Editorial, featured

HERE BE MONSTERS – A Halloween Tour around the Continent with Europe in a Day!

Source: jensencorp.com

Ah, Halloween… a spookily good fun time of year and also great for travel! After all, the summer crowds have dispersed and you may still be lucky with the weather – perfect time to get exploring!

But as you head off out into the wilds, the villager’s warnings are still ringing in your ears… but those were just stories, right? The sun sinks into the clouds and you’re alone in the dark. Fog creeps through the skeletal figures of bare trees. And although it’s deafeningly silent, you can’t quite shake the feeling that you’re being watched…

As it’s Halloween, here are just some of the stories of monsters, magic and unexplained I’ve encountered, as well as some sightseeing tips from my day trips around Europe too. What goes bump in the night across the continent? What creatures are out there lurking in the dark? Are you brave enough to head off to Europe for the day? Read on and find out!

NOTE: I originally wrote this as an article for Beautifully Travelled in October 2016 – this article is extended with even more monsters!

MODDEY DHOO – ISLE OF MAN

A large shaggy black dog is said to prowl the grounds of Peel Castle after nightfall. Though the Moddey Dhoo seems indifferent to most humans it encounters, one drunken soldier was foolish enough to patrol the castle alone one night and taunt the spectral hound. No one saw what happened, but they heard the screams. The soldier was so terrified by what happened he couldn’t speak and died 3 days later…

Peel Castle – Source: manxnationalheritage.im

Dare you take a stroll through the home of the Moddey Dhoo? Walking along the clifftop paths below the battlements of Peel Castle rewards you with spectacular views over the Irish Sea, while the castle itself is a museum. The sunsets here are beautiful– just remember that once night falls, the Moddey Dhoo goes on the prowl…

THE GOLEM – CZECH REPUBLIC

A creature made from clay and brought to life through ancient Hebrew incantations, the Golem was created by a rabbi to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution. The creature did as it was commanded to for a time, but its immense strength soon became too much to control. It went on a murderous rampage and had to be shattered into pieces by the rabbi that created it…

Old New Synagogue – Source: prague-stay.com

The attic of the 13th century Old New Synagogue in Prague is believed to be where the Golem is kept. Some stories claim that people have ventured up there and have never come out, so perhaps it’s best to admire the building from the outside. Besides, you could easily spend hours wandering the beautiful – and hauntingly gothic – streets of the Czech capital!

KÓPAKONAN – FAROE ISLANDS

Selkies are creatures that can shed their seal skins to look human. A young farmer from Kalsoy once stole a selkie’s skin to force her to stay on land and marry him. Escaping many years later, when the men of the village went on a seal hunt and murdered her children and mate, the enraged Kópakonan cursed the men of the village swearing she would claim so many lives that they would be able to link hands around the entire island…

Kópakonan Statue – Source: heimdaltours.com

Enter the lair of the Kópakonan in the village of Mikladalur. Standing on the beach where her skin was first stolen, the imposing 2.5 metres tall statue of the Seal Woman was erected here in 2014. While the statue itself is formidable, its setting is breathtaking, especially the wild elements often dwarf the monument!

LORELEI – GERMANY

There are many stories connected to the steep slate rock on the banks of the Rhine known as the Lorelei. The mysterious sounds that come from the rock was once believed to be from dwarves living in the caves, while other legends speak of a a bewitching siren who lured sailors to their doom with her captivating voice and beauty. Indeed, the rock has a long history of boating accidents …

Stadtmusikanten – Source: deutschlandfunk.de

For a less deadly look into German folklore, head to Bremen and check out the Bremer Stadtmusikanten. This statue of a donkey, dog, cat and chicken is based on a popular fairy story, but don’t let their playful expressions fool you – this band of animals terrified a gang of robbers and drove them from their hideout.

BANSHEE – IRELAND

If while wandering around Ireland you find a comb on the ground, don’t touch it – a Banshee may have left it there to ensnare you. The cry of the Banshee is said to have slightly different sounds across the Emerald Isle, but it is always seen as an omen of impending death. Though legends say the Banshee cries because she is mourning the departed soul, her shrieking wail is still strikes terror into the hearts of all who hear it…

Custom House, Dublin – Source: blog.dublinpass.com

If you want to tap into the less frightening side of Irish culture, check out the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin. Well over a thousand years old, these manuscripts of the Gospels have been decorated with colourful and stunning Celtic patterns – and not a wailing old hag in sight!

