The Dark Hedges – Ireland’s Real-Life Fantasy Setting

Along Bregagh Road, near the village of Armoy in Northern Ireland, lies a tranquil byroad called The Dark Hedges. For the past three centuries, a stretch of Beech trees have been guarding either side of this road. They have reached up and intertwined with each other, creating an ethereal tunnel of trees with shadow and light playing through the entwined branches. The effect is nothing short of spectacular.

The trees were planted in the 1750s by the Stuart family, on the grounds of Gracehill House, James Stuart’s Gregorian mansion. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion. Needless to say, the Stuarts managed to achieve the desired effect. Even today, the Dark Hedges attracts locals and tourists alike.

Up until fifteen years ago, only locals knew about the Dark Hedges. In 1998, Northern Ireland’s national tourist board began to use the setting to promote tourism. Visitors have been pouring in ever since. It is one of the most photographed places in the world, and has become a desktop wallpaper cliché. Several scenes of the hit series ‘Game of Thrones’ have been filmed here and it is also a popular location for wedding photography.

The Dark Hedges

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Dutch Town Has Street Names Inspired by Lord of the Rings

Geldrop is a small town in the southern part of The Netherlands, with a population of 28,000. Not much information on this place is available online, but it seems like a perfectly ordinary Dutch town. But there is something special about it (apart from the fact that ‘Geldrop’ sounds like some kind of candy).

The names of all the streets in one of the neighborhoods of Geldrop are actually taken out of J.R.R Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. We have absolutely no idea why, or whose genius idea it was, but it’s one of the few places in the world with such bizarre street names. I’d understand if it were just one or two streets, but the entire neighborhood consists of Lord of the Rings references.

At the heart of the city is Laan von Tolkien (Tolkien Avenue). Then the streets branch out into names of hobbits, elves, dwarves and even a few ents (the talking trees). If you want to see for yourself, go to Google Maps and search for Geldrop. Or, you could just follow this link.

Geldrop-LOTR

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Chinese Rich Kid Offers $170,000 to Rent a Girlfriend for Upcoming Spring Festival

This Chinese man is so rich he is willing to shell out one million yuan (US $170,000) just to rent a girlfriend. The news was first reported on China’s leading social networking website, Weibo. The post came from an account called ‘Host of Henan newscast’.

Paying a girl to date you might give people the wrong idea, but this case appears to be different. According to the posting, the man wants to hire a girl just to accompany him to his family reunion during the upcoming Spring Festival. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be alone during the Chinese holidays?

The listing included a photograph of the dude, sitting behind a pile of cash. I suppose he wanted to go all out to prove that he is serious. He put up a list of requirements: the girl should be under 25, over 1.68 meters tall, less than 50 kilograms, and “sweet,” with at least a bachelor’s degree. He will pay 10 percent extra for a girl with a doctorate degree or a virgin. Among other promises is a chartered flight from Shenzhen to Zhengzhou and back.

girlfriend-for-rent

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Mr. Incredibeard and His Truly Incredible Beard Styles

29-year-old Isiah Webb is blessed with amazing genes that have helped him grow a truly legendary beard. It’s rare to find men these days with such a thick overgrowth of facial hair. But Webb isn’t content with just having a long beard. He has transformed it into various weird shapes and styles, posted pictures online and watched them go viral.

Webb calls himself ‘Mr. Incredibeard’. “Beards run in my family, so I’ve always really known; it’s kind of tradition,” he said. “One of my ancestors, Jay Gould, was a railroad tycoon with a pretty awesome beard, and we actually look alike in many ways. Maybe one day I will be able to make a few billion dollars as a beard tycoon.”

I must say, he does look like he’s well on his way to becoming a ‘beard tycoon’, if there really is such a thing. He wears it in so many creative ways – a bowl to eat noodles from, a ‘bearded elf beard’, a ‘stairway to heaven beard’, and even a ‘fries & a beard shake’. Yes, he actually uses his beard to hold a burger, some fries and a shake so that his hands are completely free. I think that’s just for the photograph though, I don’t suppose he’d really eat food off of his beard. Oh, wait, he would.  Isiah puts up these photographs every Monday, on his various social media profiles.

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Meet Steven Kutcher – The Guy Who Gets Insects to Act on Camera

Have you ever wondered how the insects in movies do exactly what they’re supposed to? How do they know they’re even in a movie scene and play along with the plot? Like the spider that bites Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in Spiderman. The bees that swarm Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo. The spider that walks four feet and slips into a slipper in the cult classic, Arachnophobia. Or the giant mosquitos in Jurassic Park.

