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Virtual Tour of the Winchester Mystery House

Virtual Tour of the Winchester Mystery House

Due to the Covid-19 virus, many famous sites are closed – such as the Winchester Mystery House. But now for a limited time, you can take a video tour that is pretty much the same one an actual visitor gets when they visit.

Take the video tour here

The Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose, California – and has a much storied past. It’s mostly known for it’s sprawling, confusing, and often ghost-rumored history. There was even a recent ghost movie called Winchester.

I’ve taken a tour of the house myself, and found it to be less a den of mystery and ghosts than the somewhat sad reality of a house that was under constant re-construction by a reclusive, eccentric woman that had the very common and superstitious spiritualists beliefs of her era. This combined with decades of self-described ‘ghost hunters’ and mystics with …shall we say inventive…re-interpretation of Sara and her house; rarely based on her actual writings and stories.

In my opinion, the architectural oddities can almost all be attributed the constant additions and renovations – as well as to her health and superstitions. I found the outside of the house much more beautiful than the often spartan and sometimes even unfinished interiors. A number of rooms were simply never fully completed – some even sitting with bare plaster lathing. Shockingly, this is especially true in those rooms in the front of the house damaged during the great San Francisco earthquake. She got trapped in her room when the door was pinched shut and simply boarded up the rooms out of fear of going back in them. They sit today with broken, exposed plaster lathing.

Many oddities are very simply explained as modifications when her failing health required changes – like tearing out steep stairs and replacing them with easier stairs. For example, changing out a simple staircase to a long winding one that had 7 bends and 42 steps. This becomes easy to understand for an older woman that’s 4 feet tall and has arthritis. There is an elevator, but the old technology meant it went terribly slow (a minute or more to go one floor). Today people would put in a ramp or a lift chair.

Sara Winchester was also a spiritualist, a fad popular with many early 1900’s era middle and upper class folks. A spiritualist convinced her to keep building her whole life – which lead to a building that was put together more like a patchwork quilt than any kind of plan. Today, most people call these people charlatans; their tricks were much explored and discredited by people like Harry Houdini himself. With all the resources at her disposal, one wonders what good she could have done helping the living over those decades versus hiding from the ghosts. Her memory might be completely different today – much like the Gates foundation.

The fact she added things on wherever and whenever was convenient explains much of the rest. Anyone that’s seen farm out buildings or software projects built this way can tell you that finding doors into walls, stairs that got cut off and go to the ceilings, or exterior windows that now find themselves turned into interior windows are common in these kinds of hap-hazard constructions. And these oddities are very much the exceptions rather than the rule. The majority of the rooms are well constructed and at least partially complete.

While the house is very empty for tourists today – with only a few rooms with furnishings surviving – when she died, it took 8 truckloads a day for 6 1/2 weeks to empty all the furniture and items from the house. Today, we might call this kind of thing ‘hording’.

While definitely a good tour and worth a visit, I think a lot of the ‘mystery’ is generated from conjecture and quacks as there is very little proof of their claims. The biggest being things like the ‘staircase leading to nowhere’ being designed to confuse spirits. There is nothing in Sara’s writings or stories to suggest that was her goal, and it was only a conjecture by modern ghost hunters. Sadly, I think like many things, you get a lot more press from shock value than actual truth.

What it’s like to go through a 9.0 earthquake AND tsunami

What it’s like to go through a 9.0 earthquake AND tsunami

This video footage has been making the rounds. It shows what a 9.0 earthquake is like, and then after that is done, the resulting tsunami that comes in.

Requisite warnings – nobody is injured/hurt in the footage, but knowledge that thousands died during the event and the violence of the experience mean it might not be for everyone.

Carbidschieten – A Netherlands New Year’s tradition

Carbidschieten – A Netherlands New Year’s tradition

In the Netherlands, New Year’s Eve means partying hard. And partying hard means carbidschietendetonating calcium carbide in a milk churn:

Basically, a small chunk of calcium carbide and a little bit of water is placed in a metal milk churn. The carbide decomposes into acetylene and a flame is held up to a small hole in the milk churn. The resulting explosion sends the lid of the milk churn across a field and much fun is had by all. Just be sure to wear proper ear protection. 🙂

Art Nouveau Villa Majorelle reopens

Art Nouveau Villa Majorelle reopens

I’m a big fan of the dreamy, ethereal feel of art nouveau. I saw a lot of great works in Prague (especially the grand Municipal House that miraculously survived decades of Soviet occupation) done by Alphonse Mucha and became captivated by the style.

