Dinosaurs? Yes, Please!

Dinosaurs? Yes, Please!

A Blog Post By Lady Felicity

I consider myself very fortunate in that most of the things which always interested me as a child still have some significance or place in my adult life. My love of animals and the sea, my fascination with seeing the world, seeing different cultures and delving into ancient ones where possible – through making our travel documentaries and with Curios Aquatica, those things are still very much present in my life.

I do still share one passion with the majority of children though, a love of dinosaurs. My sister has always been intrigued with geology. Her gemstone collection started at a young age and has since grown not just to take up a considerable amount of wall space in her home but to her now owning a gemstone and fossil shop called Island Gems.

My sister and I started working for Island Gems as soon as we each moved to the Isle of Wight. She quickly became a manager (and when the owner was ready to retire some years later, the new owner of the business) while I became the head fossil tour guide.

Some years later, a certain Greg Chapman worked next door to Island Gems and would often pop in for a chat. A few more years passed and I found myself training him as our fill-in tour guide. . . later I found myself exchanging marriage vows with him while stood beside a life-sized replica triceratops. . . as you do. . .

The Isle of Wight is the best place in Europe for finding dinosaur fossils. Many places can boast of fantastic marine fossils such as ammonites, belemnites (fossilised squid shells), ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs (marine reptiles). To find actual dinosaurs (land living reptiles with the hips placed underneath the body rather than to the sides like crocodiles or the Dimetrodon which is often wrongly mistaken for a dinosaur), the Isle of Wight is the place to visit. This does not mean, however, that dinosaurs can’t be found in other places too. They are usually found in a museum rather than walking along a beach like we regularly do on the Isle of Wight.

Whenever we start researching a new destination to make one of our adventure documentaries, I like to have a quick check to see what (if any) fossils can be found in that place.

When we visited the Isle of Man to make Railways, Castles and Seals, Greg was in charge of everything. The research, organising, booking, everything. For someone who over-organises to the level I am known for, that was quite an experience for us both! Even then, however, Greg knew to check for fossils and the main fossils found on the Isle of Man- crinoids (sea lilies)- feature briefly in that video.

During our most recent travel adventure in Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle, the video, as the title suggests, was less about seeing what the country has to offer in general and focused more on one specific thing there.

Despite this we couldn’t resist a quick dinosaur and fossil related search and discovered that Romania has its fair share (by this I mean about six different species) of dinosaurs, one of which, the Magyarosaurus Dacus (‘Magyar lizard’), is incredibly both the biggest dinosaur found in Romania and yet it is also (one of) the smallest sauropod species (long neck) found in the whole world.

While most of the dinosaurs found in Romania can also be found in countries like Austria, France and Spain, they do also have one species also found on the Isle of Wight – Valdosaurus (Wealden Lizard), as well as two species Zalmoxes (Dacian Deity) and the aforementioned Magyarosaurus which are unique to Romania.

I realise for those of you who have sadly grown out of your dinosaur-obsessed days, I probably lost you for a moment there. For those of you who love dinosaurs still or are happy to walk around a beautifully presented park which demonstrates the majesty of these long dead (or evolved if you are one that accepts each time you see a bird you are looking at a dinosaur) creatures, there is such a park (Dino Parc, Rasnov) in Romania which doesn’t disappoint.

If you are also like me and lean more towards the old fashioned feeling museums rather than the often too sterile, state of the art, ‘gadgety’ museums, there is a great National Geology (and fossil) Museum waiting for you in Bucharest too. As well as having some old-fashioned, Victorian feeling model displays, it had some genuine fossils (I always get a little thrill whenever I see some fossils from the Isle of Wight included and have rarely been disappointed. This Museum was no exception!) as well as a fantastic room ‘full of rocks’ as Greg so eloquently put it. In truth it was a room I felt would have had my sister practically drooling, the gemstone specimens were so fine.

To get a glimpse of those, do check out our video!

