The True Story of Count Dracula

It’s October, a month full of spooky stories of undead villains, haunted castles, and battles between good and evil. And the story of Dracula has all of that, for sure! Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the most famous stories ever written in English, and one of the most-often told.

Let’s take a look at the man, the legend, who probably inspired Bram Stoker to write one of the world’s best horror stories, and whose real life has villains, castles, and battles galore.

Birthplace of Vlad III, Sighișoara, Romania

Vlad III was born the grandson of the Voivode (something like an appointed count or duke) of Wallachia, a region in present-day Romania that played an important role in Middle Ages Europe. Wallachia was at a crossroads between the Muslim-ruled Ottoman Empire, the Christian Holy Roman Empire and the kingdom of Hungary.Vlad was born and raised for a short time in Sighișoara, which was one of the most important cities in central Europe for hundreds of years.

His house, in the old town center, is now a restaurant and tourist attraction, dedicated as much to the undead myth as the brutal ruler.

Birthplace of Vlad III the Impaler (Dracula) (StreetView)
Birthplace of Vlad III the Impaler (Dracula)

Curtea Veche, Vlad’s Royal Residence, Bucharest, Romania

Vlad III joined the Order of the Dragon (Dracul in medieval Romanian), a Christian order of knights sworn to fight Muslims, and took on the name “Dragul” or “Dracul”, which the creative Bram Stoker turned into “Dracula”.

He earned his other nickname, the “Impaler” because he decapitated diplomats and citizens and soldiers alike, and stuck their heads on pikes as warnings to his enemies. Even before his death, the legend of Vlad the Impaler spread throughout Europe. Rumored to have impaled tens of thousands, his story was told in some of the earliest printed literature.

While Vlad was ruler over Wallachia, he built a fortress, Curtea Veche, in Bucharest,  to defend his northern border from Hungary and his southern border from the Ottomans. He was the first of many rulers to recognize Bucharest’s strategic position, and it eventually became the country’s capital.

Curtea Veche has fallen into disrepair, but there is a large bust of Vlad III watching over his castle, and his lands.

Curtea Veche (Birds Eye)
Curtea Veche

Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle), Bran, Romania

While this castle was a fortress rather than a palace, Vlad did stay here a few times both as a ruler and as a soldier seeking to protect and then restore his fiefdom.

Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes' Bran Castle (Google Maps)
Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes' Bran Castle

Another View

This castle, on the border between Wallachia and Transylvania, serves as an excellent base for planned invasions into new territory, and a great fortress for defending against invasion.

Dracula's Castle (Bran Castle) (StreetView)
Dracula's Castle (Bran Castle)


The grounds of the castle were in a prime defensive location, so leaders have had forts here for more than eleven hundred years. One fortress was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan’s invaders. More recently, the castle was an official royal residence for the short-lived royal family of Romania after World War I.

These days, the house is available to visit, but don’t expect to learn a lot about the written character of Dracula; the castle was not ever seen by Bram Stoker, nor was it an inspiration for the castle in the book. Descriptions of Dracula’s castle are entirely different from the actual castle.

Bran Castle Courtyard (StreetView)
Bran Castle Courtyard

Corvin Castle, Hunedoara, Romania

Wallachia in Vlad’s time was tumultuous and violent. Leaders seized power, and family members fought each other to the death for the right to rule. After Vlad’s father and brother died, a cousin took power. Vlad overthrew the cousin who took control, and then spent the rest of his life as ruler, a prisoner, or soldier.

After being deposed, Vlad was held for about a decade at Corvin Castle. The Castle is one of the largest in Europe, but the current castle probably doesn’t resemble the original, as reconstruction has been whimsical and not followed historical records.

Corvin Castle (StreetView)
Corvin Castle

Torture Room

The castle was a typical Gothic structure, with tall towers, colorful roofs, many courtyards, and plenty of place for a political prisoner. It even included a torture room, which may have been known to Vlad during the time he was there.

Torture was unfortunately common in medieval times, as a way of punishing people, extracting information, and seeking vengeance. The castle has an exhibition on torture, to help us understand what happened, and hopefully help us be more kind to one another.

Torture room - Corvin's Castle (StreetView)
Torture room - Corvin's Castle

Snagov Monastery, Bucharest, Romania

According to legend, after Vlad died in battle in late 1466 or early 1467, and was buried at Snagov Monastery in Bucharest. While there is no actual proof, the local government loves to encourage the idea, and promotes tourism to the small island.

Snagov Monastery (Google Maps)
Snagov Monastery

Vlad III was a brutal leader, but he is remembered as a hero of Romania for protecting the homeland at any cost against the Ottoman invaders, who conquered so much of Europe during the 1400s.

Vlad Dracul may not have been an undead vampire, but it’s certain his legend will live on in eternity.

Hotels Famous for Celebrity Deaths

No matter what they say, celebrities live very different lives than the rest of us. Many spend time jet setting around the world, staying in or even living in fancy hotels, and living a life of luxury most people can only imagine.

From time to time, things go horribly wrong and celebrities experience tragedies that many of us would never imagine either.  When things go wrong, they can go very, very wrong; like it did for these celebrities who each died in a hotel, often alone and under tragic circumstances.

Samarkand Hotel-Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix, though only 27 at the time of his death, is largely regarded even today as the most influential guitarist in history, and potentially the greatest guitarist in rock music of all time. He rocketed to fame in 1967 and quickly was ranked among the most well paid and well regarded musicians at the time. He headlined the Woodstock festival, becoming an icon of the rock and hippie movements.