It turns out that there’s actually a person behind all these shots, manipulating the insects to do his bidding. That man is Steven Kutcher, 69, an entomologist who has been working in Hollywood since 1976. He has been a part of over 100 feature films, numerous commercials, music videos and TV movies.

“I think of myself as a bug wrangler, a consultant. I’m not the cheap guy who trains dogs and chickens and happens to have a tarantula,” he said. “I’m both a scientist and an artist. I think Steven Spielberg said I was the first entomologist in the film industry. I brought the science of insect behavior to the film industry.” It’s pretty obvious that Mr. Kutcher takes immense pride in what he does.

Steven-Kutcher

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Young Russian Spends Eight Months Living Alone Like in the Early Middle Ages

24-year-old Pavel Sapozhnikov is putting himself through one of the most epic socio-psychological experiments in history. He is trying to replicate the lifestyle of his Russian ancestors from around the year 1100, and practicing an ascetic lifestyle with very little human contact for the entire duration of the experiment.

The project began in September 2013 and should run on until May this year. The essence, according to Pavel, is to live on the replica of an ancient farm, devoid of any modern conveniences or communication. “I live alone in the past,” he wrote.

‘Project Hero’ is the brainchild of Alexei Ovcharenko, from the event management agency ‘Ratobor’, which translates as ‘A Mighty Man’. Ratobor, founded in 2006, has conducted several projects and events exclusively based on historic experiences. They proudly declare on their website: “We often do not agree with the vision of the customer and dictate what the event should be. But in our history, we haven’t received any negative reviews about the quality of our corporate programs.”

Pavel Sapozhnikov

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The iPod of Prison – What Makes Sony’s 15-Year-Old Pocket Radio So Popular with Inmates?

Now that smartphones are so popular, it’s hard to think of a world without them. But I remember a time when bulky portable music players were all the rage. I had a Sony Walkman myself as a kid; it was one of my prized possessions. No one uses that kind of devices anymore, or so we think. Even though Sony’s portable audio players don’t hold much market share, there is a special group of people who still use and love them – American prisoners.

An AM/FM radio that was specially built 15 years ago by the Japanese company for this market is still unmatched by any rival brand. The Sony SRF-39FP (Federal Prison) is so popular with inmates, it has been dubbed the ‘iPod of Prison’. Why is it so special? Let’s find out.

Sony-SRF-39FP

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Stroganina – Raw Frozen Fish Served as a Delicacy in Northern Russia

Stroganina is a raw frozen fish delicacy from Yakutia, in northern Russia. It is a winter dish, consisting of long, thin slices of frozen Arctic river fish such as whitefishes, white salmons, cisco or sturgeon.

The dish is served with a dip made of equal parts salt and black pepper powder. It is sometimes decorated with wild red whortleberries and greens. Some of the best stroganina is made of freshly caught fish, frozen once. The taste, according to Yakutians, is soft, fresh and frosty.

I find the concept of stroganina very similar to Japanese sashimi, except that the latter isn’t served frozen. This technique of food preparation is very unique to Russia, where the frozen ground doesn’t allow for much fresh produce. The method evolved out of necessity, because the Russians had to store their meat somewhere, so they stored it in ice and consumed it raw.

Stroganina

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The Manchineel – World’s Most Dangerous Tree for Several Reasons

The Manchineel tree, native to the Western Hemisphere, is known as the most poisonous tree in the world. In places where it grows – Florida, the Caribbean and the Bahamas – the manchineel is often marked with a red band to warn passersby not to get too near it.

The tree is poisonous on so many levels that if you ever spot one, it is better you stay at least a few yards away from it. Its fruit resembles a small apple, but eating one could land you right in the emergency room. It was supposedly named ‘manzanita de la muerte’ (little apple of death) by Christopher Columbus. But it might just be the least dangerous part of the tree.

The manchineel’s milky white sap is incredibly caustic and poisonous as well – even a drop could cause skin blisters, dermatitis, swelling or burns. This happens a lot with unsuspecting travelers who use the tree for shelter from the rains. The sap is so caustic that even the rain drops coming from the branches can cause burns. The bark is poisonous too – burning it releases a smoke that causes temporary (and in some cases, permanent) blindness. Considering all the ways it can hurt you, it’s no wonder the manchineel currently holds the Guinness record for world’s most dangerous tree.

manchineel-tree

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New ChocoChicken Restaurant to Specialize in Chocolate Deep-Fried Chicken

After the insanely popular Cronuts (Croissants + Donuts), the latest trend in food mashups is all set to hit the market. A new restaurant in California is combining two of the world’s most favorite foods – chocolate and fried chicken.