One of the things I like most about the world of fossils, of palaeontology, is that it is always changing. We are forever finding new specimens, new species. The regular advancement in science means we are always learning more, changing and adapting past theories and ideas regarding these prehistoric creatures and the world they lived in. It does mean that you think you know what you are talking about, you have all your ‘facts’ straight and then yet another scientific paper is published and you have to change everything you thought you knew (don’t get me started on Brontosaurus/ Apatosaurus or Seismosaurus/ Diplodocus!).

It does also mean that likely in ten years time, I will re-read this blog post and find some inaccuracies, either in what I have written or in what I believed to be the truth at the time of writing this. That’s palaeontology for you!

It’s wonderful though. In many ways the dinosaurs are gone but their remains are still being discovered, their life and world is still fascinating and surprising scientists each year, they live on in children’s imaginations and in mine. I will always be grateful to these long ago creatures for the role they played in my imagination as a child and, more recently, the role they played in me finding my husband. I hope to see the world, to see and learn so many more incredible things, there is so much out there but everywhere we go, if it makes it into our travel documentaries or not, I suspect I will always at least check for dinosaurs and fossils in every country I visit.

Thanks for reading, stay safe!

Felicity

P.S.
You can find out all about our travel adventures, Curios Aquatica and ‘(Almost) Live’ shows at http://www.gregandfelicityadventures.com!

 

 

The Torture Exhibition

The Torture Exhibition

A blog post by Greg

As you can probably tell from the title, this post may, I fear, get a little dark. I can fully understand if you choose to give this one a pass (although I will avoid going into too many details about the torture methods). The reason that I can understand this the most is because we nearly made the same choice with the exhibitions.

When we arrived at Bran Castle as the first castle in our ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ video, which you can watch HERE, we saw a sign for the ‘Torture Exhibition’, a display of torture implements which had a small extra charge.

This led to a discussion. We were here outside of a beautiful castle in the sunshine, and we were ready to enjoy exploring it. We had already been in the castle grounds that morning flying our drone for the first time in one of our travel adventure videos, and had managed to get some amazing shots. All in all we were in high spirits.

When we saw the signs for the torture display, my first instinct was to give it a miss. I knew enough of the history of torture that I felt I was unlikely to learn anything useful, and as a general rule I would have little interest in looking around a display showing some of the ways that the human imagination has been used to create tools and machines built purely for the purpose of causing as much pain as possible to another person. That is not to say we don’t enjoy visiting somewhat creepy or macabre places on our travels sometimes, but torture devices are not something which I would normally feel the need to see.

Felicity pointed out, however, that a major part of our goal here in Romania was to try to find the castle of Vlad the Impaler, and, in so doing, to try to reach an understanding of the man and the legend which surrounds him. Part of his story involves torture. Most famously he used the method of impaling people on wooden spikes, but it is suggested that while he was held as a hostage of Murad ll, the Ottoman ruler, as a young man, that he may have been ‘trained’ in various methods of torture, methods which, according to many people, he would not have been squeamish about using when he thought it necessary.

We reached the decision that on this occasion we should go into the torture exhibition, so that as we visited the beautiful castles and locations in our search for Vlad Dracula, we would also have forefront in our minds some of the horrors which he enacted in his reigns.

Immediately on entering we saw an Iron Maiden. This object I was most familiar with from what is possibly one of the most famous moments from the ‘Paul Daniels Magic Show’, where he ended an episode with an escape apparently going wrong with him slammed inside – which may sound quite tame for a television magic show these days, but back then sparked complaints and required him to return later in the evening’s schedule to announce that he was alright.

As this item was fixed in my mind as part of a magic trick, my brain didn’t immediately link in to its original purpose, and I couldn’t help making a ‘Two Tickets To Iron Maiden’ joke based on the song by Wheatus (a fact I include as it is one of the few semi-modern, almost-popular music references I know).

The mood changed almost immediately, however, as we turned around to face a chair completely covered in wooden spikes.

