This week on Strange Horizons: The greatest spa you ever did visit

Curia palace hotel
Above: Curia Palace Hotel.

I understand last we spoke, I was somewhat kitten-like in my excitement to tell you about a severed head, but no more. This is different. Hear me out. I have a story up on Strange Horizons this week. It’s about depression and spa treatments and sleep and if there was ever a darling I absolutely refused to kill, this is it.

The hotel in this story, and the perpetual drowsiness of it, was inspired by a very real place: Curia, a spa town in central Portugal boasting little more than a hotel, a park feat. a casino, and an art déco gas station I’d love to show you via Google Street View. (Obviously I’m being dramatic, three buildings do not a town make, but stay with me here.)

Built to accommodate the wealth and finesse of the 20s, this is a place I’ve come to associate with bittersweetness and paddle boats, roadtrips in my mother’s jeep and crumbling Berliners. Like most things that catch my eye, it’s, huh… dead now. The hotel takes guests, but I have never seen any in the gardens. The park is populated by Koi, some wandering ducks, and the occasional throng of old men playing cards. No sign of the bustling summer crowds my mother remembers from the 70s and 80s. Overall, a fine place to rest your head. I invite you to do just that, over at the Strange Horizons website. I hope you find it soothing.

(As usual, more photos below!)

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Recently on Atlas Obscura: a punny article about a head in a jar

Above: Aqueduto das Águas Livres, eastern walkway.

For my latest foray into Preserved Portuguese Body Parts And Where To Find Them, I set out on the trail of Diogo Alves, the 19th century serial killer famous for pushing people off an aqueduct (yes, really), whose head now rests in a specimen jar (yes, REALLY).

His story is one of immeasurable violence, so I felt I had to keep my tone particularly detached (don’t @ me, true crime fans, I’m not your people). At one point, writing the story, I actually thought I’d gone overboard with the phrenology pun, but then Atlas Obscura came back around with “Diogo Alves continues to serve face” and I have yet to recover. You can read the fruit of our combined labors here–keeping in mind, of course, that it includes photos of a head in a jar.

In the end, we decided not to use all the photos from my research trip, so I’m leaving them here for context. There are skulls, too. This entire blog should be a content warning.

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Folk saints, lapsed catholicism, some navel-gazing


Above: pews in the Viseu Cathedral. See more @ my photoblog here.

I wrote a piece for Catapult on how much I like churches even though I know I have no business entering them. It wasn’t easy to write and I can’t tell you whether it’s easy to read, but I hope so. I hope it makes someone nod in dazed agreement, at least.

Till next time (come at me, lazy lazy August), I leave you with pretty pictures of places mentioned in the essay, because I’ll take any excuse to show you touristing spots you may not have heard of.

(cw: there be mummies in this post)

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Today on Atlas Obscura: A dead queen in a silver box


Above: sculpture of Elizabeth of Aragon and the miracle of the roses, Viseu Cathedral. See more @ my photoblog here.

Good morning everyone! My piece for Atlas Obscura, on the intact hand of 680-year-old St. Elizabeth of Portugal aka Elizabeth of Aragon, is up today.

It took a flash visit to the city of Coimbra to get the pictures, but it was totally worth it. Also, a wonderful opportunity to nearly start a fight between two security guards who could not decide whether I should be allowed to capture hundreds of images just because I wanted to. (Their conclusion was yes, yes I could, because my polite earnestness always melts gatekeepers at the knees. Or something.)