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

At the height of his career, Hendrix suffered from personal doubts, fatigue and exertion from overworking. After a day of partying with friends, he was found on September 18, 1970 in his room in the London Samarkand Hotel, dead from an apparent suffocation from his own vomit while intoxicated with barbiturates and other drugs.

It was later revealed that he had ingested nearly ten times the recommended dose of medicines, and his death was investigated for criminal activity, but Scotland Yard never pursued the case.

Samarkand Hotel (StreetView)
Samarkand Hotel

The Landmark Hotel-Janice Joplin

By the time of her death in 1970 at age 27, Janice Joplin was one of the most famous musicians of her time, having five number one hits and performing at Woodstock in her short career. Even now, she is one of the best selling artists of all time.

Photo Credit:

Joplin died in her room in the Landmark Hotel in Hollywood, where she was staying while recording an album. She died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol. Several other people who bought heroin from the same supplier died that week, and it is therefore assumed that the batch was more potent than intended.

Joplin’s death was more tragic because it came just days after the untimely death of Jimi Hendrix, also from a drug overdose.

Landmark Motor Hotel - Janis Joplin Death Site (StreetView)
Landmark Motor Hotel - Janis Joplin Death Site

 The Chateau Marmont-John Belushi

John Belushi was a comedian and actor, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live and one of the most famous actors of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Photo Credit:

On March 5, 1982, Belushi was found dead in his hotel room in the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles California. Aged 33, he died of a drug overdose and was discovered by his personal trainer. He had been partying with different friends, including Robin Williams, Robert Di Nero and Catherine Evelyn Smith. Smith later pled guilty to manslaughter for having injected Belushi with the drug cocktail that led to his death.

The Chateau Marmont (StreetView)
The Chateau Marmont

Beverly Hills Hilton-Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was a famous American singer and actress in the 1990s and 2000s. Her amazing vocal range and tone, as well as stage presence and persona, made her an absolute sensation. Her performance in the Bodyguard movie in 1992, and hit single from that movie, I Will Always Love You, guaranteed her legacy in pop music. That song and album still hold records for sales even today.

Photo Credit:

On February 11, 2012, Houston was staying at the Beverly Hills Hilton in advance of her performance at the Grammy Awards when she was discovered in her hotel room’s bathtub unconscious. She was later pronounced dead and was found to have several drugs in her system.

Her death had a profound and negative impact on her family, and only three years later, Bobbi Kristina Brown died after long complications from a bathtub accident, tragically similar to her mother’s death.

Beverly Hilton Hotel (Whitney Houston was found dead on February 11, 2012) (StreetView)
Beverly Hilton Hotel (Whitney Houston was found dead on February 11, 2012)

Fairmont Pacific Rim-Corey Monteith

Corey Monteith was a Canadian actor who rose to fame as part of the ensemble cast of the hit television show Glee. His career also included movies such as Final Destination 3. He was also famous for his relationship with fellow Glee alum Lea Michele.

Photo Credit:

Monteith was open about his struggles with substance abuse as a young teen, and the problems recurred in 2013. He checked himself into rehab, and appeared to have beaten the problem once again.

However, on July 13, 2013, he was found in his hotel room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver Canada, dead from an apparent drug overdose. An autopsy ruled the death an accident as there were no signs of foul play and Monteith had several drugs including heroin and alcohol in his system.

Fairmont Pacific Rim (Google Maps)
Fairmont Pacific Rim

While celebrities often appear to lead lives of glamour and happiness that most people envy, their fame often comes with sadness, addiction and tragic consequences that no one ever seems to expect, and their deaths are sad reminders that addiction, suffering and pain can reach even the most successful and talented among us.



Deep Dive into History: William the Conqueror

The history books tell us that in 1066, William sailed to England from Normandy, fought a little battle, and took his rightful place on the throne of England. But there’s so much more to the story! On this anniversary of William’s invasion of England, let’s take a deep dive into the life and legacy of the man we know as William the Conqueror.

Birthplace Falaise, Normandy

William was born around 1028 in Falaise, Normandy. His father was the duke of Normandy, and his mother lived in the household. Despite his insecure birthright, he became duke of Normandy when his dad died in 1035. At the time, William was only about 7 years old. William ruled over his duchy from Falaise for years, even after he conquered England.

The current Chateau de Falaise was built about 50 years after William died. It remained a seat of power for Norman and English rulers for another 100 years, before King John (the villain of Robin Hood lore) lost the castle, along with most of his French territories, to the King of France.

Château de Falaise (StreetView)
Château de Falaise

Pevensey Castle, Pevensey, England

After King Edward the Confessor died without an heir, William claimed he had been promised the English throne by the monarch, and determined to take what he saw as his birthright.

He began making plans to invade England from his duchy by crossing the English Channel, which was no easy feat due to strong currents and terrible weather. All summer long, the English waited and watched the southern coast for any sign of invasion from William, but none came.

Long after it was considered safe for fleets to cross the Channel, William took a risk and set sail in late September, landing at Pevensey on September 28, 1066.

Immediately, William order his men to secure the old Roman fortress at Pevensey. The large fort had walls, gates, and towers, which withstood attacks by English defenders. Later, it was further enhanced for protection against insurrection, and to serve as a trade and travel route between Normandy and England.

In World War II, the area was considered a potential invasion point from Germany, and the fort was again used to protect the homeland. These days, the castle and grounds are open to the public.

Pevensey Castle (Birds Eye)
Pevensey Castle

Battlefield, Hastings, England

The pivotal battle that changed the course of history took place on October 14, 1066. King Harold marched from the north of England all the way to the southern tip to defend his country and his crown against what he considered a usurper.