The purpose and use of this chair, known as an ‘Interrogation Chair’ or a ‘Witches’ Chair’ was immediately obvious, and immediately drained any levity from the air. This was an implement which had clearly not only been carefully designed by somebody, but would also have been intricately crafted, each one of the spikes individually made by hand. Several people would probably have been involved in the making of this chair, from the design, to the wood-crafting and the metal work, and they would all have known the purpose of what they were creating. Added to that you would have needed at least two people to restrain the person being placed in the chair (lest we forget that those accused of ‘witchcraft’ were usually innocent of any crime), and someone to sanction the punishment or interrogation (unlike Vlad, most rulers or heads of ‘justice’ would not get their hands dirty themselves), and you have a good half a dozen who needed to be involved in order for this chair to come into being and be used. Added to that a society which allowed such things to happen, and this single object becomes a poignant symbol of the evils of torture.

I don’t feel the need to go any further into describing any of the apparatus on display. The exhibition itself was well put together. As you walked through multiple rooms, seeing dozens of devices from the simple to the complex, it was quite sparsely laid out. The castle rooms were the perfect setting for such a display, they felt like rooms which the devices fitted into, rooms where you would not be surprised to hear devices like these had once been used. Most of the devices were accompanied by a short explanation of their use, and sometimes examples of when or where they had been used. Many of them had old fashioned ‘woodcut’ style images of the devices being used (similar to the illustration we used to show the impaling during the ‘Vlad Dracula’ introduction section of our video).

As we went around, and moved from room to room, it seemed an endless display of devices. In the final room we came face to face with a wooden spike (pictured at the top of this post), used for impaling. Of all of the intricate mechanical devices on display in the exhibition, I don’t think any made me feel as cold, disgusted or sad as this item as, owing to our research into Vlad the Impaler, it was the one whose use I was most familiar with. Having seen it, we had, I felt, fulfilled our duty to the video we were making, and could get out of the torture exhibitions. At that point in time I just wanted to get out into ‘fresh air’.

On the way out of the exhibition we went through a squeaky door, which amused me (partly I think this was enhanced by the joy of leaving the oppressive atmosphere created by the devices), and started to bring us out of the melancholy of seeing all of the equipment and images in the room – a lighter moment as we sought to bring ourselves out of the darkness of the torture exhibition so that we could get back to filming with a lighter tone through the rest of our visit at Bran Castle. For eagle-eyed viewers of the travel video, you will notice that in the edit we decided to separate out the ‘squeaky door’ from the ‘torture exhibition’ sections of the film, because we felt the tone of the two pieces didn’t fit in the final edit – yes, occasionally we do make minor tweaks to the order of events when it is necessary to keep the pace or tone of the video!

Which brings me to the end of this post. Like our decision to visit the exhibition in the first place, my decision to write this blog was back and forth to start with, but I eventually reached the same decision we made outside Bran Castle. This blog series, the same as our ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ video, would have felt incomplete without it being included.

If I went back to Bran Castle, would I go back into the ‘Torture Exhibition’ again? I don’t think I would, not unless we were going back to film something which made that room necessary to include. It is a very well put together exhibition – it lacked the gory ‘waxworks’ style models which I have seen in some museums which feature one or two torture instruments, and which I personally find makes them both more graphic and at the same time less poignant. Nothing competes with seeing the objects, reading a description of what they were used for and how they worked, and then trying to stop your brain conjuring up the images. So as the exhibition it was, it was done very tastefully, very informative and very well put together. I would recommend it if it is something which you think you would be interested in seeing, but if I were visiting the castle purely on holiday, I would have passed it by.

Next time I write a post, much like the squeaky door, I will be writing on a much happier, much funnier, and much lighter subject.

Thanks for reading, and please take unbelievably good care of yourselves and of each other.

Greg

P.S.
You can watch all of our travel adventures – plus a few new videos (and ‘Like’, ‘Subscribe’ and ‘Comment’) on YouTube at www.youtube.com/gregandfelicityadventures.

