….

You can read about the process and controversy of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel at Wikipedia. Very very interesting. There is no doubt the colors were much more muted and dark from centuries of stove smoke and lamps, but there is a question about what also was lost during the restoration.

No photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. None. If I remember correctly, it’s in part because a major company (Sony, maybe) paid for the restoration recently in exchange for owning the copyright….

So, don’t tell anyone I took these :)

very stealthily.

In the image below, down in the right corner you can see there is still a black spot. That is what the ceiling looked like BEFORE restoration …. they left that part dirty to show the difference …

We saw the burn mark on the floor where the stove sits during the Papal Conclave

We safely exited …. without sliding down the stairs …

…. and turned the corner and walked right into St. Peter’s Basilica.


First thing on the agenda Monday morning – a guided tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I am definitely the kind of girl who loves a good guided tour … I love being able to listen to someone who knows what they’re talking about and NOT having to read a bunch of little plaques, or having my nose in the guidebook. I love the entertainment factor + people watching (everyone else in the group). Love it.

While Rick Steves has several English-speaking tour companies referenced in his guidebooks, how do you choose?

Luckily for us, Angela had been before – she used Angel Tours and LOVED them ….

From their site:

Our walking tours are always small groups of 8 -15 people. Sometimes even smaller, if you are lucky. This makes the tour more personal and private. We are not affiliated with any shops or restaurants, and we won’t bring you to any souvenir stands. If we recommend something it is simply because, in our opinion, it is good.

This is an Irish owned company, and many of their guides are from the UK. They also run tours in Dublin, if you happen to be there …

This is what I love about Angel Tours:

  • native English speakers – WITH super cute accents (Scottish and Irish for our 2 tours)
  • small tour groups
  • laid back (we saw lots of groups of 30+ people where everyone had a little headset in, while the guide had a microphone. WAY too high-maintenance for me)
  • Entertaining (seriously, one of the guys getting all worked up about Michelangelo was fantastic)

Anyway . …. super fun. Not super cheap, but comparable to all the other guided tours … Highly recommended.

The tour we scheduled/reserved for Monday morning was of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Starting at 9a and going about 2-3 hours. Well worth the 50euro (plus entrance ticket costs) for both of us, I think.
We ended up getting to the meeting place for the tour at 9:01a. …. and we were one of the first ones there. Ha! Good thing we power-walked the whole way.

Oh well.

We pretty much got to ‘rest’ through the tour since we were the youngest on the tour by 20-ish years. *cough* I mean … uh … *cough*. ….well. YOU know.

Our tour guide (in the photos below) was Ken – from Scotland – and he was great. I was afraid Andrew would slip into his Scottish accent while on the tour … but he spared me.

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We met at the Metro station just across the street from the Colosseum … nice view, huh?

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Some of the ancient cobblestone roadway passing between the Colosseum and the Forum … Take a look at the person’s feet in the top of the shot and just picture how big these are! And not at all even. Pretty interesting.

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Below is a panorama of the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. The first image that appears to be just a tree is actually the site of the colossus bronze statue of Nero (where the Colosseum got its name).

BTW – Nero was a maniac and we kept hearing about him everywhere in Rome.

We’ll be coming back to the Colosseum, so I’ll save the details til then.

The Arch of Constantine (pictures below) is pretty important to anyone who is a Christian or lives in a Christian-based society (i.e. pretty much most Americans). It was erected to commemorate Emperor Constantine‘s victory in 312AD – he then went on to become the first Christian emperor of the Roman empire.

Of course, ‘Christian’ is relative – since Constantine ordered his wife and son killed, and the Arch of Constantine contains images of various Roman Gods (Diana, Apollo, Hercules). But he did stop the religious persecution of his predecessor and make it the official religion of the empire… so that’s something!

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From Rick Steves:

This newly restored arch is like an ancient museum. It’s decorated entirely with recycled carvings originally made for other buildings. By covering it with exquisite carvings of high Roman art – works that glorified previous emperors – Constantine put himself in their league. Hadrian is featured in the round reliefs, with Marcus Aurelius in the square reliefs higher up. The big statues on top of of Trajan and Augustus.

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Next up: The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill