The Strange History of Halloween

Ever wondered why we carve pumpkins, dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating? Learn the pagan origins of Samhain, when spirits roam the Earth and we can see into the future.

Halloween is the best time to cast divination spells

Halloween: You love it or you hate it.

Our office manager dreads Halloween. She’s religious and sees it as an evil night, when devils and witches and demons and ghouls literally roam the streets.

That, of course, is why many of us love it. It’s a chance to become someone else for a night. To embrace our dark (or sexy) sides.

To the pre-Christian Celts of Western Europe, it was referred to as Samhain (actually pronounced “sow-en”) — a term still used by Wiccans. It’s the one day of the year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.

Halloween has its dark side — but it can also be a time of good luck

That means it’s the ideal opportunity to try to glimpse into the future. Divination spells work best on All Hallow’s E’en.

Young women would try to glimpse their future lover’s face in the mirror on Halloween night

Witchy Ways

If you want to get into the Samhain spirit, try these spells: 

Contact a Deceased Loved One
See a Vision of Your True Love

Witches, black cats and jack-o’-lanterns have become associated with Halloween

But it also means that ghosts and other unpleasant wraiths have the opportunity to invade the world of the living once darkness falls. People felt they had to protect themselves.

How did these origins lead to our traditions of carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, dressing up in costumes and asking for candy with thinly veiled threats of mischief? What’s the history of Halloween, our strangest holiday?

Here’s an infographic I wrote (and the talented Kevin LeVick designed) for a website that’s sadly now defunct. –Wally


21 Vintage Halloween Photos That Are So Creepy They'll Give You Nightmares

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.


They’re like stills from the opening credits of an American Horror Story

Maybe it’s the grainy quality of these black and white photos. Or maybe it’s the handmade roughness of the freaky masks and costumes the kids are wearing. But there’s no denying that these vintage shots of Halloweens past are the stuff of nightmares. 

Scroll through them — if you dare. –Wally

6 Fun Facts About Pablo Picasso

The Cubism pioneer, born in a building off the Plaza de la Merced, didn’t stay long in Malaga, Spain. But that doesn’t stop the city from proudly claiming him as its own.

The Plaza de la Merced in Málaga, Spain, where Picasso was born. This shot was taken from atop the Gibralfaro fortress

Despite the fact that Picasso left Málaga when he was still a boy, his legacy continues to be deeply rooted to the city he was born in. Heck, the rented floor of a building off the Plaza de la Merced where Picasso was born has been designated a heritage site since the early ’80s.

RELATED: A Brief History of Málaga, Spain

Picasso’s fascination with pigeons came from his father, who bred them (A Child With Pigeons, Picasso, 1943)

1. Picasso’s father, José Ruiz Blasco, was an artist in his own right. He bred pigeons, which became one of Picasso’s favorite subjects to paint — and they still rule the plaza square.

Picasso’s relationship with his muse began when she was only 17 years old and he was 45 and living with his wife.

Picasso took his surname from his mother — the tail end of his 23-word name (Mother and Child, 1902)

2. His complete name was a series of the names of saints and relatives and had a whopping 23 words: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. Spanish tradition has children take maternal surnames as well, and Picasso adopted his mother’s, as he felt it better suited him.

Picasso’s iconic Breton stripe shirt was worn by members of the French Navy

3. The iconic Breton stripe shirt he often wore humbly began as the uniform of the French Navy. According to lore from Brittany, the shirt originally included 21 horizontal stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s military victories against the British, a heritage tied to France’s Normandy coast.

The subject of this and many other paintings was Picasso’s number-one muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter (Reclining Woman Reading, 1960)

4. During the course of his career, Picasso changed companions as often as he changed focus and painting styles. He never did marry his greatest model and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Their relationship began when she was only 17 years old and he was 45 and living with his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a former Russian ballerina, with whom he had a 5-year-old son, Paulo.

The Dream, 1932

Some of his most acclaimed works, including The Dream, were inspired by her.

They had a daughter together who was named Maria de la Concepción after his dead sister, Conchita.

Four years after Picasso’s death, Marie-Thérèse was unable to go on living and hanged herself.

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso are credited with creating Cubism

5. Picasso and Georges Braque co-founded the revolutionary art movement of Cubism. The pair were influenced by such things as ancient Iberian sculpture and African masks. Their working relationship lasted until 1914, when Braque enlisted in the French Army at the beginning of World War I.


Chicagoans have grown quite fond of The Picasso — even though it looks like a giant baboon head

6. In 1963, Picasso was commissioned by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to create a unique monumental public sculpture for the Chicago Civic Center (now called Daley Plaza). Refusing payment, he created a maquette (smaller-sized model) for the monument and gifted the full-scale reproduction to the city.

Perhaps because Picasso had not titled the piece, it was left open to ambiguous interpretation. At its unveiling, in the summer of 1967, the 50-foot work was widely criticized and universally disliked. Some critics likened it to the head of a baboon or perhaps the artist’s Afghan dog.

Now known simply as The Picasso, opinions have softened and it has since become an iconic symbol of Chicago. You can now watch kids skateboard and slide up and down the metal base. –Duke

RELATED: El Pimpi: A Famous Málaga Restaurant in the Courtyard of Antonio Banderas’ Building

Victorian Post-Mortem Photography: WTF Were They Thinking?

Memento mori: Victorian death photos were to die for in the mid-1800s.

It sounds utterly creepy, morbid and unthinkable to us now. But during the Victorian era, posing with the corpse of your child or another deceased family member was a way to honor the recently departed.

It was a time when children ran a high risk of dying before the age of 5. “Victorian nurseries were plagued by measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, rubella — all of which could be fatal,” the BBC reports.

Corpses lean back in chairs, tools used to prop up the bodies are hidden as best they can be, children look like they’re only sleeping, open eyes were drawn on later.

A lot of people could only afford to have one family portrait, and the death of a loved one was often what sparked the decision. The rapidly rotting corpse of a child prompted many parents to decide it was time to pull the trigger, so to speak. Time, literally, was of the essence. It was now or never.

Death photography was part of the memento mori trend, from a Latin phrase meaning, “remember you will die.”

Looking through the (creepy) photos, you’ll note some of the tricks the photographers employed, according to ViralNova: Corpses lean back in chairs, tools used to prop up the bodies are hidden as best they can be, children look like they’re only sleeping, open eyes were drawn on later.

Keep in mind that these photos were taken with long exposures. The living tend to fidget a bit, making their portraits a bit blurry sometimes — while the dead person comes out crisp and clear. 

Can you imagine patiently posing for a picture with your dead child in your lap?

The trend only started losing popularity once healthcare improved, meaning less people died in childhood, and photography became more accessible. At some point, people must have thought, “Gee, this is kind of fucked up.” –Wally

Sources: BBC, Gizmodo, Mdolla, Oddee and ViralNova


The Best Spots to Hit When Visiting Utrecht

One of Morgan’s paintings depicts a street scene from Utrecht, Netherlands

A day trip from Amsterdam and Den Haag, Utrecht, Netherlands has an amazing flower market, a bar in a converted church, a nearby national park and other don’t-miss spots.

The gorgeous fall foliage along the edge of the canal in Utrecht, Netherlands

Morgan always has a smile on her face and an amazing sense of style. Heck, she rocked a side ponytail before it was on trend.

I’ve lived vicariously through her artistic endeavors via social media (and exchanged several Cats of Instagram videos).

No one believes me when I say this, but the Dutch live and die for fried food.

Morgan’s lovely studio in her Utrecht apartment

Sensing a kindred spirit, I couldn’t resist checking in and finding out more about her expat experience in Utrecht Netherlands, where she and her boyfriend moved in early 2015.


RELATED: American Expats Tell What It’s Really Like to Live in Paris


Utrecht is a day trip destination from Amsterdam and Den Haag

How did you and Matt end up in Utrecht?

Matt’s company gave him the opportunity to open their European office, and we were allowed to pick where that office would be. So we spent two weeks traveling to four different countries to see if they felt like a place we could make a home.

After much deliberation, we decided on Belgium! But after telling everyone in our families the big plan, we ended up not able to get a visa for me there.

So next best thing: the Netherlands! Except we had visited Amsterdam during our tour — and hated it. It felt like Chicago’s Navy Pier during the 4th of July.

In typical Morgan and Matt fashion, we decided on Utrecht without having been there, without knowing a soul here, without performing any sort of research. And just jumped in!

The Janskerkhof flower market is the best part about Utrecht, according to Morgan

What do you like best about Utrecht?

I’m absolutely in love with the Saturday flower market at Janskerkhof!


What do you like least?

It annoys me to no end that the stores close at 5 p.m. every day of the week and are completely closed on Mondays. But we’re coming from Chicago, where we did our grocery shopping at 10:30 at night. We know we need to adjust.


Tell us about a strange custom you’ve encountered while living there.

When Dutch people greet you as a friend, they kiss you on your right cheek, left cheek and again on the right cheek. That third kiss was very unexpected at the beginning and resulted in a few misplanted kisses.


What are your favorite day trips from Utrecht?

Now that we’ve been here for a while, Amsterdam has definitely grown on us. In fact, we head into Amsterdam almost every weekend and dream about buying a house there! Other favorite day trips are Den Haag for the beach and the museums, Otterlo to bike through a national park, and Maastricht, where they have their own dialect.


What are your favorite places in town?

Margaret Wines is our absolute favorite wine shop in the world! We also love Cafe Olivier — a converted church now functioning as a Belgian beer bar! Our go-to bakery is Bond & Smolders.


What’s the local cuisine like?

No one believes me when I say this, but the Dutch live and die for fried food. And their mayonnaise! Other, more traditional foods, are herring and stamppot [mashed potatoes mixed with other veggies].

Morgan and her boyfriend moved to Utrecht on a whim

Flowers are a source of inspiration for Morgan

What got you into painting?

I’ve been painting ever since I can remember. I used to color pictures of myself living in Paris as a painter when I was a little kid (I’m a dreamer!). I studied painting at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and again at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a prior degree program.


Morgan paints en plein air in Monet’s garden at Giverny

Could you describe your process?

My process is actually something I’m really working on changing right now. Before, I would set up a still life, paint a ground color in acrylic paint, and paint a traditional, realistic still life. Right now I’m working on a more abstract series about change. I still paint a colorful ground, but instead of working out the composition before painting, I jump right in and concentrate on making interesting brush strokes and creating a composition of areas of color. I’m very excited about where this series is going!


You can find more of Morgan’s artwork on her site, ReSource Designs. –Duke

RELATED: The Truth About Living in China



The Ultimate Las Vegas Vacation: The Best Hotels, Shows and Nightclubs

Las Vegas is known as Sin City, but there’s a variety of vacations you can have here. This shot was taken from a room at the Cosmopolitan — the only hotel on the Strip with balconies

Vegas, baby! Before you plan Las Vegas travel, learn the hottest spots in Sin City — and how to score the best deals.


The epitome of glamor. That’s the best way to describe Herminia and Brandon. They have a timeless chicness you can’t help but admire.

Many people think of Vegas as Sin City, a destination for debauchery. And while it certainly has its seedier side, turns out there’s much more to it than over-the-top spectacles, legalized prostitution and an obsession with gambling.

Vegas is also a place where you can have a relaxing getaway, go on a foodie adventure, enjoy art installations or even explore the outdoors.

I decided to get to the bottom of Herminia and Brandon’s fascination with Las Vegas. I honestly don’t know if there’s anyone who knows the city as well as they do. Here are their secrets to getting the best Vegas has to offer. –Wally

Herminia and Brandon, the chicest couple on the Strip


How often do you make it to Vegas?

We go to Vegas at least once a year, but some years we’ve gone as much as three times. But if Brandon had his way, we’d go every three months… He doesn’t get his way often.

What draws you there time and time again?

Bright lights city, gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire. –“Viva, Las Vegas,” Elvis

What we love most about Vegas is that you can tailor your trip to however you’d like. Most people see it as a party destination, which it most definitely is. But it’s also a place where you can have a relaxing getaway, go on a foodie adventure, enjoy art installations or even explore the outdoors (Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon are not far drives). There’s something to do for everyone, with activities to match the theme of your trip and your budget.

We’ve been for a bachelor party (Brandon), a wedding, Halloween, a 30th birthday celebration — those were all very much party trips and a ton of fun, but our favorite trips have been just the two of us. We like to stay at nice hotels, eat fabulous dinners, lay out by the pool, gamble, shop (providing the aforementioned was successful) and of course people-watch. (The people-watching in Vegas is like no other. Because there are so many adventures to be had in the city, there are so many different types of people.)

We have a rhythm when we go, and we’ve been so often that’s it’s not a surprise. We know what to expect, and every trip, the bright lights welcome us back right when we land. Oh, and Elvis. We love Elvis.

What are your fave hotels?

Our absolute favorite hotels are the Wynn and Encore. They’re connected to each other, but the Wynn has a more traditional feel while the Encore is more modern. Both are beautifully appointed five-star hotels, with an amazing crop of restaurants. The pools and spa are top-notch as well. It typically has a slightly older crowd, which means it’s a little more chill (except when XS nightclub empties in the wee hours of Sunday morning).

We also like to stay at the Cosmopolitan. Definitely a younger, more partying vibe, but the hotel rooms are well appointed. And, if you’re Brandon, you can talk your way into a suite with a balcony overlooking the Bellagio fountain show. Fun fact: The Cosmo is the only hotel on the Strip with balconies, since the property was initially built as condominiums.

What are the hottest nightclubs and pool parties?

We’re not big clubbers…anymore. But every now and again we can be swayed with a free cover. XS at Encore is beautiful, as it spills out onto the hotel’s pool area. We went for Halloween once and saw DeadMau5 spin.

Hakkasan I think is the latest hotspot on the Strip, and Marquee is an oldie but a goodie as well.

Tip: All you need is to post a photo with #vegas, and all of these promoters will try to get you into any club you want for a better deal — especially if you’re a group of girls.

I personally think pool parties are giant cesspools, so we do not go. But all of the big clubs typically have a dayclub version. Just watch out for heatstroke and gonorrhea.

At the Cosmopolitan, you can have drinks inside a massive chandelier

The Chandelier bar, while not a club, is a great place to get a few drinks. It’s a three-level bar set inside (yes, inside) of a giant chandelier at the Cosmo. At level 1.5, they have a few secret drinks that are fun to order.

Also, you get free drinks at every casino, just for gambling.

What are the best shows?

Our very first trip to Vegas, we went and saw a topless revue because…well, when in Vegas. I don’t think that specific show is on anymore, but it was kind of a fun, kitschy thing to do in Vegas.

The Cirque du Soleil shows are great (there's a Michael Jackson one we’ve been trying to go see), but more and more artists are doing residencies there. So it’s awesome to see who’s on when we’re there. We’ve seen Britney and she’s great, but can’t wait for Backstreet Boys next year (**Herminia currently shrieking with delight**).

Any tricks to score great deals?

We get the best deals from Brandon’s players cards (casino loyalty cards). You can get one at each casino, and you present it when you gamble at the tables or put it in the machines if you’re doing slots. They track your wins and losses and will always invite you back with some great hotel deal. The more you gamble, the better the deals. All the MGM hotels are connected on the same card, and will even offer you credits for any shopping or dining you do on the property as well.

Traveling during the off-season is also great. We usually go at the end of January for Brandon’s birthday. Hotels and flights are typically cheaper. And while the pools aren’t open, everything else is — and not quite as busy. Plus, the weather is always better than Chicago.


If there was one thing about Vegas you could change, what would it be?

Never change, Vegas.

Tip: All you need is to post a photo with #vegas, and all of these promoters will try to get you into any club you want for a better deal.

Chocolate Mousse With Espresso and Ras el Hanout Recipe

This chocolate and espresso mousse just awaits its topping with ras el hanout

This standout Moroccan dessert comes straight from the chef of the Ruined Garden in Fès.


During our trip to Fès we dined at the Ruined Garden twice. On our first visit, we did not save room for dessert, but when we returned, we chose the Chocolate & Espresso Mousse with Ras el Hanout. We were not disappointed. The mousse was the perfect size, too: little pots of rich, velvety mousse deliciousness with an unexpected exotic finish.

Ras el hanout is a complex and distinctive North African spice mix. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” or “top shelf” and consists of a combination of the best spices the merchant has to offer. Each shop has its own blend, the quantities of which vary according to the maker.

I wrote to chef Robert Johnstone, who shared the recipe with us — and gave us the kind permission to run it on our blog. He makes 17 at a time, and the day before he serves them, he puts them in the fridge to set for a few hours. I scaled the recipe down and converted from metric to U.S. measurements.


Chocolate & Espresso Mousse With Ras el Hanout

Special Equipment

8 (3-ounce) small espresso glasses or cups. Small is best, as the mousse is very rich.
Measuring cup for pouring the mousse into the glasses or cups

Yield: Makes 8 servings
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours to overnight


• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1½ to 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
• pinch of salt
• 7 ounces 72% chocolate
• 3.5 ounces 52% chocolate
• 2 shots of strong espresso
• ras el hanout


Heat the cream in a pan. Once it is just about to boil, turn off the heat and add all of the chocolate, espresso and instant espresso powder.

Cover the pan and leave for 5 minutes or until the chocolate has melted fully into the cream. Then mix slowly but thoroughly. Try not to whip, as if you do the mixture will have bubbles — not a major problem, but they may spoil the finish.

Once you think all is mixed, check by lifting the spoon out and looking at the texture on the back of the spoon. If you can see small grains of chocolate, the finished mousse will be grainy, so you should mix for a little longer, and the bits will disappear.