Harold and William fought all day and into the afternoon. It was only after Harold was killed that the English army began to fall apart, and William was able to claim a victory.

On this little battlefield outside the town of Hastings, the course of England’s history changed completely, from one of domestic rule and Ango-Saxon heritage, to external rule, constant battles with France, and a Norman cultural influence. Even the language changed, becoming what we know as “English” today.

Hastings battlefield (StreetView)
Hastings battlefield

Hastings Castle, Hastings, England

Right before the decisive battle, William ordered the construction of a fortification at Hastings, which was later turned into a castle and church. It was used for a few hundred years before falling into disrepair as a result of coastal erosion and weather changes.

It was further damaged during World War II, but has been restored and repaired somewhat. Tourists can visit the castle in the summer months.

Hastings castle (Google Maps)
Hastings castle

Bayeux Tapestry, Bayeux, France

Surprisingly, there are no detailed, accurate accounts of the invasion, battle and aftermath of the war.

Nonetheless, we do have an interesting, if not always accurate or clear, recording of all these events. Sometime shortly after the conquest, a tapestry was commissioned to tell the story of William’s victory. This stitched cloth tells the story in picture form, which was important as most people in that time were illiterate.

The tapestry was a massive undertaking, running 230 feet long, with 58 scenes and intricate detail throughout. Since at least the 1400s, the tapestry has been stored in Bayeux, a small town in Normandy. These days, tourists can view the tapestry in a local museum dedicated to the embroidery.

Bayeux tapestry museum (Google Maps)
Bayeux tapestry museum

Westminster Abbey, London, England

Defeating Harold wasn’t the only thing William needed to do in order to secure the throne. He had an entire country to appease, and getting crowned was an important step in that endeavor. After further skirmishes and intense negotiations with the nobility and church, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066. This started the tradition of all English coronations taking place in the Abbey.

The selection of the location was important. Construction on the church had begun under Edward the Confessor as his burial church, and was another way of making it look like William was the natural heir.

The current structure was not constructed until the 1200s, but it has been the seat of royal and religious authority in England for more than a thousand years!

Westminster Abbey (StreetView)
Westminster Abbey

Burial Place, Abbaye-aux-Hommes, France

While William spent some time in England after becoming king, he still viewed Normandy as his seat of power, and gave the French region most of his attention. He and his wife Matilda had bequeathed a large sum to the church in Caen, France, to construct a monastery and nunnery.

Upon his death in 1087, when he was around 59, he was buried in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes. Legend has it that when he was buried, his rotund and rotting corpse did not properly fit inside the casket. When it was closed, his body burst and all the attendees ran from the cathedral in an attempt to avoid the terrible odor. Not quite the ending he envisioned, to be sure.

Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Birds Eye)

No matter the state of his funeral, William is without doubt one of the most impactful actors in European history, changing England’s culture, language, and borders, and changing the course of history in France and Europe as well. There’s a lot more to the man, and the story, of William the Conqueror in 1066.


Cool Golf Courses around the World

August is a great time to be outside, and spending a morning on the golf course is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, and spend some time catching up with friends along the way. Let’s take a look at some of the best, and most famous, golf courses from around the world.

The Old Course at St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland

Golf as we know it started in Scotland in the 1400s, a challenging game where people whack a dimpled ball with a stick across wide spaces often filled with hazards such as ponds, sand pits, and trees.

The Old Course at St. Andrews Links is one of the oldest known locations where golf was played, and it is where the rules of golf as we know it originated. The course is famous for its bunkers, hills and challenges, as well as its beautiful vistas, challenging design, and historical value.

The oldest professional competition, the Open Championship or British Open, is played here every five years. Legendary golfer Bobby Jones considered it his favorite course.

St Andrews Links (Google Maps)
St Andrews Links

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California

An ideal golf course has a sandy soil with a grass cover, some hills and some land features. Therefore, courses are often near the beach, as is the case with Pebble Beach in California. The course has a beautiful view of Carmel Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

The PGA Tour hosts an annual event at the course, which consistently ranks as one of the best golf courses in the US, and the US Open has been hosted here a number of times. There are three other golf courses in the Pebble Beach area that consistently make the list for best courses in the US.
Pebble Beach Golf Course (Google Maps)
Pebble Beach Golf Course

Pinehurst Golf Course Number Two, Pinehurst, North Carolina

Pinehurst is a town in North Carolina that has nine 18-hole courses, but it’s course number two that is the most famous, and regularly ranked as one of the best courses in the US. Courses are evaluated based on the design of the course, landscape, layout, and more.

The course is more than 100 years old, and is famous for its difficult green complexes, including greens that are higher than the area around them, making it difficult to land the ball without it rolling away. Several major professional events have been held here, and there are plans to host the US Open here several times in the coming years.

Pinehurst (Google Maps)

Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach, California

Often stated to be the most beautiful course, Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach is just down the way from several other famous links. The course is famed for its beauty, but the club that owns the course is famous for being so exclusive, it refused to allow Black members for decades.

These days, it has changed its policy, but it’s still nearly impossible to join, as the membership fee alone is around $250,000. Not just anyone with that amount of cash lying around can join, you actually have to be invited.

Because the club is so exclusive, the links are regarded for their privacy and peaceful feeling for players. On an average day, only 30 or so golfers play the course, a significantly lower number than any public course.

Cypress Point Club (Google Maps)
Cypress Point Club

Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

While golf originated in Scotland, it is also very popular in Northern Ireland, just across the Irish Sea. Royal County Down Golf Club actually has two courses, one of which is regularly atop the lists of best courses in the world. The Championship course has hosted dozens of international matches and events.

The course starts out easy, and builds in momentum and difficulty, but while the holes are challenging, they are also enjoyable. The views, especially in spring and early summer, are breathtakingly beautiful. When you see this course, it’s easy to understand why people love golf, even when they’re not very good at it.

Royal County Down Golf Club (Google Maps)
Royal County Down Golf Club

Turnberry Golf Course, Ayrshire, Scotland

Turnberry was founded in 1906, and has maintained a well-deserved reputation as a premier golf resort since its inception. The Alisa course has long been a championship course, and was the site of the 1977 “Duel in the Sun” where Jack Niclkaus and Tom Watson dueled it out on the links. Watson ended up winning by one stroke, and set  an Open record with a low total score.Turnberry Resort was used during the World Wars as a military hospital and air force training area. In 2014, Donald Trump bought the property for  a reported $60 million, and according to some accounts, invested significantly in the property. It is a classic Scottish golf course, with hills, traps, ocean vistas, and unpredictable weather, so golfing here is a perfect way to honor the sport.

Turnberry (golf course) (Google Maps)
Turnberry (golf course)

Looking at these beautiful courses from around the world, it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy recreational golf; you get to spend time outdoors in beautiful settings, getting a little exercise while spending time with friends or enjoying some time alone. No matter what, it’s always a great day for a little golf.

Beautiful Capitol Buildings of the World

There are 195 countries in the world today, and each has a seat of power where their leaders gathers for official and ceremonial governing of the country.

Each capitol buildings represents their country’s independence. Some buildings go beyond functional and are stunning works of art.


The Reichstag is a neo-Renaissance structure in Berlin that houses Germany’s Bundestag, or parliament. It housed the German legislature from 1894 to 1933, when it burned down under suspicious circumstances, likely under Hitler’s orders.

Reichstag (Birds Eye)

During World War II and the division of East and West Germany, it fell into disrepair. When the country was reunified in 1990, a great symbol of reunification was that the government again met in the building.

Reichstag (StreetView)

The building originally had a large glass dome, remarkable for its time, but it was damaged in the 1933 fire and during World War II bombing.

As part of the renovation in the 1990s, a great glass dome was installed, which provides a beautiful finish to the building, as well as an amazing 360 degree view of Berlin from inside the dome, an experience not to be missed!


Top of the Reichstag dome (StreetView)
Top of the Reichstag dome

U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. houses the country’s legislative branch of government. The rectangular neoclassical building is home to the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two co-equal bodies work in the two wings of the Capitol. The great cast iron dome, which was installed during the expansion in the 1850s, gracefully completes the building.

US Capitol Building (Google Maps)
US Capitol Building

Construction began in 1793, with George Washington laying the cornerstone. The building was built with slave labor, which has since brought shame to the government. During the Civil War, the large Rotunda in the center of the building was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers, and stories abound about the lost souls of laves and soldiers haunting the halls today.

US Capitol (StreetView)
US Capitol

Scottish Parliament

While Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, recent laws have granted more authority and power back to the regional government in Edinburgh , a process called devolution.

The government has met since 2004 in the Scottish Parliament Building, which is a very modern design that draws on Scottish themes, landscapes and traditions. The roof line represents Scottish landscapes and upturned fishing boats, and the governing body meets directly above public meeting spaces to remind them that their power comes from those below them.

The structure has received much recognition, and some criticism, for its design, sustainable features and creativity. It is widely recognized as one of the most interesting capitol buildings in the world.

'Scottish Parliament Building' by EMBT (Birds Eye)
'Scottish Parliament Building' by EMBT

Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminister was originally constructed in the 11th century as a royal palace, and after a fire in 1512, officially became the house of the Parliament of England. Another fire caused significant damage in 1834, and it was damaged by bombs during World War II, but the Parliament has always rebuilt.

Palace of Westminster (Birds Eye)
Palace of Westminster

Westminister has three towers, the most famous of which is Big Ben, which features a giant clock with faces on all four sides of the tower. Built in the 1850s, the clock has remained remarkably accurate, and bells mark the time each quarter hour.

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (Google Maps)
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

Hungarian Parliament

The Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest was designed as a grandiose structure to commemorate the sovereignty of the young nation. Completed in 1904, the Gothic Revival structure built along the Danube River is the largest building in Hungary, and is a beautiful work of art, especially lit up at night.

The building serves as a living history of the country, with artwork, frescoes, stained glass and statues telling the story of the country and recognizing famous and important historical figures. One of the most moving features are the pellets on the exterior walls that mark the bullet holes from the 1956 revolution, when citizens rose up in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow their oppressive and unelected Communist government.

Hungarian Parliament Building (StreetView)
Hungarian Parliament Building

These are just a few of the many fascinating capitol buildings throughout the world, and they highlight the unique culture and history of each country they represent. If you’re ever in a capital city, you should certainly seek out their capitol building to learn more about the country and appreciate it’s government.


Amazing Lighthouses Shining around the World

You may not know it, but August 7 is National Lighthouse Day in the United States. So, let’s take a look at some of the brightest, boldest, and most unique lighthouses from around the world.

Cape Hatteras Light, Cape Hatteras, NC

The Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina is a group of barrier islands in the Atlantic Ocean. As ships come up the North Carolina coast, they can run into powerful swells and storms near Cape Hatteras. The shifting sandbars led to the area earning the ominous nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

One of the oldest lighthouses in the US, the original Cape Hatteras Light was built in 1802, but was quickly recognized as insufficient for the needs of the area. The current structure, which is the tallest lighthouse structure in the US and second-tallest in the world, is widely recognized by its bold black and white diagonal stripes.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (Birds Eye)
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Hook Lighthouse, County Wexford, Ireland

Also given a bold black and white paint job, which helps sailors identify the landmark structure during the day, the Hook Lighthouse on the other side of the Atlantic, is famous for being the second oldest operating lighthouse in the world! The existing tower has stood 850 years, while other lighthouses were installed on the same location as far back as 400 AD.

