My time at Monmouth University as an undergrad was nothing short of a blast.
I lived in rental with my pals that was so close to the ocean that we fell asleep every night to the sound of the roaring waves. At least three times a week, we went out on the town and we were rarely disappointed with the characters we would meet, the bars we would stumble upon and the shenanigans that would ensue. I attended classes taught by thoughtful professors with big personalities on a stunning campus that’s regularly named as one of the most beautiful in the world.
However, of course, it could also be stressful. I’ve always kept busy, and I certainly did so during my time at Monmouth – I was an editor at the school newspaper, the editor of our honors program newsletter, a supervisor at the honors school mentoring program, a supervisor at my job at the university calling center, a member of the honors student council, a personal assistant to a local woman and a member of several clubs, including an outdoors club and a philosophy club. And did I mention I loved to go out?
Growing up in a town with literally one traffic light and a rambunctious herd of cows at a neighboring farm which often made me late for work, I was always itching to escape the no-man’s-land that is western New Jersey.
About one year after I graduated college, I finally escaped for good – I got an apartment in a small city about 45 minutes away and a few years after that, I moved again to central Jersey, where I live now. Five years later, I still feel grateful every time I only have to drive five minutes to go to the grocery store or the mall, and a quick 30-minute Uber to the airport.
Yesterday, Mike and I made a visit to another where the heck am I region in Jersey – Hunterdon County, which may only be about 30 minutes from home but as we wound through back roads (I think they are main roads here????) surrounded by farms, open fields and not an itch of traffic in sight, it felt much further away.
Before I started dating Mike about four years ago, I had never dated anyone who I really went on any dates with.
Sure, I had boyfriends, some serious, some not-so-serious, but for the most part, they all fell into the same (trash) basket – we hung around the house with most planned outings organized by me, while these boys seemed pretty content to hang out on the couch. Day trips often seemed like an impossible, enormous endeavor.
However, it quickly became evident to me during my rampant succession of dates with Mike after we met in 2015 that this was not normal. Every time we went out, it was to a place that was new! exciting! different! (Cringeworthy, right?)
I’m much less excited to get up for our morning tour now that I feel I have already given myself a pretty good Prague tour thanks to my Lonely Planet guidebook, plus I’m exhausted and it’s about 20 degrees colder than it was during our wandering yesterday. Luckily, the rain holds off for our two-hour tour, which also shows us the Municipal House, Powder Tower and the Jewish Quarter.
This morning, I’m excited to take the one-hour bus ride to Bratislava, the capital of Slovenia, adding another city and country to my growing list of 26 visited countries that I wasn’t even aware when we booked the tour that we would be going to. Although I’m so exhausted in Bratislava after days of sub-six hour sleep, I still truly feel richer having visited so many new places on this trip.
I’m so exhausted today that I’m feeling kind of loopy, chasing Mike around the grounds of Parliament at our tour around 7:30 a.m. Getting into Parliament, though, is no joke – you have to bring your passport and go through a security check just like at the airport to get in.
Before New Jerseyans are forced to deal with our never-ending winter, we are blessed with fall, a season so packed with colors and activities that I refuse to go on any long-distance trips during September or October – to me, fall weekends are precious, and needed for pumpkin picking, apple picking, haunted hay rides and cider donuts.
However, for the last two years, my family and I have been taking a trip designed for fall – a long weekend getaway to Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. For a few days, we check out fall foliage, visit wineries throughout the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, stay in a rustic cabin and sail down the lake.
This year, however, Seneca Secrets, our usual hangout, was all booked up and we figured we would mix it up and head to Lake George, which has always seemed to be a favorite destination of New Jerseyans.
Although New Orleans is probably one of the most jovial stretches of 350 square miles around, there is a peculiar air of miscreant, a slight itch of a strange mix of beings that expands beyond the jumbling of psychics, artists, tour guides and alcoholics. It’s the undeniable stir of the living joined with the dead.
My favorite part about the haunted background of New Orleans, a city that dates back to 1753 and has, and is, riddled with convicts, prostitutes, voodoo and disaster, is that much of it relies on myth. You’ll hear various stories from various locals about that ghost, this voodoo queen, or that cursed home but nobody has so much as the written word to back it up – only word of mouth. To those who have seen the haunts in action, this is more than enough.
It’s evident when walking through the Garden District, riddled with historical homes and anxious ghosts. It’s clear when strolling through the French Quarter, the site of two fires which literally destroyed the entire city. It’s even obvious when speaking to battered locals, who have the sense of what’s it’s like to have survived more than they bargained for.
