Posts Tagged ‘ghost tour’

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class="post-8825 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-ghost-tour tag-san-francisco tag-walking-tour">

Haunted Ghost Tour from Wild SF Walking Tours

November 10th, 2019

Over Halloween it occurred to me that I tend to gravitate toward “ghost tours” everywhere I go, but I’d never taken any traditional ghost tours at home here in San Francisco.

The tricky part it turned out was figuring out which one to go on — there’s a surprising number of such tours from different companies in different neighborhoods. I eventually decided on the Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour from the relatively new Wild SF Walking Tours.

This tour is only offered after dark, beginning at Union Square and making a loop through the Tenderloin. The group I was in was maybe 15 people or so, led by a very entertaining drag queen performer who goes by “Mary Vice.”

As with a typical ghost tour format, it’s a mix of high profile murders and other deaths, morbid historical events, as well as reports of mysterious activities attributed to ghosts.

I never know how much to give away when reporting on a tour like this — I don’t want to say so much as to spoil it for anyone who’s interested, but I do have to mention a few key aspects to provide a taste of what’s involved. I’ll do my best here to provide a high level overview.

The tour includes:

  • San Francisco’s ban on new cemeteries and eventual relocation of all (known) buried human remains.
  • The Zodiac Killer and the time he was spotted committing a murder by multiple witnesses.
  • The rise of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple and the resulting Jonestown atrocities.
  • Several tales involving the 1906 earthquake and fire.

One of the more interesting traditional ghost stories is at the St. Francis Hotel, which have apparently freaked out guests on the top floor of the old wings of the building.

In general ghost tours are best led by theatrical minded guides and “Mary” was no exception. The tour has two other guides, or three if you include Mary’s alter ego.

On my way home after the tour I started thinking about all the subjects this tour didn’t cover. Most were well out of the tour area like the somewhat mysterious death of President Harding at the Palace Hotel, the double assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk at City Hall, as well as my personal favorite local ghost story — the Lady of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park.

The only story I could think of that might fit the tour was the attempted assassination of President Ford outside the St. Francis Hotel. Then again it may not be noteworthy: it was the second time someone tried to kill him that very month. Besides, there’s already enough spooky stories at that hotel anyway.

 

My recommendation: With so many ghost tours in San Francisco I can say this one is absolutely worth considering. It’s reasonably priced, about the right length, and not too strenuous of a walk. There are stairs and the stories include subjects not suitable for younger children. If you’re interested it can be booked through their website or through Airbnb Experiences.

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Guided tours of Chicago

April 19th, 2019

In Chicago I took a few tours that were highly recommended online. There’s something said for the wisdom of the crowds, these are all solid tours I enjoyed and would recommend as well if the subject matter interests you.

 
Lou Malnati's deep dish pizza
 

Second City Classic Food Tour from Chicago Food Planet

My first tour in Chicago was this “classic” food tour which focuses on various cuisines you can readily find in Chicago. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that yes, Chicago deep dish pizza is included — and it’s the first stop.

I’ve had deep dish pizza before (I mean, who hasn’t?) but this one was above and beyond anything I’d ever tried. As the only non-meat eater in the group I got a small pizza all to myself instead of “just” a big slice with sausage. Even though I arrived hungry I couldn’t finish the entire thing, it was too big and too rich. The most amazing part wasn’t the crust or the cheese — it was the crushed sweet tomatoes on top instead of a traditional sauce. Everyone had the same tomato topping.

The other stops on the tour included a mix of local and international food, beverages, ingredients, and a classic local bar and BBQ joint. Since I don’t eat meat I can only vouch for the homemade BBQ sauce.

The architectural component of the tour was cut short because, well, it was snowing. On the bright side we also had a more intimate experience due to several last minute cancellations.

Book this tour on their website.

 
Chicago "Corncobs"
 

Chicago Architecture Cruise from Chicago Line Cruises

With many architecture cruises and walks to choose from, I went with this one not only because of recommendations, but because it’s the most comprehensive.