HULDUFÓLK – ICELAND

Never throw stones as you explore Iceland – you might hit one of the Huldufólk. Also known as Hidden Folks or Elves, over third of the Icelandic population believe they are real. Some people have even suggested that the construction of buildings and roads around the country has been halted to not disturb the rocks and lava fields they are said to live in, though others say it’s just media hype…

Hallgrímskirkja – Source: tripadvisor.nl

Although the Huldufólk are said to avoid churches as they dislike crosses, visitors to Reykjavík definitely should head to Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in all Iceland. Towering over the streets of the capital, it offers some spectacular views over the city and surrounding nature and mountains.

WILD MEN – SWEDEN

It seems that Sasquatch doesn’t only stalk the forests of North America, as sightings of large, hairy, almost-human creatures have also been reported from across Scandinavia. People camping in the woods of central Sweden, only a few hours’ drive from Stockholm, have heard noises they can’t explain and two skinny-dippers claim that they were chased from their bathing by ‘something’ that looked like a giant ape…

Öresund Bridge – Source: wikipedia.com

Though you’re unlikely to bump into Bigfoot in hip Malmö, you will spot something else massive towering over the city. Spanning 8km over the Baltic Sea with cable towers that are over 200 metres tall, the Öresund Bridge is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe. But if you think you’ll be safe from the wild men across the bridge in Denmark, you’re wrong – they’ve been spotted there too.

BEAST OF GÉVAUDAN – FRANCE

Something vicious and bloodthirsty stalked the mountains and valleys of 1760s Gévaudan, a province in the south of France. Described by witnesses as a huge russet coloured wolf with gaping jaws, more than 200 attacks were reported and victims were ripped apart and often partially eaten. Hysteria became so much that the King of France sent hunters to kill the beast… though some sources argued there was more than one and a pack of these monsters roamed the wild…

Hôtel d’Assézat – Source: flickr.com

The stories of the Beast of Gévaudan gave rise to the belief Werewolves could be killed with silver bullets. Explore a host of precious items including furniture and artwork in the Bemberg Foundation’s collections at Hôtel d’Assézat in Toulouse – hopefully you won’t have to smelt anything down to make weapons…

ERZSÉBET BÁRTHORY – SLOVAKIA

Some monsters are human. Although the exact number of victims unknown, it’s been argued that Hungarian countess Erzsébet Báthory sadistically tortured and murdered as many as 650 young girls between 1585 and 1609 – earning her the title of the most prolific female serial killer in history. She was also rumoured to bathe in the blood of her victims as she believed it would preserve her beauty, giving rise to the nickname “Blood Countess”…

Blue Church – Source: thousandwonders.net

Although named for another Elisabeth, the Church of St. Elizabeth in Bratislava is more commonly known as the Blue Church and couldn’t be further from the blood red horrors of Erzsébet’s cruelty. The petit Art-Nouveau church has a gorgeous pale blue façade and interiors, making for a much less toe-curling experience in Slovakia!

VAMPIRES – ROMANIA

You just can’t write about monsters without talking about the man who inspired an entire genre of horror. Vlad III was a 15th century Romanian king whose idea of diplomacy was nailing the turbans of foreign ambassadors to their heads. Thanks to his brutal and bloodthirsty torture techniques, he earned to title ‘the Impaler’ and inspired one of the most famous monsters of all time – Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.

Vlad the Impaler – Source: hiveminer.com

While you (hopefully!) won’t find anyone impaled on stakes in Bucharest, Vlad’s legacy is still clearly visible in the Romanian capital. At the heart of Centru Vechi in the labyrinth of narrow streets, you’ll spot a bust of the Impaler keeping a stern eye over the ruins of his one-time residence. Enter the lair of the most famous monster in history… if you dare…

Wherever you are this Halloween, have fun, be safe and enjoy yourself… and whatever you do, remember to be off the road before sundown… *mwahahahahah*

Author: James Scanlan
Banner Image Source: jensencorp.com

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