‘ChocoChicken’ is the brainchild of Adam Fleischman, founder and CEO of the patty chain Umami Burger. In his latest invention, he plunges pieces of chicken into chocolate-infused batter before frying them in hot oil.

I cannot quite imagine what this might taste like. Savory? Sweet? Somewhere in between, perhaps? According to Fleischman, it tastes like nothing you’ve eaten before. “ChocoChicken is completely different than anything else out there,” he said. “This isn’t traditional fried chicken, or even chicken just dipped in chocolate. It is a whole new style of fried chicken that you just have to taste to believe.”

choco-chicken-restaurant

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Human Air Pump Inflates Car Tires with His Nose

If Nie Yongbing was in a comic book, he would probably be ‘Super-Lung Man’ (lame name, I know, but I’m open to suggestions). The 63-year-old has lungs of steel that allow him to inflate car tires using only his nose.

According to recent news reports, the Chinese man displayed his strength in Chengdu, Southwest China, by inflating four truck tires with two adults standing on each, in just 20 minutes. He held a 40-meter rubber hose to his right nostril and blew as hard as he could, gradually filling the tubes. He had his left nostril and left ear covered the whole time to prevent pressure leaks.

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X-Alps – The World’s Most Amazing Adventure Race

For most people, the route from Salzburg to Monaco is by road. But who wants to go on a boring road trip, when you could climb mountains and paraglide across the Alps instead? Of course, to do that you’ve got to have a real taste for adventure. If you do, then the Red Bull X-Alps annual race is just the thing for you.

It is said to be one of the toughest challenges in the world, demanding not only expert paragliding skills but extreme endurance. Participating athletes need to hike or fly over a distance of about 1,000 kilometers between Salzburg and Monaco, through one of the world’s most unforgiving environments. For adventurers, this is the ‘ultimate’ race.

Each team entering the race consists of one athlete and up to two supporters to help with logistics, food and motivation. The contestants race between 5:00 am and 10:30 pm, hiking over 100 kilometers a day. A paraglider, harness, rescue parachute, helmet, emergency signal rocket, reflector belt and tracking device must be carried at all times.

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English Artist Turns Dirty White Vans into Works of Art on Wheels

You don’t really need an expensive canvas to make beautiful art. Rick Minns, from Wicklewood in Norfolk, proves that a dirty old van will do the trick.

Seriously, if someone like Rick lived in my area, I’d never clean my car. I would  just leave it coated with layers of filth, hoping he’d find it and do his thing. Rick, or ‘Ruddy Muddy’ as he’s now being called, creates amazing works of art in the grease, mud and dust collected on unwashed vans parked in the streets.

Rick said that he had often wondered if people would like to find art on their cars, rather than the usual ‘clean me’ and other rude messages scribbled in the dust. That’s how he got the idea for ‘Graffilthy Art’. “I was a bit bored at work one day, with a bit of spare time on my hands and thought it would be like a bit of fun,” he said. When no-one complained, he took it as a good sign and kept going. “I played around with a few things and they sort of developed from there.”

ruddy-muddy-art

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Meet Yacouba Sawadogo – The Man Who Stopped the Desert

Yacouba Sawadogo is an exceptional man – he single-handedly managed to solve a crisis that even scientists and development organizations could not. The simple old farmer’s re-forestation and soil conservation techniques are so effective they’ve helped turn the tide in the fight against the desertification of the harsh lands in northern Burkina Faso.

Over-farming, over-grazing and over population have, over the years, resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying in this landlocked West African nation. Although national and international researchers tried to fix the grave situation, it really didn’t really make much of a difference. Until Yacouba decided to take matters into his own hands in 1980.

Yacouba’s methods were so odd that his fellow farmers ridiculed him. But when his techniques successfully regenerated the forest, they were forced to sit up and take notice. Yacouba revived an ancient African farming practice called ‘zai’, which led to forest growth and increased soil quality.

Yacouba-Sawadogo

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Insane Synchronization – Japan’s Unique Precision Walking Routines

The video of a 47-year-old tradition at Japan’s Nippon Sports Science University went viral in November last year. ‘Shuudan koudou’, which means ‘Collective Action’, is a unique routine where a group of students put up an amazing display of synchronized walking.

On November 14, 77 students performed before a crowd of 11,000 people at the university’s festivities. Their walking routine was similar to military movement exercises or synchronized marching band movements. But they were far more intricate and precise. Watch the video, and you’ll know just how precise. Seriously, the way they move is simply mind-blowing.

precision-walking-Japan

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