Wednesday, August 13, 2014


    Each July, tens of thousands of spectators line the banks adjacent to the Stari Most, the Old Bridge that crosses Bosnia-Herzegovina’s beautiful Neretva River in the city of Mostar. Undeterred by the Balkan sun, onlookers keep their eyes locked on the apex of the single-arch bridge where, one by one, divers enter the water in a spectacle of machismo and local tradition as they vie for title in the world’s longest-running high diving competition: the Ikari.
   As one of the oldest venues for extreme sporting events, the Stari Most has been the place to go for male rites of passage since it was first built back in 1566. Set in the Ottoman Empire’s regional capital, the Old Bridge connected the Neretva River’s two banks at its narrowest point, a strategic location that marked the centre of the city’s earliest development. The name Mostar comes from the “mostari,” or bridge-keepers who held watch over the structure from the Halebinovka Tower on the west bank, and the Tara on the east. In a city dotted by minarets and spires, and inhabited by Croat and Bosnian ethnic communities, Stari Most grew to symbolize the peace and unity of cosmopolitan Mostar—a physical structure that also bridged cultural divides.

   Much of the Old Bridge’s charm also lies in its tradition of bridge jumping. Crossing the Neretva gorge at a height of 21 metres, over twice that of a high board diving competition, the Stari Most has long offered men the chance to prove their pluck by diving from its highest point into the teal-blue waters below. In Mostar, so the saying goes, as soon as you learn how to walk, you learn how to dive. It’s a rite of passage that makes heroes of men, and many take their first leaps during the annual Ikari competition in which up to seventy-odd participants can choose to make their descents either feet or head first. It’s no surprise then, that many of the world’s high diving champions got their start at Stari Most. Zvezdan Grozdic, the international cliff-diver

who has proved his mettle on the elite World Cup circuit, took his first plummets in Mostar back in the late 1990s. Although Grozdic now jumps from staggering heights off cliffs worldwide, it’s not easy to out-jump local legend Emir Balic, an Ikari veteran who by the age of seventy (in 2004) had taken the plunge over 1,000 times—the first when he was the boyishly tender age of fifteen.
   For someone like Balic, and the countless others devastated by the Bosnian War (1992-1995), the intentional destruction of the Stari Most on 9 November 1993 by heavy shelling, embodied the worst of the civil war for most Bosnians. As the stones of Stari Most tumbled into the Neretva River, the country witnessed the decimation of a globally-recognized symbol of multiculturalism and unity. With resounding

condemnation of what has since been called a war crime, the international community coalesced to support the reconstruction of Stari Most; and on 23 July 2004, the Old Bridge reopened in a celebration of renewed peace and partnership. After a decade of rebuilding, the ceremony was perhaps most touching when nine Mostar divers leapt into the Neretva River with torches in hand.
   Returning after a 438-year-old run, the reinstitution of the Mostar Bridge Jump and Ikari is a sure sign that the Stari Most retains a strong significance for Mostar as a symbol of reconciliation and courage.

When to Go to Mostar Bridge Dive

   If your aim is to take in the Ikari bridge jump, plan on being in Mostar the last week of July. The exact dates change each year, but the local diving club, the Mostarski Ikari, announce the final dates ahead of time.  A call to the Mostar tourism board or a visit to their website in the month previous will provide you with the specific dates and times.
   Even if you can’t make it to Mostar in July, bridge jumpers continue to dive on a seasonal basis throughout the warmer months. Enjoy an ice cream atop the Old Bridge and wait for the divers to make their appearance. A good time to stake your dive-viewing location is usually in the afternoon to early evening.


   The Guelaguetza, or Los lunes del cerro (Mondays of the Hill) is an annual cultural celebration in Mexico that takes place in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca and nearby villages. The celebration includes parades complete with walking bands and the marketing of food, statewide artisanal production, and souvenirs, but centers on traditional dancing in costume in groups, often groups of only one sex. Each costume and dance usually has a local historical and cultural meaning. Although the celebration is an important tourist attraction, especially in the capital city of Oaxaca, it also retains significant independent cultural importance for the people of the state.