The lighthouse warns sailors of the dangerous rocks of the peninsula, especially during the regular and sudden fogs that strike the outcropping. Originally, guns were fired to warn of the shoals during foggy periods, but now, technology allows sailors to guide their ships safely even when visibility is low.

Hook Lighthouse (StreetView)
Hook Lighthouse

Chania Lighthouse, Crete, Greece

The Chania Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses, originally built by the Venetians back when the city-state controlled much of the Mediterranean. While the lighthouse was destroyed centuries ago, the base remained. In the 1860s, a new lighthouse was built on the existing base. It is considered one of the most beautiful lighthouses, especially when viewed at night.

The 85 foot high stone minaret is lit up at night, creating a warm, romantic glow that fills the sky. The glow serves as an additional visual marker in addition to the light at the top, which can be seen for nearly ten miles.

Chania Lighthouse (Birds Eye)
Chania Lighthouse

Cape Espichel Lighthouse, Castelo, Portugal

Another old European beauty, the Cape Espichel Lighthouse was originally built by an order of monks who built a community to honor an image of the Virgin Mary, which was found on the rocky site. As pilgrims came to see the holy relic and worship, the monks recognized the need for a lighthouse to ensure the safety of the travelers. The area was known as the “Black Coast” because it was so dark and difficult to navigate.

With a low, wide building at the base, the lighthouse reaches up more than 100 feet into the air, with thick walls making a hexagonal tower. It is painted white, with a beautiful traditional red clay roof. Guests are able to tour the lovely structure at least once a week.

Cape Espichel Lighthouse (StreetView)
Cape Espichel Lighthouse

Portland Head Lighthouse, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

The Portland Head Lighthouse was one of the first lighthouses funded by the new American government, and details about construction and management were overseen by none other than George Washington! The lighthouse guides ships into the Portland Harbor, one of the most important shipping lanes in the Northeast.

The height of the structure had to be enhanced a few times, as builders realized that it needed to be much taller to be visible to sailors. It was originally lit with whale oil, but is now illuminated by electrical power. Like other areas on the north Atlantic, fog often covers the area, so the lighthouse also has fog signals to keep people safe under all weather conditions.

Portland Head Lighthouse (Birds Eye)
Portland Head Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse, Silver Bay, MN

Not all lighthouses protect sailors on the open ocean. Some lighthouses are built along dangerous rivers or large lakes, like the Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

In addition to serving a unique purpose, the lighthouse is considered one of the more beautiful lighthouse structures in the US. Positioned at the top of a high cliff, the beautiful brick lighthouse is a striking image against the water and sky.

While the lighthouse is no longer in use, it has been turned into a state park, and visitors and campers can take in the picturesque views all year round.

Split Rock Lighthouse (StreetView)
Split Rock Lighthouse

These are just a few beautiful and historical lighthouses around the world that keep people safe from dangerous waves, dense fog, and rocky shoals.

Best Beaches in the World

It’s July and if you’re not at the beach, you probably want to be. So, let’s take a look at some of the most amazing beaches in the world, and at least for a moment, pretend to be in paradise.

Grand Baie, Mauritius

Grand Baie on the northern side of the small island country of Mauritius, is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The white sand, peaceful beaches, and perfect climate make it a top destination. And there are wonderful hotels, villas, and resorts that cater to every level of guest. It has an active nightlife, wonderful art and shopping scene, and overall wonderful atmosphere for whoever is lucky enough to visit this tiny paradise off the coast of Africa.

Grand Baie (Google Maps)
Grand Baie

Rasdhoo, Maldives

The Maldives are made up of more than 1,000 small islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of India and Sri Lanka. Most of the islands are uninhabited, but about 200, including Rasdhoo, have been settled. The remote island relishes its reputation as being removed from the hustle of the world, instead focusing on the natural beauty of the island.

Because it is part of an atoll, the water is calm and a beautiful emerald green color that one will never forget. The friendly and helpful demeanor of the local residents will make this visit one to remember for a lifetime!

Rasdhoo (StreetView)

Marigot Bay, St. Lucia

Marigot Bay in St. Lucia seems like a hidden gem, tucked in between steep, tree-covered hills. Described by author James Michener as “the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean”, the bay is a must-see for anyone considering a beach vacation. White sandy beaches surrounded by lush hills, with a serene bay protected from the waves, it is a perfect place to visit.

The island may have been visited by Columbus, but it was inhabited long before Europeans came to the island. The island nation has much to offer visitors these days, including an amazing volcano where you can actually drive within a few hundred feet of the lava flow, zip lining, SCUBA diving, rain forest excursions, and more.

Marigot Bay (StreetView)
Marigot Bay

Railay Beach, Thailand

Like Marigot Bay, Railay Beach in Thailand is surrounded by mountainous cliffs. The mountains actually separate the island from the peninsula from the mainland, and provide an amazing vista for beachgoers. In fact, because of the high cliffs, visitors can only reach the secluded beach via boat. The cliffs also provide the most amazing natural cover for swimmers, who can swim into caves carved into the limestone.

The separated beach actually has a developed tourist industry, with shopping, dining, and even resort options. On one side of the beach, you can have a rustic experience complete with hiking, and on the other, fine dining, resort hotels, and shopping. This place has it all.