P.P.S. While we aren’t able to travel, we are performing new ‘(Almost) Live’ online magic and comedy shows – and you can see one of our favourite parts featuring the adventures of a marionette named ANY right here:

 

Curios Aquatica

Curios Aquatica

A blog post by Lady Felicity

If you have read any of our previous blog posts you will have noticed that I am usually the one to write about animals. If you have read my blog about whales (here) or Sharks (here), you will have likely realised that I am a bit lovingly obsessed and fascinated with the sea. Always have been.

I have always been likened to a mermaid, even by strangers on occasion. My long hair added to the fact I have always swum my own version of the butterfly stroke, which heightens the resemblance further. I loved swimming so much my family even had a pool installed in our garden when I was a kid. We lived on the outskirts of a city, far from the sea… yet the obsession was there anyway. Documentaries, films, anything about the sea, I couldn’t get enough.

My Mum can’t swim, so on every family holiday my Mum would watch like a hawk as my sister and I dragged our Dad into the sea.

Deeper. I always wanted to go deeper. Big waves? Even better!

I wanted to travel the world, see every country, its culture and wildlife and particularly its oceans and marine life. I was the only one in my family with this passion and it took Greg to really make it start to happen.

I am big on wildlife and conservation. Since I moved to the coast I see the sea almost every day. I walk on the beach and I usually end up finding and taking litter away with me. The days you find creatures (fish, dolphins, sharks, sea horses, jelly fish) washed up on the beach are sad. When those creatures are tangled up in nets and plastic rubbish… it’s actually gut wrenching for me.

I remember one day when I was leading a fossil tour along the beach with a school group. Usually something I thoroughly enjoy but on this morning some fisherman had been to work. They had caught small sharks and gutted them, throwing back the parts they didn’t want. Those ‘bits’ had washed onto my beach. Hundreds of shark heads and stringy bits of flesh littered the beach. It was everywhere. The kids ranged from fascinated to horrified. Some started trying to pick the bits up… It was horrible. If you did read my post about sharks (here) you will understand a bit more how truly devastating I found this.

I was desperate to make a difference. To stop, or at least improve, the levels of pollution finding its way into the worlds oceans, to clean up the sea and beaches for all that beautiful marine life that people rarely get to see (and as a result, it seems, so often don’t really care about). Surely if people saw, knew and understood they would care!?

It was during one of my (likely too many) passionate talks (ok, maybe rant is the right word) with Greg, after I had hauled up a particularly large amount of rubbish from the beach, that he suggested maybe he knew a way that we could make a bigger difference.

Greg is an entertainer. It is a world he knows and understands. It can also be a platform on occasion. Perhaps together we could come up with a show that educates while also entertaining.

Curios Aquatica was born:

Curios- linking to fossils and mythology. Before people knew what fossils were, collectors would sell them to tourists as curiosities. The ammonite, for example, was a prehistoric squid with a shell which people even now sometimes mistake for a fossilised snail shell. In Victorian times this curiosity was sold as a petrified snake, cursed by an abbess. It is also where we get one example of a fiji mermaid- the remains of a monkey combined with those of a fish. . . there are all sorts of fossils, myths and weird and wonderful things that fell under the banner of ‘curiosities’.

Aquatica- pretty obvious, ‘of the water’.

Curios Aquatica therefore- Mysteries of the Water. Perfect.

Next was to develop our show and its characters. Next came Fliss the Mermaid.

Fliss is not the ‘Disney princess’ style mermaid most people expect. This was very  important to me. Fliss is real and in real life you don’t (or certainly shouldn’t!) approach a wild animal and assume it is your best friend. It may be beautiful, it may look cute and friendly, but that doesn’t mean it is safe and it certainly doesn’t mean it feels ok with you forcing an interaction onto it.

Fliss the mermaid represents marine life but also wildlife in general in my eyes.

Fliss cannot speak ‘human’. Greg has joked that this is due to her not wanting to learn lines for shows and events (also true!), but it is down to her being a wild animal. What animal (aside from some birds) can verbally speak to humans? Yet that doesn’t mean they don’t communicate. If you have read my whale blog (here) you will already know how complex their brains are, that they have their own unique language just as evolved as ours. Doesn’t mean we can speak ‘whale’.