Oaxaca has a large indigenous population, 40 percent, compared to 15 percent for Mexico as a whole. Indigenous culture in the state remains strong in its own right, with over 300,000 people in the state who are monolingual in indigenous languages. Unlike the Yucatán, where the indigenous culture consists of closely related groups of Mayans, the indigenous people in Oaxaca are from many different cultures speaking mutually unintelligible languages. The celebration dates back to before the arrival of the Spanish

and remains a defining characteristic of Oaxacan culture.   Its origins come from celebrations related to the worship of corn.  Communities from within the state of Oaxaca gather to present their regional culture in the form of music, costumes, dances, and food. It is the most famous event of its kind in Mexico.
   Like many indigenous traditions in Mexico, this festival was adapted to Catholic traditions after the conquest. The sacrifice of a virgin slave girl was eliminated, and the Guelaguetza became a celebration in honor of the Virgin del Carmen. After a terrible earthquake in the 1920s that destroyed most of the city, the festival was re-organized as a statewide cultural event to rebuild the morale of the people.  It began to take on a

more modern form as a display of each region's unique dance, and became more of a show than a spontaneous festival. In the 1970s a stadium dedicated to the festival was built on a prominent place on Fortin Hill in the center of the city. Foreign and national tourism became increasingly popular when Oaxaca became a UNESCO world heritage city in 1987 and when a modern limited access highway was built into the city in November 1994. Before the highway, transportation was so slow that it was virtually impossible to go to Oaxaca from Mexico City for a weekend trip.

   The celebration takes place on consecutive Mondays at the end of July in towns around the state and in the capital city's open-air amphitheater built into the "Cerro del Fortín", a hill that overlooks central Oaxaca. In 2010 this tradition will be changed as the venue will instead be the soccer stadium. The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and is usually interpreted as the "reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services". The literal translation from Teotitlan del Valle is 'Tortilla de Milpa Zapoteca' or the tortilla from the Zapotec farm.

Dates celebrated
   Each year the Guelaguetza is celebrated on the two Mondays immediately following July 16, except when the first Monday falls on July 18, the day on which Benito Juárez died. Out of respect for Oaxaca's most famous son, the celebrations are postponed for one week, falling on July 25 and August 1 (as occurred in 2005).   However, side events associated with the festival,such as concerts, are held all during the month of July.


   As the festival became a bigger tourist attraction, there was an inevitable backlash from purists that saw the ancient traditions being used for commercial purposes. There is a subgroup that vocally pushes for a populist Guelaguetza, or a return to the more spontaneous celebrations of the pre-Columbian era. The 2005 decision to conduct two performances a day for each of the two Mondays, was perceived by many traditionalists as a blatant attempt accommodate more ticket purchasing tourists.

   The commercialization of indigenous culture is hardly unique to Oaxaca. The Hawaiian luau and hula dances and the Flamenco dances in southern Spain are other prime examples. In Oaxaca, where there is conflict between some groups and the state, the festival can become a focal point of contention.

   Due to protests against the state government led by the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, which were met with State Violence, the State-Sponsored Guelaguetza was not held at the Cerro del Fortín as planned in 2006, but instead a free, "Popular Guelaguetza" was held by APPO. The 2007 celebration was boycotted by APPO, and attempts to hold a Popular Guelaguetza were thwarted by government police repression, including the killing of at least one attendee and disappearance of many others


  Ancient or just simply old castles are some of the most interesting man-made places on Earth.  They are often grand structures that are rich in history, but sometimes their history is dark and violent.  This causes some people to look at these great historical sites in a different light.  You can almost guarantee that if a person has been tortured, killed, or died of old age in a castle, that someone will claim it is haunted.
   European castles have been the home to ruling monarchs, both bad and good.  They have seen the hardship, pain, tragedy and triumph of mankind.  They have also served as prisons and torture chambers and in some instances, even tombs.
   Many believe this is why castles are so closely associated with ghosts and haunting's.  With so much agony being born within, it makes sense that some of that might permeate into the very structure itself. 

Tower of London

  Perhaps no castle known to man holds the possibility of ghostly apparitions than that of the Tower of London.  It was there that many of Henry VIII's wives awaited their execution along with the likes of Sir Thomas More.  Many of England's most famous figures-Princes Elizabeth, Sir Thomas Beckett, Sir Walter Raleigh and Guy Fawkes-were imprisoned there.
   Prisoners were tortured relentlessly, beaten, stretched and nearly drowned.  Others were eventually beheaded, drawn and quartered, hung or impaled.
   The figure of Anne Boleyn is but one of the many tower inhabitants that supposedly resurfaces to make her presence known from time to time.  But she is not alone.  Others that suffered the king's wrath such as the Countess of Salisbury also linger re-enacting with precise accuracy the events that led up to their deaths.
   These ghostly apparitions have even been caught on film.  In 2003, a photographer commissioned to do a photo shoot there, reported many different incidents.  While some refused to believe him, he proved his claims with oddly blank pictures; pictures of apparitions and one of an eerie ball of light.