Railay Beach (StreetView)
Railay Beach

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye is the largest island on Belize, and one of the most beautiful oceansides in the world. The blue ocean turns a bold teal as it gets closer to land. The beaches are a tropical paradise, the local culture is fun to experience, and the water activities are endless. Sunbathing, sailing, and swimming can keep you busy for days.

The Belize Barrier Reef, one of the longest reefs in the world, is just off the coast, and it is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving. Also off the coast is the Great Blue Hole, a sinkhole about 400 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide. The unique feature, listed as one of the ten most amazing places on earth, is a bucket-list destination for skilled divers.

Ambergris Caye (largest island in Belize) (Google Maps)
Ambergris Caye (largest island in Belize)

Whitehaven Beach, Australia

Whitehaven Beach is regularly named the best beach in the world, and it’s no surprise why.  Named after a town in England, Whitehaven is the perfect moniker for the beach, with its unique, soft, silica sand. Bright white, the sand retains no heat from the sun and is cool under foot on even the hottest of days.

It’s not just the sand that makes this beach one of the best in the world. It’s off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef, which has some of the best diving in the world. It’s also one of the most eco-friendly beaches, and has a great reputation for being clean, free from even tobacco pollution, as smoking is not allowed.

Whitehaven Beach (StreetView)
Whitehaven Beach

If you aren’t able to visit these beaches in person, you can simply imagine an oceanside paradise. Just close your eyes, imagine the warm sun, and listen to the sound of the waves washing up on shore.

Deep Dive In History: Storming the Bastille

The United States had the Boston Tea Party to kick off their Revolution, and France had the storming of the Bastille. On July 14, 1789, angry citizens stormed the Bastille to free prisoners and take over the weapons cache at the prison. Now known as France’s national holiday, Bastille Day is celebrated across the country with a large military parade, fireworks, and local gatherings. Let’s take a look back at the events leading up to the storming of the prison, and some great places to celebrate the holiday.

Place de la Bastille, Paris, France

The Place de la Bastille is a square in Paris where the Bastille prison once stood. The prison was built in the 1300s as a fortress, and then turned into a prison and military depot.

When the Bastille was stormed by around 1,000 angry civilians, it was largely unused and had seven prisoners, but it was a symbol of the monarchy and the military force used to keep the current regime in place. It was also the location of a huge cache of gunpowder, which was seized that day.

After the storming of the Bastille, the prison was destroyed, and finally demolished in the 1830s.

Place de la Bastille (Google Maps)
Place de la Bastille

A few stones of the original prison were discovered in 1899. They were moved to a nearby park, where they are on display at Square Henri-Galli.

Remains of the Bastille in Square Galli (Google Maps)
Remains of the Bastille in Square Galli

Palais-Royal, Paris, France

In the summer of July, 1789, the National Assembly met to work out contentious economic and political issues. The Palais-Royal, home to the royal prince Phillipe, Duke of Orleans, became a central location for protests and pro-revolutionary gatherings in the days leading up to the storming. The duke, cousin to King Louis VXI, supported the revolution and a change in government.

The venue was more than a residence, it was also a commercial and social hub, with shopping plazas, theaters, and cafes. Today, the expansive buildings are home to government agencies.

Palais Royal (Google Maps)
Palais Royal

Hotel des Invalides, Paris, France

After being riled up for days, nearly 50,000 men protested and raided throughout Paris. A militia formed and raided the Hotel des Invalides, taking guns and cannon to be used against the military that King Louis XVI was gathering in the city. However, the storehouse had no gunpowder, so leaders led the crowd along to the Bastille.

In 1840, Napoleon’s tomb was placed under the great dome in an elaborate ceremony. Today, it is a popular tourist location for people who want to see the final resting place of the man who nearly conquered all of Europe.

Cannons at the Hotel des Invalides (Google Maps)
Cannons at the Hotel des Invalides

Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France

Upon hearing of the successful attack on the Bastille, the King decided to return to Paris from Versailles, the home to kings of France since the days of Louis XIV. It was reported that the king asked if the events were a revolt, and was told “it was a revolution”. History tells us this event was indeed the turning point of France rejecting the monarchy and moving toward a more democratic form of government.

Versailles, with all its ornamentation and excess, represented all that the poor working people of Paris resented and fought against. When Louis XVI returned to Paris, he was quickly placed under the watch and control of the National Assembly, and he would kept as a sort of prisoner until he was executed.

Palace of Versailles (Birds Eye)
Palace of Versailles

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

One national celebration of Bastille Day hearkens back to the militia marching through the city. Annually on July 14, there’s a large military parade along the Champs-Elysees, a main thoroughfare in the capital city. The parade starts at the Arc de Triomphe, the large arch that honors fallen soldiers from the French Revolution as well as the Napoleonic Wars.

About 70 planes, 25 helicopters, as well as regiments on horse and foot, will participate in the hour-long parade this year. It ends at the Place de la Concord at the other end of the Champs-Elysees. Once called the Place de la Revolution, it was the site of many executions during the Revolution, including the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.

Arc de Triumphe (StreetView)
Arc de Triumphe

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

In the evening, the Eiffel Tower is center stage for an impressive fireworks display. Fireworks are lit behind the structure, illuminating it and providing for an amazing backdrop for the national celebration.

The Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889, to serve as a centerpiece for the World Fair that year. The 330 meter tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, and is a key symbol of France.

Eiffel Tower (Birds Eye)
Eiffel Tower

Champs de Mars, Paris, France

Viewers gather along the Champs de Mars for the best views, which holds particular meaning for French independence, as it was where the first federal independence event was celebrated, on July 14, 1790. It was also the site of a massacre by soldiers of republican protesters, as well as a central place for beheadings during the revolution itself.