The tricky part is figuring out where this tour starts; you’ll probably pass by similar tours on the way there. Just keep an eye out for the cruise company logo and take your phone’s directions with a grain of salt — location services can be a little wonky with tall steel structures around you.

The tour guide lectures at a fast pace on the architecture along the Chicago river. You’ll learn how architects think about integrating buildings into their surrounding environment as well as how they work around the unique challenges of building on the river, and in some cases the existing rail infrastructure underneath the new structures.

Another common theme is how modern developers adapt and reuse existing buildings that were originally built for, say, a Montgomery Ward order fulfillment warehouse.

Complimentary soft beverages, coffee, and snacks are available on the lower deck. Beer and wine are available for an extra charge.

Dress warm for this one, the Chicago river is significantly cooler than the city above.

Book this cruise on their website.

 
Congress Hotel
 

Gangsters and Ghosts Tour

If you keep up with the news at all it’s no secret that Chicago has a problem with violent crime. (Side note: crime isn’t a major concern for most tourists.) This walking tour focuses on Chicago’s dark past as well as places that are allegedly still haunted by it.

Without spoiling anything major, here are a few key points of the tour:

  • The life and death of notorious mob boss Al Capone
  • A mass tragedy that led to certain modern day fire codes
  • How the mafia used Chicago’s infrastructure to hide the sound of gunshots
  • The story of America’s first serial killer

It’s a fairly long tour; about two hours with a lot of walking and some stairs. There’s a bathroom break partway through so I’d recommend bringing water. The guide didn’t pull out any gory photos or anything though the descriptions were graphic enough that the younger or more squeamish guests might want to steer clear.

Book this one through their official website or on Airbnb Experiences — the price is the same either way.

 
Pedway tour
 

Discover Chicago’s underground city

Did you know Chicago has series of ad-hoc underground public walkways known as the “pedway”? This hour long tour takes you through a few of them, connecting government buildings, malls, three train stations, and more.

It’s the perfect indoor walking tour for a day when the weather’s not so great. The tunnels aren’t at a consistent level and some are better cared for than others. Weirder yet, not all of them even appear on any (semi) official map.

It’d be super easy for us tourists to get lost down there without a guided tour. Fortunately the tour guide, Margaret, is an incredibly warm and passionate person who knows her way around and loves sharing her knowledge.

This one an only be booked only through Airbnb Experiences.

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Stockholm expeditions

July 4th, 2018

During my six sunny days in Stockholm I tried to squeeze in as many expeditions around town as possible without exhausting myself too much. It’s a big city with a lot going on — you could probably spend a couple weeks in Stockholm and still leave with that nagging feeling you missed something.

Here’s how I spent my time:

Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

 
Free walking tours
Note: These are all free, but you’re expected to tip the guide if you enjoyed the tour.

  • City Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. This tour’s kind of a grab bag, but wanders around mostly in the new-ish parts of Stockholm to the east of the old town. Much of it focuses on the era around the beginnings of the era of the constitutional monarchy.
  • Old Town (Gamla Stan) Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. When I first set foot in Gamla Stan I couldn’t help but to roll my eyes — yet another beautiful relic of a medieval European city turned into a tourist trap. Sigh. But this tour helped breathe some life, or in some cases death, into the stories from the old days. Can’t say Gamla Stan is my favorite place, but by the end of the tour I appreciated it the history enough to not hate its current incarnation.
  • Subway Art Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. If you’ve seen the amazing photos of the subway stations in Stockholm this tour needs no introduction, and if you haven’t go Google it right now! My only complaint about this tour is it didn’t take me to enough stations. I’ll follow up with another blog post about Stockholm’s subway art in the near future, there’s too much to say here.
  • Söder Tour from Free Tour Stockholm. I was staying in the Söder neighborhood/island so most of the ground we covered was already familiar, but the history of the neighborhood was new to me. Somehow this part of town went from a battlefield to the poor part of town and eventually became a the hip part of town.
    •  

      Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

       
      Other tours

      • Stockholm Ghost Walk. This somewhat theatrical tour covers both the historical stories from the old town (Gamla Stan) as well as the more… shall we say, legendary tales. A crypt is included, though the bodies were moved long ago.
      • Guided tour of the Riksdag (Parliament). This tour shows you around the building where Sweden’s government operates. The building’s a mishmash of old and new, modified over time to fit the needs of the day. It’s completely free, just show up at the designated time and prepare to go through an airport-style security check.
      • The Nordic Food Walk. This one’s pricey but worth it since it includes samples of many different Swedish cuisines you won’t find elsewhere. They’ll try to cater to your dietary needs, and as a pescetarian there was only one dish I didn’t get to try — a meatball. The tour ended in the basement of a restaurant for a “fika,” or Swedish coffee break.

       

      Odds and ends

      Aside from the tours here are some other places I stumbled on during my time in Stockholm.

      Stockholm
       

      During my first day in Stockholm my Airbnb host suggested visiting Monteliusvägen, a lookout point near where I was staying. There’s a panoramic view of the city from there and it’s not much of a climb. The place was pretty crowded, but there’s a long trail along the cliff with a few lookout points where you can take in the view and snap some photos.

      Stockholm
       

      A few rooms of the Royal Palace were open to visitors for free. The photo above is the chapel built into the palace but there are several other rooms you can visit without taking the tour. The courtyard is also open to the public.

      Stockholm
       

      The Stockholm Public Library is like a temple for reading. The circular main room has three levels of narrow hallways with books on one side. There’s a small section of English books, though like many visitors I was just there to admire the architecture of the building. According to a sign outside the building this was the first open stack public library in Sweden.

      Stockholm
       

      The idea of an espresso tonic never appealed to me until I was in Stockholm during a heat wave and happened to walk into Johan & Nystrom. Normally at a fancy espresso bar I’d order an espresso, but it was such a hot day I almost gagged at the though of drinking a hot beverage.

      Noticing an espresso tonic featured on their summer menu I went ahead and ordered it. The barista made an espresso, which he poured over iced tonic water. I liked it so much I came back for two more during the trip.

      Stockholm
       

      Everyone who visits Stockholm seems to agree there’s one museum you have to visit: the Vasa Museum. They’re right. This is one impressive museum.

      Back in the 1620’s, the king of Sweden wanted a modern warship with two gun decks in order to intimidate his neighbors. This proved to be a little too cutting edge for the time as the ship sank on its maiden voyage. The wreckage was mostly forgotten until the 1950s when it was discovered again.

      The museum tells both the story of the ship and its historical context as well as the monumental effort that went into getting the ship to where it is today. But the initial “wow” factor for me was walking in past the ticket counter right up to a massive wooden ship that nearly fills a five story building. You don’t see that every day.

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Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours

February 18th, 2018

Pico House, Los Angeles
 

This evening I took the Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours. Their website kind of spoils many of the locations — but it also undersells the tour.

First problem: all the photos of buildings and locations were taking during the day, yet this is a night tour. Everything looks creepier at night so why show the daylight photos? Second, while it mentions “parental guidance” regarding “graphics…” that’s not exactly accurate. Let’s just say this tour probably shouldn’t be offered for kids.

Of all the haunted tours I’ve been on this one really kicks things up a notch and there’s a pretty simple reason for that; California has had some horrific acts over the past 50 years or so and downtown LA was ground zero for many of them. Unlike events from way back when, modern forensics leaves much less room for doubt even when someone isn’t found guilty (spoiler alert: OJ Simpson is mentioned a few times.)

I don’t want to spoil this last bit because the tour’s website doesn’t mention it, and I don’t mean to make light of sad and tragic events, but a certain hotel on the tour was the base of operations for two serial killers and also a relatively recent case where a woman disappeared only to be found dead in the hotel under mysterious circumstances. You’ve probably heard of these cases but had no idea they occurred in the same building — which by the way is currently closed. Turns out that sometimes bad publicity is still bad publicity.
 

My recommendation: This tour ratchets up the concept of a haunted tour by including terrifying events in recent history as well as in the past. I found it fascinating but would not recommend bringing young children as newspaper photos of dismembered bodies and faces are shown.