While still hot, carefully pour the mixture into the glasses (we took Robert's advice to sprinkle a tiny bit of salt into the bottom of each glass in advance). Fill as close to the top as you can.

Leave to cool a little, then put into the fridge overnight or for at least 3 hours.

Finish with a dusting of any spice mixture you fancy as long as there’s a little pepper or heat — though we recommend ras el hanout, of course. You’re ready to serve!

They keep for a week in the fridge.

Note: You can make with all 72% chocolate, though you may need to add a little sugar to the hot cream. –Duke

Photos of the Fes Medina That Will Take You to Another World

Fez, Morocco’s old city is an often intense, often beautiful experience. These pictures only begin to tell the story.


Fès is a city like no other. You could say that, I suppose, about many cities. But Fès is the real deal. The old part of the city is entirely car-free, and consists of a maze-like series of narrow, enclosed walkways. You literally never know what lies around the next corner: a gorgeous zelij tilework fountain, a bunch of roosters tied to a cage, a butcher stall marked by a decapitated camel head, a young man sitting in the faded beauty of a crumbling doorway, a donkey laden with Moroccan textiles or, of course, kitties! Lots and lots of kitties! –Wally

Fès was like the stairwells at Hogwarts. I’m convinced the roads shifted behind me.
— Greg, a friend and fellow traveler

El Pimpi: A Famous Malaga Restaurant in the Courtyard of Antonio Banderas’ Building

A Picasso-inspired mural at the entrance to El Pimpi, a popular Málaga restaurant

Dine alfresco in the heart of Málaga, Spain, at this popular bodega bar, where they roll out the barrel.


The city where the legendary artist Picasso was born is also home to another famous Malagueño: the actor Antonio Banderas.

Upon arriving in Málaga, Wally and I were famished. We told our friend and gracious hostess Jo we wanted tapas, ASAP.

“That’s Antonio’s place,” she said, referring to the entire top floor, which he purchased and renovated a few years ago.

She led us to El Pimpi, where we sat amidst the crowd outside and ordered up plate after plate of tapas.

The tapas at El Pimpi aren’t the best — but the setting makes up for it

Some sources claim that the name comes from a colloquialism ascribed to the young men who worked at the docks doing odd jobs and acted as unofficial tour guides. Another, less politically correct, source claims that these dock workers facilitated the transport of sailors to the local brothels.

At one point, Jo pointed to the expansive six-story building opposite from the terrace of El Pimpi.

“That’s Antonio’s place,” she said, referring to the entire top floor, which he purchased and renovated a few years ago.

Antonio Banderas’ penthouse in his hometown of Málaga, Spain

Appropriately enough, the actor will be portraying Picasso in the French and Spanish language movie 33 Días, opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, who will play Dora Maar, the painter's muse and lover of nearly a decade. The story is based upon the emotional creation of the artist’s great anti-war, mural-sized painting, Guernica.


Kicking off their visit to España: Jo takes Wally and Duke to the local staple, El Pimpi

Barrels of Fun

We were excited to order Alhambra Reserva, which we enjoyed on a previous visit to Granada, Spain. Wally insisted on ordering croquetas. These are bite-sized, lightly breaded and deep-fried mashed potato fritters with diced ham mixed in. We asked Jo if she would like to share them with us and she replied haughtily, “No thank you. They’re disgusting and have a gummy mouthfeel like fried baby food.”

The restaurant proper contains a warren of rooms that were originally the stables of the Palacio de Buenavista. The walls are decorated with framed photographs and historic Feria and bullfighting festival posters. The Barrel Hall is the first room you pass through entering from the terrace and contains enormous wine barrels autographed by famous politicians, artists and, of course, Antonio Banderas. –Duke

No thank you. They’re disgusting and have a gummy mouthfeel like fried baby food.

11 Surprising Iceland Facts That Will (Probably) Blow Your Mind

Sure, Iceland is pretty. But there are some wacky customs that go on here

Iceland is home to political corruption, identity crises, driftwood museums, Viking sagas, low crime, bizarre naming practices, a French Revolution conspiracy theory and possible inbreeding.


Iceland is all the rage. I hear more and more people talking about the country as a travel destination. But there’s more to this interesting nation than icebergs, hot springs and the Aurora Borealis.

Here are some of the little-known facts about Iceland that my friends Shaun and Lindsay learned on their trip.

The largest volcano, Helka, is supposedly responsible for the French Revolution.