How many people have come into contact with other people that don’t speak the same language as them and yet, through gestures and expressions been able to understand each other anyway?

How many people have a dog or cat which they can’t speak with (ok, I know most owners speak to their pets anyway but I mean have a two way conversation with… I don’t count my cat meowing back!) and yet communicate with and understand anyway?

Animals communicate, it’s just we are usually not used to ‘listening’. If we learn their signals, indicators, habits, their ‘language’, we can better appreciate, understand and, in some cases, communicate with them.

This is part of what Fliss teaches people, with the help of Greg.

Fliss is of the sea. She can understand some things, many creatures can, but she needs understanding in return. Fliss is about linking humans and animals in a sympathetic way. She is beautiful and wild but still willing to interact with you if you respect her.

This was very much how I felt about the whales in Mexico. When people hunted the whales, they killed the people. Now that people go out in boats peacefully, the whales approach the boats and interact with people in a beautiful, peaceful way. It is an amazing experience and something to cherish. You compare that to dolphins and orcas forced to live in a tank and interact with you, or be starved and punished. . . who would want that kind of interaction!? Yet that is exactly what happens and what I am desperate to stop.

My thought is that people must just not realise that this is the reality. So I aim to educate them. Through Fliss. Through our shows. Through our travel documentaries. Any and every way I can, I will spread this message. Captivity, certainly for some species such as cetaceans, is torture and should be stopped.

This respect, understanding and appreciation for nature and wildlife is a big part of our message but there is more to it. There is the detrimental effect we are having on it with our pollution (both physical with plastic, oil, etc but some is noise pollution too), our over fishing and the way we feel towards some species.

An example of this is sharks. People fear them, eat them, use bits of them in ‘medicines’, there is very little respect for sharks. The closest most get is pure fear. It doesn’t help that things like the movie Jaws have made people so afraid of sharks. Again, if you read my shark blog you will know there is so much more to them than this poor reputation – an unfair one too which Greg makes clear in this short video:

It goes the other way too, sometimes people like an animal, yet still have no respect for it. For example there was a news story about a curious dolphin which approached some people paddling in the sea. The people lifted the dolphin from the water and passed it around so they could all get a ‘selfie picture’ with it. This killed the dolphin. Nature, animals, they not only deserve respect but need it too.

I hope that people on the whole are not evil, that these terrible things are usually done as a result of ignorance and by accident rather than due to malice, greed and soullessness.

So we created a school and scout show with Curios Aquatica. We take a beautiful set, we include puppets and magic, we have fun with the children but we also teach them what is wrong and get them thinking about ways to improve things.

We perform at events, interacting with the public while still encouraging people to think, learn and change the way they perhaps look and interact with the world around them.

We also fundraise for marine charities, helping those that are already trying to improve things and make a difference. Our current marine charity is The Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit. If you would like to support them, please click here to donate.

You may have noticed that there is not a lot of travel in this particular blog post as with Greg’s post about magic recently. We have plans to discuss more aspects of what we do between posts about our travels – especially as our travels are on pause until the world reopens. There will be more travel in next weeks blog but let us know whether you like these posts which take you into other aspects of our work.

Thanks for reading, stay safe and please help save the sea.

Felicity

P.S.
You can find out all about our travel adventures, Curios Aquatica and ‘(Almost) Live’ shows at http://www.gregandfelicityadventures.com!

 

Bran Castle – Home of Dracula?

Bran Castle – Home of Dracula?

A blog post by Greg

I must say that when I suggested to Felicity that we visit Romania for our next travel adventure (which would become ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ which you can watch HERE), that I knew the only real image I had in my mind of the country was over a century old, highly stereotyped, and created by a man who had never visited the country.

Despite knowing how ridiculous that was as the basis for forming an image of a country, I did actually find myself very much wanting to find the fictional ‘Castle Dracula’ created by Bram Stoker for his 1897 book.