Champs-de-Mars (Google Maps)

Fireworks and dancing take place across the country all evening as the country gathers to celebrate the founding principles of the republic: liberty, fraternity, and equality.






June’s Deep Dive into History: Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a minor aristocrat who rose to power after the French Revolution. He was crowned Emperor of the French on December 2, 1804. He then nearly succeeded in conquering most of Europe. But on June 18, 1815, Napoleon’s luck turned one last time, and he was defeated at Waterloo. He was banished (for a second time) to Saint Helena, where he died at age 51.

On the anniversary of Napoleon’s greatest defeat, let’s look back at the life of one of the world’s greatest historical figures.

Birthplace in Ajaccio, Corsica

Napoleon was born on August 15, 1769, into a large family of minor nobility. His family lived in the ancestral family home, which had been in the family since 1682.

The home was eventually donated to the French government, and in 1962, it was turned into a national museum. It’s now one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions.

In order to move up in society, Napoleon’s family enrolled him in French military school when he was nine years old, and he only returned to his home island a few times after his youth.

Maison Bonaparte (StreetView)
Maison Bonaparte

Campaign in Egypt and Syria

Napoleon demonstrated his military genius early. At the age of 27, he was promoted to major general and given control of an entire army. Then, he began planning a campaign in Egypt and Syria, to prepare France to invade Great Britain.

Napoleon’s troops fought many battles in the Middle East and North Africa, and had some major successes. The Battle of the Pyramids, where French troops scored a decisive victory, led to Napoleon seizing Cairo and taking over rule of Egypt.

Great Pyramid of Giza (StreetView)
Great Pyramid of Giza

Chateau Malmaison, Paris, France

When Napoleon returned to Paris, he took up residence at the Chateau Malmaison, a large estate just outside the city. His wife Josephine had purchased it for 300,000 francs, and spent more money restoring the home.

Josephine lived here after her divorce from Napoleon, until she passed away in 1814. Napoleon took up a brief residence there before he was exiled. Later, the house was abandoned, ransacked, and partly destroyed. In the 20th century, it was restored and is now an important historical site.

It was while living here that Napoleon seized power and made himself leader of France. Within a few short years he went from being a temporary leader to an all-powerful emperor. After years of chaos and turmoil, the people of France largely welcomed Napoleon and the stability he promised.

Malmaison castle (Google Maps)
Malmaison castle

Crowned Emperor at Notre Dame, Paris, France

Notre Dame has long been the religious center of Paris, but it was not the where the Kings of France were crowned. This event usually took place in the Cathedral of Saint Denis, just outside the city. However, Napoleon chose to be crowned emperor in Notre Dame.

Pope Pius VII participated in the coronation ceremony, but unusually, he gave the crown to Napoleon, who crowned himself. This sent a clear message: Napoleon was not controlled by the Catholic church.

Notre Dame took nearly 200 years to build, and was finished in 1345. In 2019, the roof caught fire and caused an international outpouring of grief and sympathy. The cathedral is still open, but with limited areas open to the public.

Notre Dame de Paris (Google Maps)
Notre Dame de Paris

Place Vendome Column, Paris, France

Part of what the French people, and people even today, loved about Napoleon was his aggressive and successful military campaigns that brought pride and victory to the people of France after years of internal turmoil and international struggle.

He defeated combined armies of the Great Britain, the Prussian Empire, and the Russian Empire at the Battle of Austerlitz, in modern day Czech Republic. He had a monument erected in honor of the victory in a plaza named for the battle. The column was destroyed by revolutionaries in 1871, but later reconstructed, and is still on display in the plaza.

Place Vendôme Column (StreetView)
Place Vendôme Column

Home on Elba

After Napoleon tried to conquer all of Europe, Europe fought back, and the combined forces conquered France and forced the now-former emperor to exile on Elba, an island off the coast of Italy. He had two homes, including this home in Portoferraio. It is now a museum where people can learn about Napoleon, his reign, and his improbable escape from Elba after less than a year in exile.

Napoleon Bonaparte's home (former) (StreetView)
Napoleon Bonaparte's home (former)

Route Napoleon, France

Napoleon refused to remain away from power, and from France. After a short time on Elba, he broke free and seized power over France, declaring himself emperor once again.

There are now markers and paths along the route Napoleon took along the French Riviera. It starts in Golfe-Juan, where Napoleon landed and began his fateful campaign that ended just a few months later at Waterloo.

Route Napoleon, Prairie de la Rencontre (StreetView)
Route Napoleon, Prairie de la Rencontre

Waterloo, Belgium

Immediately after taking power in France, the forces of Europe and England rallied to oppose Napoleon, knowing that the militaristic emperor would not stop until he was king of all Europe, or removed permanently.

Napoleon and his troops faced forces from a dozen countries on a field outside Waterloo in present-day Belgium. On Sunday, June 18, forces began fighting. The British Duke of Wellington repelled the French forces all day, and with help from the Prussians, defeated Napoleon.

Today, the site is preserved, with a large man-made mound with stairs and a giant lion statue on top. Tourists can pay a small fee to climb the 226 steps up the mound and get a good look at the entire vista, literally a place where the fate of the world hung in the balance one fateful day.

Lion hill of Waterloo (Google Maps)
Lion hill of Waterloo

Residence on St. Helena

Once again, Napoleon was banished. This time, however, he was banished to an island 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa, closer to South America than to France! The tiny island is a protectorate of the United Kingdom, and it was here Napoleon lived out his last days, in a large home built specifically for him.

