One of the reasons to travel is to experience the feeling of immersion that comes from being in an unfamiliar place. Even if you’re not into “weird,” experiences that are memorable, that stand out, are those that are out of the ordinary, however you define it.
Since we’re here, clearly we have a predilection for the weird; weird places are no exception. I’m not talking about the places that make you feel like maybe you’ve accidentally walked into your last night on earth, but places that startle or unsettle you and make you feel somehow different, more aware.
I’ve had this feeling before in sculpture parks, places where the ordinary and extraordinary meet. Walking in a park is an ordinary experience; walking in a park and encountering a giant eyeball is extraordinary. There are countless weird places in the world, little magical portals that appear in unexpected places; if I have to pick just a few places to go, though, here’s my current top list of strange places where I’d like to immerse myself, to experience their incredible unordinariness:
Sculpture and art parks are fantastic, but the Museo Subacuático de Arte is one better: it’s an underwater sculpture park, featuring work by Jason deCaires Taylor. To get to the Museo, you have to snorkel/scuba dive to the sculptures, which also serve as structures to support the regrowth of coral. I’m totally captivated by the idea of these sculptures that are meant to merge with nature, to be transformed and become unrecognizable. I imagine this experience would be made even more otherworldly because of the silence and pressure of being underwater.
Just LOOK at this fabulous creation. The Parco dei Mostri was designed by Prince Vincino Orsini and architect Pirro Ligorio in 1552, which is amazing to me as some of the sculptures feel contemporary, or perhaps timeless. In the Parco dei Mostri, awesome (literally) moss- and lichen-covered stone sculptures and grotesque monsters loom out of the grounds. I love the way nature has partially reclaimed the sculptures (which were apparently neglected for centuries); in this way, the Sacro Bosco seems like an unintentional cousin of the Museo Subacuático. In both parks, the art has merged with the land.
While I’m sure these sculptures were beautiful in their new, pristine state, the moss and lichen is what draws me in, giving these images a haunting eternal feel. I’d have to visit in person to see if I felt the same way.
Did someone say bone church!? Located in the Czech Repuplic, the Sedlec Ossuary is a Roman Catholic chapel containing decorations made from the overabundant remains of 40,000 people, artfully arranged by a Czech woodcarver in 1870. It’s not hard to find contemporary references to the Sedlec Ossuary, as it routinely pops up in movies, shows, and on lists about the creepiest places on earth. (I suspect that this song might be a reference to the Ossuary as well).
The Sedlec Ossuary will, I’m sure, always attract substantial attention; places like this walk and/or cross the line between reverence and sacrilege, the practical and the macabre. Even thinking about being in this church and breathing air that has clearly passed through and around human remains sets me a little on edge. However, the point of visiting weird places—much like weird art, or weird writing—is not to make a person feel comfortable. Because I have a visceral reaction to even just the photos, I’m very curious to know how the place itself would make me feel.
It strikes me that even though these places are so very different, they also share a certain similarity, and it is the sameness that has drawn me in. Sacro Bosco and the Museo both let nature turn something already eerie into something stirring; life grows upon relics, which somehow makes it feel like human presence has been erased, like these structures cannot possibly have been created by people. These are temples of forgotten, monstrous gods.
Though the Sedlec Ossuary ostensibly doesn’t fit the character of manmade thing turned marvelous by nature, the idea of an absent human hand seems relevant. It is difficult for me, if not impossible, to picture one human sorting through other humans’ remains, combining various parts and pieces and people, turning those bones into chandeliers, bells, and arches.
What else is there to say about these places? I feel as though I’m drawn to them for the same reason I’m drawn to weird writing. Much like weird fiction, these places writing fill me with amazement, with wonder, with marvel for how humanity possibly managed to dream up and create such works as these. Strange works are both beautiful and terrifying; artful displays of imagination and utterly absorbing worlds that challenge me to reassess my notion of fiction, art, or my vision of the world.
For now, I’ll fantasize about visiting the Ossuary, the Museo, and the Parco dei Mostri, imagining them to be immersive, unsettling, and utterly captivating, but I very much hope to experience these places in person.