To get to the point where we can discuss looking for Dracula’s Castle in Romania, however, it is worth us taking a little diversion to Whitby in Yorkshire. We took a little pilgrimage there in March (see the short video ‘Seeking Dracula in Whitby’) to the location where Bram Stoker is supposed to have come up with many of the ideas for the book, and to the spot where he is supposed to have sat writing much of it. I’ll be going into a little more detail about that particular visit and Bram Stoker’s time in Whitby in a later blog post, but suffice to say that the closest that Bram Stoker ever came to Romania (which at the time he wrote the book was not the unified single country that exists today) was finding the name ‘Vlad Dracula’ and some more details within books in libraries in Whitby and London.

It is very hard, therefore, to know which real castle, if any, Stoker used as the basis for the castle where Jonathan Harker travels to at the beginning of the novel to meet up with the mysterious Count Dracula. In the small town of Bran, near the old Transylvanian/Wallachian border, however, is a castle which claims to be the only one in all of Romania which fits the description of the castle in the book. They even have the source that Stoker could have looked at when he was writing his description in ‘Transylvania: Its Product and Its People’ by Charles Boner published about three decades before Stoker put pen to paper.

The historian in me had to point out that there is a level of conjecture and guesswork in this… but the travel adventurer in me has no qualms in confirming that Bran Castle is Dracula’s Castle (at least in terms of Stoker’s book – to begin learning about the other part of our adventure and Vlad Dracula you can read Felicity’s blog post here).

As you pull into the quaint little town of Bran, the castle looms above you, standing tall above the other buildings in the area on it’s rocky hill, dropping on one side into a precipice down from the castle.

To approach the castle gates you walk up through a small market selling a combination of Bran Castle, Count Dracula, and Vlad the Impaler themed merchandise, as well as a small open air museum showing the old village houses which the people of Bran used to live in. Finally you arrive at the castle gates and head in, making your way up a castle path. At all times I could hear echoes of the book in my head – even on a beautiful sunny February morning I could imagine the castle in the dark of night, almost hear the wolves howling in the distance, and almost see Count Dracula crawling out of a window…

Of course, aside from its links with Count Dracula, the castle does have its own fascinating history.

The first fortress built on the site goes back to 1211 when the Teutonic Knights, a catholic religious order formed of German crusaders to help defend the southeastern border of Transylvania, which they managed until they were forced out of the region in 1226.

It was between 1377 and 1388 that the castle itself was built, to form a dual role of a ‘customs house’ and a fortress to defend against attempts at Ottoman expansion, and in fact it is these roles which likely saw Vlad the Impaler (our ‘other Dracula’) pass through Bran Castle on his way to solve a dispute between the Wallachia Voivode and the Saxons about tax rates.

The castle changed ownership a number of times, until in 1888, not long before the book Dracula was written, the City Administration of Brasov handed the castle over to the forestry department, and although until 1918 it was inhabited on and off by foresters and woodsmen, in general the castle fell into decay, and could easily have ended its existence as a slowly crumbling ruin if not for the unification of Romania!

After Transylvania became a part of Greater Romania, Bran Castle was gifted, on December 1st 1920, to Queen Marie of Romania. For the next twelve years the castle was restored to the Queen’s requirements, and in 1932 it became a famous royal summer residence – including her own ‘Tea House’ in the grounds which today has become the Casa de Ceai Restaurant, which we would definitely recommend!

I found that from the outside, and in the courtyards of the castle, it felt every inch the Castle Dracula of the books. Inside though in the music room, study and bedrooms, this was a home treasured by a Queen.

All in all the castle is well worth a visit, and marked a wonderful introduction to the Romanian castles on our adventure!

Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

Greg

P.S.
You can watch all of our travel adventures – plus a few new videos (and ‘Like’, ‘Subscribe’ and ‘Comment’) on YouTube at www.youtube.com/gregandfelicityadventures.

P.P.S. While we aren’t able to travel, we are performing new ‘(Almost) Live’ online magic and comedy shows – and you can see a couple of segments here – a little magic clip and some of my puppets!