While not one of the grandest examples, the Villa Majorelle is an iconic art nouveau building designed by architect Henri Sauvage for the furniture designer Louis Majorelle. Located in Nancy, France, it was designed around 1902. The historic monument recently underwent exterior renovation. Now the interior renovations have just been completed, and looks like they did a great job.

villa majorelle, the iconic home of art nouveau in nancy, reopens its doors after restoration
villa majorelle, the iconic home of art nouveau in nancy, reopens its doors after restoration
villa majorelle, the iconic home of art nouveau in nancy, reopens its doors after restoration

Winter shelters in Oregon

Winter shelters in Oregon

Gold Lake Shelter with deep snow on roof

I was aware and visited the warming hut at Teacup near Mt Hood on several occasions, but little did I know that the Willamette National Forest has winter shelters maintained by volunteers for use by winter sports enthusiasts. Some of the shelters even permit overnight stays; some are warming shelters only. There are also three winter cabin rentals available by advance reservation. How cool is that?

Fuji Shelter with skiers overlooking hill to snow covered mountains in background
Maiden Peak Shelter with deep snow on roof and skiers along side

List of shelters with information, recent condition, and trail links.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/willamette/recreation/wintersports/?cid=stelprdb5109521

Dream jobs to make you leave it all behind – in shrinking villages

Dream jobs to make you leave it all behind – in shrinking villages

Small villages are dying as young people flee to the opportunities of cities has become a problem many European countries. The efforts of these governments to save their villages is starting to create a lot of really interesting opportunities for the adventurous of heart. Check some of these out.

Couple wanted to run Great Basket Island Inn and Coffee Shop

Great Blasket Island Dingle Kerry Ireland

Ireland’s Great Blasket Island, with over 1,100 acres of unspoiled, largely mountainous, terrain, is on the hunt for a couple to run its quaint coffee shop and manage the island’s accommodation for seven months. The job runs from 1st April 2020 – October 2020 with accommodation and food provided. Contact Alice on info@greatblasketisland.net for more information.

The fishing island shrank to about 20 inhabitants, but the government has stepped in and the population is slowly rising. Great Basket is part of a six island archipelago and is only reachable by boat from the surrounding islands.

€1 homes in Italy

Sambuca is a hilltop town on Sicily with views of the Mediterranean. It’s also seen its population decline as people leave for bigger cities. To combat this, houses are being offered for an astounding 1 Euro. The catch? You must commit to refurbishing their 40 to 150 square meter dwelling within 3 years at a cost of at least €15,000 (about $17,200). Update: these offerings became so popular, that the last 16 homes put up were auctioned with the highest going for 25,000 Euros. Only one went for 1 Euro.

This was quickly followed in 2019 by many other announcements. Other dying Italian towns and villages from the northern Alps to Sicily started similar programs. These offerings quickly drew large crowds, reporters, overwhelmed local mayors, and surprised locals.

As of late 2019, Bivona, Gangi, Ollalai, Cammarata, Zungoli, Sambuca, Nulvi, Cantiano, Fabbriche di Vergemoli, Mussomeli had similar programs. Each of these cities has different offerings, rules, and opportunities. Some allow you to reclaim 60% of refurbishment costs in under-developed areas. Others require you commit to having at least 1 child.

Locana had one of the most amazing deals – not only sells you a house for 1 Euro, but was offering $10,000 to move there, and $1000 per child born there by a couple. Nearby Borgomezzavalle is selling abandoned mountain cottages for €1 and offering €1,000 for each newborn and another €2,000 to anyone willing to start a business and register for VAT.

How has it gone for those that did it?

CNN caught up with 4 different buyers and interviewed them. Their responses – positive experiences all around. Most are looking at these properties as vacation homes or retirement locations for later life. They’re all definitely putting a good bit of money into the properties, but the notorious Italian bureaucracy hasn’t been as bad as many expected.

A whole different reality

A whole different reality

It’s one thing to talk about people yachting around the world in a boat they sold everything to buy. I recently ran across offerings that exist on a whole other scale.

Want to rent truly astounding yachts for 10-20 of your best friends? Yachts that come with crews of 10-20 to cater to your every food, bar, and piloting need? Do you have a cool half to million+ dollars for a single week’s rental? Then Morley Yachts is for you.

Go check out their offerings – offerings that only the 1% of the 1% could afford.

Star Wars Kabuki

Star Wars Kabuki

For one-night only, Three Shining Swords took the stage at the Meguro Persimmon Hall in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on November 28 for an unforgettable night of cultural storytelling. A unique adaptation of George Lucas’s 1977 brainchildthis Star Wars kabuki play focused on the franchise’s latest episodes, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and stars one of Japan’s most renowned kabuki actors, Ichikawa Ebizo, as Kylo Ren. 

Skip along to 14:00 to start the fun.