According to one tour guide, New Orleans holds this air because it has seen more than its fair share of disaster in a very short amount of time. Hurricane Katrina, The Great Fire of 1788, The Great Fire of 1794 and the Battle of New Orleans, just to name a few. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, it is clear – New Orleans is one haunted city.
Haunts are definitely not limited to Orleans locals, either. Even celebrities are not immune.
Nicholas Cage bought the LaLaurie Mansion, located on the corner of Royal Street and Governor Nicholls Street, in 2007 for $3.45 million. It was sold at auction a mere two years later. Why? According to popular myth, the place is cursed.
Marie Delphine LaLaurie, a Louisiana-born socialite, was a pretty popular person in New Orleans throughout all three of her marriages – that is, until April 10, 1834. Married to Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, a doctor, the couple threw frequent parties until on one ordinary day, a fire broke out. The party continued, flooding into the streets, and firemen rushed into the LaLaurie mansion to put out the blaze.
First, they came across an elderly African American slave who was chained to the stove. In hysterics, the woman admitted that she started the fire in a suicide attempt because she was told she was going to an upstairs room, in which no slave ever returned. She said the firemen could do anything they wanted to her – kill her, throw her in jail – but she was not going back to Delphine LaLaurie. Baffled, the firemen stormed the rest of the house to find the mysterious room, and what they found brought many to rushing out the door in a vomited panic.
Behind a deadbolted door, they found slaves tortured and bound in otherworldly ways. One slave had an inch of skin scraped in a circular motion around her entire body – the long strip of skin found in a jar in the room as well. Another had all of her long bones broken, only to be reset facing opposite directions so that she could fit inside a tiny box. It is said that as many as 100 slaves died in LaLaurie’s warped ‘care.’
Apparently, this didn’t bother Cage – until five years had passed, the same amount of time that the LaLaurie’s lived in their mansion. After that, his marriage fell apart, his assistant stole all his money, he went bankrupt, and his movie gigs abruptly stopped. He claims it was the house.
Cage went to a medium, who told him that to stop the curse from following him into the afterlife, he needed to build a pyramid-shaped tomb in the center of the St. Louis Cemetery at certain dimensions with the words ‘Omnia Ab Uno’ (Everything From One) in scripted on it and be buried there upon his death. Cage wasted no time.
New Orleans also apparently houses vampires. John and Wayne Carter, two average brothers who worked at the docks, lived at the 800 block of Royal Street. On one 1932 night, an 11-year-old girl with cut wrists fled their apartment to the authorities, where she informed them that she had been ‘fed on’ after being abducted by the men. Upon entering the apartment, authorities found four others bound and cut, one already dead. When the Carters returned, it took eight men just to restrain the two, which were of average height and build and had been working manual labor all day long. Upon being put to death, the Carters were buried and in New Orleans tradition, the coffins were taken back after one year. However, both coffins were already empty.
I wish I could say that the victims went on to lead happy lives, but they certainly did not. Directly proportionate to how many times they claimed to have been fed on, the situations of the victims got worse and worse. The adult male went on to murder 442 people, dissolving his own victims’ bodies in sulfuric acid. The adult female voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital for life. Remember – this is a psychiatric hospital. In the 1930s. Committed voluntarily. Not pretty.
Then, there is the infamous voodoo queen Marie Laveau, who’s name rings loudly throughout New Orleans on everything from hot sauce bottles to voodoo museums. Many attest to seeing her in the flesh, leading rituals with naked followers dancing and chanting, as well as seeing her walking the streets of the French Quarter.
One place that Orleans goers can get a taste of Laveau is at her tomb at the St. Louis Cemetery, where she is laid to rest among thousands of offerings of makeup, candy, mirrors and money placed there every single day. She isn’t without desecration – just a few weeks ago, someone covered the entire tomb with pink acrylic paint which took the Catholic Church quite some time to scrub off.
New Orleans may be pretty, but within the pleasant, pink mansions and colorful flowerbeds lies things much more sinister – the mark of uneasy souls.
This is Cowbee, and he is the most-loved stuffed animal in the entire world.
He also happens to be the world’s most well-traveled miniature stuffed cow (fact).
Cowbee is going on 20-years-old now, and he has visited about just as many countries at my side. Internationally, he has visited, but has not been limited to: Turkey, Croatia, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, the Dominican Republic, Scotland, Canada and Puerto Rico. He has had his ventures across the United States as well, including having visited: Arizona, Washington, Missouri, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Florida.
However, he is about to about to go on his most important journey yet.