RELATED: Why You Should Consider Visiting Iceland


1. Icelanders take politics very seriously.

Lindsay: The people are really politically involved. The president was involved in the Panama Papers [a massive data leak that exposed how the wealthy exploit offshore tax loopholes, often for illegal activities].

There are 300,000 people in the country, and 20% of the population came out to protest in Reykjavik, and he resigned that day.

In our country, all the bankers that caused the recession got bailed out. Our guide told us that in Iceland, they built a prison and imprisoned them.


2. They have a bit of an identity crisis.

Shaun: That same tour guide said, “We don’t know if we’re American or European — but we just know that we are not Dutch.”

Even though they all speak Dutch, they are very resentful of the fact that they were once ruled by the Dutch.

A lot of Vikings from Norway stole Irish women, Irish princesses, and ended up in Iceland.

Somewhere over the rainbow: Lindsay enjoying her trip to Iceland


3. There’s not much wildlife.

Lindsay: The only indigenous animal in the country is the artic fox.

They had one type of tree and it covered 40% of the country when they first started colonizing. And then because it was so cold, they chopped most of them down. So they have hardly any trees anywhere.

Shaun: So, once they chopped down all of their trees to stay warm, they then started relying on driftwood.

Lindsay: There’s a whole museum for it!

Shaun: If you were walking along the beach and you found some driftwood, it was essentially yours, so long as you claimed it. If you couldn’t carry all the driftwood back, people started leaving their symbols or their mark on the driftwood.


4. Their original homes were made of unusual materials.

Shaun: A lot of the early homes and tools were built with driftwood.

Lindsay: One of our tour guides said that she remembers her grandparents living in one of these houses they made out of sod, mud and driftwood. They’re really small. They had an exhibit where we got to go into these actual houses they had moved there.

This was when we took the Ring Road to the south, where there were all the waterfalls.


5. There’s a road that goes all the way around the country.

Shaun: The Ring Road, the best I understand it, goes completely around the country. It takes very little amount of time to go around Iceland — I think it’s like two days.

There are a lot of fjords in the northwest section, and the south section has a lot of waterfalls and beaches. Everything in the middle is glaciers and volcanoes.


6. A volcano helped cause the French Revolution.

Shaun: The largest volcano, Helka (the only thing I could pronounce), is supposedly responsible for the French Revolution. It exploded, and all this ash went all over Western Europe and killed all the crops and decimated the livestock — a meter high.

The people revolted against those who were able to maintain their lifestyle.


7. They live in the shadow of death.

Shaun: When we were walking between the American Tectonic Plate and the European one, it wasn’t until then that I realized something about this country. People said they get asked why they live there. And they say, “Well, this is our home” — regardless of the fact that a volcano could explode or a flood could happen, and it may kill 40% of the population.

That is just part of being Iceland, realizing that any moment could be your last, and that you’d have to repopulate. Which sounds like it’s quite the process, because there are so few people there.


8. Families are very proud of their sagas, which are historic books.

Lindsay: Every person who’s Icelandic has access to these books. Icelandic people are obsessed with books — it’s always been a huge part of their culture.

Every family has these storybook sagas, and the government helps take care of them.

There are stories in the sagas — some of it is accurate, but some has obviously been exaggerated.


9. Icelanders don’t have last names. And they have to choose their kids’ names from an approved list.

Shaun: There’s a list of names that you can choose from. You can’t just make up a name for your kid.

Lindsay: If you want something off that list, you have to ask the council and get it pre-approved. And you don’t name your kid until he or she is christened. So the child doesn’t have a name for what could be three months.

Shaun: You’ll get a lot of Jóhann Jóhannssons. People say their first name, then say they’re the son of their mother or father.


10. They have very few police officers, Plus people park crazy.

Lindsay: We saw one policeman the entire time we were there.

Shaun: In Reykjavik, people will just straight up park on the sidewalks. They have no care in the world about where they should park.

But somehow, when we were going to the Northern Lights boat, there was a person who was getting a ticket for parking on the street. Maybe all the other people parking on the sidewalk didn’t get tickets ’cause they didn’t get around to it with their one cop.


11. But the country is one of the safest.

Lindsay: There’s virtually no crime. Maybe one murder a year.


And finally, I had to ask:

Do they worry about inbreeding with so small a population?

Shaun: My interpretation is, how could you not be? But no one really wanted to talk about that. And of course no one wanted to ask them, “Are you inbred?”


Well, that’s something I’ll put on my list when we finally make it to Iceland. –Wally


RELATED: Off-the-Beaten Path Iceland: The Phallological Museum and Other Strange Delights