Windsor Castle

  Windsor Castle has been home to many rulers and still is.  Three of these rulers may still be heard and see in the castle.  The infamously cruel ruler, King Henry VIII can supposedly be heard walking about and groaning.  How people know it is he by his footsteps and groans is anyone's guess.  King Charles I was beheaded before his death.  Apparently some ghosts are given back their heads after their death because Charles has been seen with his in the library and in the canon's house at Windsor Castle.

Glamis Castle

   Glamis Castle is supposedly haunted by two ghosts.  One of these ghosts is that of the Second Lord of Glamis or the "Wicked Lord".  He is said to have been a heavy drinker, a gambler and a violent guy.  Legend has it that one night he was without a gambling opponent and so he sought to gamble with none other than the Devil.  He supposedly got his wish and was predictably relieved of his soul.  Makes you wonder why the Devil let his soul wander around a castle.
   The other ghost that haunts Glamis Castle is that of the wife of the Sixth Lord of Glamis.  She was found guilty of witchcraft and conspiracy to kill the king and was subsequently executed in 1537.  She probably wasn't really a witch.

Trifels Castle

  Germany's Trifels Castle causes many visitors to wonder if its most famous resident, Richard the Lionheart, left a piece of himself there during his imprisonment following the crusades.  While there is no proof the castle is actually haunted, many people have reported discomfort or tenseness while inside the structure. 

Eltz Castle

  Eltz Castle in Germany supposedly houses the ghosts of medieval knights.  Some say that Mad Ludwig still haunts his German castles. 

Ballygally Castle

 In Ballygally Castle, it is said that Lady Isobel Shaw remains behind to torment the structure's annual visitors. 

Kinnitty Castle

  Kinnitty Castle in County Kildare is believed to carry the spirits of dead Druids who refuse to leave the only home they knew.

Leap Castle

  Leap Castle was home of the O'Carroll Clan, it was the battle for power among the patriarch's two sons that eventually led to the castle's outrageous history.  One day, while mass was being said in the castle chapel, one of the brothers rushed in and slew the other while he worshipped at the altar.  After that, the Bloody Chapel was born and became home to more than 400 years of tragedy.
   In the 1800's renovation of the castle uncovered something of which no one was previously aware.  Hidden behind the altar of worship was a hidden room with a trap door.  When construction workers opened the door they discovered it fell several feet to a bed of spikes.
   It seems that the O'Carrolls used the room to rid themselves of their enemies or anyone else who angered them.  Most people died upon impact.  Those who did not; however, eventually died of blood loss or starvation.  Three carts of bones were removed from the room. 

Charleville Castle

Charleville  Castle is located in Northern Ireland and it has been verified that paranormal activity has taken place in the early morning hours.  It has been said that the ghost of the former owner haunts the grounds every night.  In addition, the ghost of a little girl who fell to her death from a high staircase.  The girl is said to be about 6 years old and walks the corridors crying and asking for help.

Ardgillan Castle

  Ardgillan Castle is located 20 miles north of Dublin on the coast between Balbriggan and Skerries.  The castle was built in 1737 and Robert Taylor was the original owner.  A woman dressed in white is said to haunt the library and maids quarters.  The woman doesn't speak but seems to wander about as if she is looking for something.

Killua Castle

Killua Castle Clonmellon is located in Northern Ireland. The castle is said to be haunted by Jacky Dalton, a land steward from the 18th century who swindled his master out of money, silver and gold coins.  Dalton was eventually put to death for his crime of theft in the 18th century.  It is believed that Dalton's restless spirit haunts the property.  In addition, voices have been heard and doors appear to open and close by themselves.

Clonony Castle

  Clonony Castle is located on Shannon Harbor and was built i the 16th century.  A man has been seen in a hazy light standing at the top of the tower dressed in peasant type clothing.  Locals are not sure as to why a spirit seems to be making its presence known.  No story really exists concerning any tragic events taking place at this location.

Edinburgh Castle

   Edinburgh Castle also fails to escape its bloody history.  An unusual amount of violent deaths took place there over the centuries, leading some to believe the castle could never be free of its ghostly visitors.  Others believe it goes back to the fact that the castle was built on top of a once active volcano that claimed the lives of thousands of people.  Still others say it has to do with the plague known as the Black Death, which claimed untold lives.
   Rather than remove the bodies, new structures were simply built on top of them; a new city covering the old but unable to erase its horrendous past.  Uncovered in the early 90's, the subterranean city is believed to be home of hundreds of apparitions who simply cannot rest.