While the out of the way island has few tourists, this and other locations related to Napoleon are available to the public.

Longwood House (Google Maps)
Longwood House

Les Invalides, Paris

In downtown Paris, Les Invalides was founded as a hospital for veterans and others, and Napoleon added crypts for famous military leaders. After his death in 1821, Napoleon was interred at Les Invalides in a giant sarcophagus.

Les Invalides (Google Maps)
Les Invalides

In spite of, or perhaps because of, his attempt to conquer all of Europe and Russia, Napoleon remains a larger than life hero in France.


The Best Zoos in the World and around the Corner

June is known as the Great Outdoors Month. It’s the perfect time to have fun doing things outside, and going to a local zoo is one of the easiest, and most entertaining things to do. Nearly every town or city has a zoo, large or small, where people can check out cool animals and have a great time with friends and family. Here are some of the world’s best, and most popular zoos.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria

Operating since 1752, the Tiergarten Zoo within the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, is known as the longest-continually operating zoo in the world. In addition to the wide variety of animals from pandas to polar bears and penguins, it has a center for popular and endangered farm animals, highlighting the agricultural way of life so central to Austrian heritage.

Beyond the amazing wildlife, it is a beautiful zoo designed with landscapes and vistas that rival the animals in the enclosures.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Vienna Zoo) (Google Maps)
Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Vienna Zoo)

San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California

The San Diego Zoo constantly makes, or tops, lists of the best zoos in the world. It was a leading institution in open-air enclosures, modeling a more natural and healthy way to allow animals to live and thrive in captivity. The exhibits are divided by region, making it educational and more realistic for visitors. The huge zoo has a Skyfari Tram to make getting around easier.

The zoo focuses on breeding endangered animals, including koalas, pandas, Sumatran rhinos, and more. The zoo is also famous for being the site where Jawed Karim filmed the first video ever uploaded to YouTube, fundamentally altering social media and information sharing.

San Diego Zoo (Birds Eye)
San Diego Zoo

National Zoo, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is part of the Smithsonian Institution, and is a rare zoo in that is is free to visitors. The zoo has a reputation for helping endangered animals, and has successfully bred giant pandas several times.

The zoo has several fun activities for guests throughout the year, including Boo at the Zoo, Zoolights around the winter holidays, and Easter Monday, which was an Easter egg event created to counter segregated Easter egg rolls in the first half of the 1900s.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park main entrance (StreetView)
Smithsonian National Zoological Park main entrance

Singapore Zoo, Singapore

Relatively smaller compared to other zoos, the Singapore Zoo on the small island nation of Singapore, is nonetheless known as one of the best zoos in the world. It’s a newer zoo, and was designed in the more animal-friendly style of open, natural enclosures that allow the wildlife to enjoy a better quality of life.

The zoo uses moats, glass walls, trenches and other “hidden barriers” to create a more attractive experience for visitors and a better environment for animals.

Singapore Zoo (Google Maps)
Singapore Zoo

Bronx Zoo, New York, New York

One of the biggest and most visited zoos in the US is the Bronx Zoo.  The zoo was designed with stunning Beaux-Arts structures and ironwork. It is a stunning place to visit, in the heart of the biggest city in the US.

Since its inception in 1899, it has focused on animal conservation. Recently, the zoo helped breed three Chinese alligators, which were released into the wild. The zoo has also worked with endangered rhinos, flamingos, monkeys, and other animals that have been adversely impacted by humans.

Bronx Zoo (StreetView)
Bronx Zoo

Berlin Zoological Garden, Berlin, Germany

Berlin’s premier zoo has been around for close to 200 years. It has one of the most well-developed and varied collection of animals, and is said to have the most species and animals of any other major zoo.

It is one of the most-visited zoos in the world. The zoo focuses on breeding European animals, protecting species from extinction, and working to reintroduce animals to local habitats.

In 2005, the zoo gained international attention when a polar bear was born at the zoo and rejected by his mother. He was raised by zookeepers, and became an international celebrity. Sadly, he passed away in 2011 after drowning in the enclosure while suffering from a brain disease.

Berlin Zoo (entrance) (Birds Eye)
Berlin Zoo (entrance)

Beijing Zoo, Beijing, China

The Beijing Zoo was built on old dynastic grounds, and is the oldest zoo in China. It exhibits on Chinese and Asian wildlife. Giant pandas, red pandas, Chinese tigers and Chinese alligators are some of the rare and endangered species housed at the zoo.

The zoo has a beautiful design, modeled after Chinese gardens with natural growth, ponds and pools, and delicate structures. More than four million visitors walk through the distinctive front gate each year to see the land and marine life, as well as the flora and fauna on display at the Beijing Zoo.

Berlin Zoo (entrance) (Birds Eye)
Berlin Zoo (entrance)

Henry Doorley Zoo, Omaha, Nebraska

It may be a surprise, but the Henry Doorley Zoo in Omaha tops most lists for biggest and best zoo in the world. The city of barely 500,000 is regarded for the zoo, which has a stellar reputation for conservation, education, and research.

It has one of the world’s largest indoor rain forests, the world’s largest swamp and the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit. Just a few years ago, a renowned African grasslands exhibit opened to house several elephants that had been evacuated from southern Africa during an extensive drought. This is just one of many ways the zoo has developed an international reputation for conservation and safe-keeping of all sorts of animals.

Henry Doorly Zoo (Birds Eye)
Henry Doorly Zoo

From around the world to around the corner, these are some amazing zoos! Go check out your local zoo and enjoy nature, wildlife, and just being outside.