As you can probably tell, Cowbee has seen better days, even if those days were at least 15 years back. At one time, he actually had a mouth, a tail, more than one ear and two horns (lost via golden retriever accident). He is also currently sporting some unsightly bald spots which are leading the bell in his belly to itch to escape his blue fur. I also recently learned via some old photographs that there was once a polka-dot pattern on his bow. Who knew.
At least Cowbee looked better than this gross dog, Chocolate, while in Nova Scotia.
As a result, I have come to the responsible adult decision to send Cowbee to Realms of Gold Stuffed Animal Hospital, the most reputable doll hospital around. Unfortunately, by “around,” I mean on the other side of the country.
Through my meticulous research, I have learned that trusty Dr. Beth of the hospital is an avid blogger which is a great comfort. Also, I came across this clever blog post by Daisy, a fellow overgrown stuffed animal lover, who sent her fluffy companion Lamby to the hospital and was thrilled by the results. Cowbee also identifies with Lamby because he, too, is a small farm animal.
Being that I live in the middle of nowhere, the closest doll hospital is about four hours away so I don’t have much choice but to ship my best friend in a box via FedEx and hope for the best. Apparently, stuffed animal restoration is not a budding industry.
Cowbee’s usual traveling quarters.
It pains me that he has to resort to this type of travel, since usually he is carefully tucked away in my trusty backpack (never in a checked bag) and I obviously never leave my bag unattended, even if I don’t come across one of those dumb airport signs. Cowbee is literally the best travel companion one could ask for – he takes up little space, never complains, and is always cuddly – so I can’t believe that now I have to pack him in a box with styrofoam peanuts all by himself and send him across the nation.
However, in these days before I ship Cowbee off to be recowed for a month, I am reminiscing and appreciating all the cool places we have been together and how much (I) have grown in that time. He has, quite literally, been around before I can remember (I frequently come across photos of me younger and younger clutching this small stuffed toy) starting with his first journey from the pharmacy where he was probably purchased for less than $3 and brought home to a blonde baby.
See you for New Orleans, Cowb.
Everyone loves a five-inch-tall farm animal, especially in Florence, Italy.
Blogging is not a solitary effort or work that exists behind a glass, where writers watch in silence as audiences read, critique and praise their work. Instead, it is a community, and to be a successful blogger, you have to join the party – not just sit in the corner and wonder when someone will come and talk to you.
For this reason, I am participating in Virtual Blog Tour Monday, an effort which I was asked to participate in by a fellow blogger where we talk about what’s going on with our writing and give you some inside looks while introducing you to three other binge-worthy blogs to check out when you’re bored at work.
1. What am I working on? Although I enjoy being a part of the WordPress community and getting and giving feedback to writers and readers who love the process as much as I do, at this point, I want this blog to be the takeoff point to more travel writing work. By using clips and ideas that I have written for Circus, I want to do more freelance work for travel websites and magazines and get out so I can not only improve my craft, but I can circle it back and gain a larger following for Circus as well.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? There’s a lot of stuff out there on luxury, high-class travel, travel for families, or travel for partying college kids. However, Circus is about the thrill of nomad travel – the joy of not knowing where you’re going to sleep tonight or what odd characters you’re going to come across on your journey. Dirty, backpacked kids deserve an intelligent guide too.
3. How does my writing process work? I think about travel pretty much all day long, everyday – so when the next week comes about and I know it’s time for a fresh post, it isn’t hard for me to scavenge my ideas together and craft a post that focuses on a particularly charming destination, wise travel tips, or interesting observations that I’ve picked up. I follow basic journalistic standards through my formal training at Monmouth University, but at the same time, I make an effort to use my human voice and let this be my own space.
4. Why do I create what I do? Back in the day when I came to the rather obvious conclusion that being a travel writer would be the best job in the world, I also quickly realized that National Geographic wasn’t going to instantly allow me to tell everyone about where to find the best cannolis in Florence. I needed my own outlet, and I found that here – a place to share work and ideas without the fear of failure while also enjoying a space to look back on how I’ve grown as a writer…. and all the sweet places I’ve been.
Fiona is an itinerant barefoot yoga teacher who never manages to stay in one country for more than a few months at a time. Recently transplanted from southern India, she is still enjoying the novelty of amenities like electricity and indoor plumbing. When she’s not sleeping in an airport during an agonizing layover or helping her students into kickass headstands, she can be found growing her content marketing business or climbing a nearby tree.
Tamara “T” Braunstein is a journalist and writer by training and passion, currently working for a PR firm in Chicago, IL. A native of Seattle, WA, she adores the West Coast and thrives on adventure, the outdoors, and contemplating and writing about life, in all of its shame and glory.