Chernobyl Nuclear Plant to Become Official Tourist Attraction

The Ukrainian government has announced the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site will be included in a full scale tourist program.

I know it sounds weird, but tourists have been visiting Chernobyl through unofficial tourism programs, for several years. Authorities are just trying to make things official, so they can actually cash out on the interest people have in the famous contaminated zone. Oddly enough, the Ukrainian Ministry of Emergency will be in charge of operating tours, and although they guarantee every measure will be taken to insure tourists’ safety, Chernobyl isn’t really as safe as they’ll have you think.

On April 26, 1986, reactor number 4 of the local nuclear power station exploded, causing the greatest nuclear disaster in the history of mankind (not counting the ones caused by US nuclear bombs in Japan). A perimeter of 30 miles around the epicenter was closed up to the public, to prevent radioactive contamination, maintained by thousands of technicians, to reduce exposure to radiation. While the catastrophe happened almost a quarter of a century ago, the area around the power station is still very dangerous, especially since the remaining three nuclear reactors have not been shut down, and the shield placed over reactor 4 has been steadily deteriorating, under pressure from within. A new, improved “sarcophagus”, big enough to cover the Statue of Liberty and weighing 20,000 tons, will be ready in 2012.

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Dordoy – The Shipping Container Bazaar of Kyrgyzstan

One of Asia’s largest shopping centers, the Dordoy Bazaar consists of around 7,000 shipping containers, which makes it a monument to repurposing.

Located near the city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Dordoy Bazaar is one of the main entrepots through which Chinese goods make their way to markets in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It was inaugurated in 1992, and as wholesale markets across the country began to plummet, the bazaar’s popularity kept rising transforming it in the monument of raw commerce it is today.

Dordoy Bazaar stretches for about a kilometer, on the north-eastern outskirts of Bishkek, and features all kinds of goods, from Chinese and Turkish knock-offs to Russian music CDs, all off them stocked in the thousands of stacked shipping containers that serve as shops and storage space. Practically, the entire bazaar is built out of shipping containers organized in rows to form streets and plazas of sort. A 2005 newspaper report stated there were between 6,000 and 7,000 containers in Dordoy Bazaar, and their numbers probably went up considerably, since then.

The few buildings in Dordoy Bazaar that aren’t made of containers serve as administrative offices, hotels and toilets.

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Christmas Tree Lights Powered by a Bunch of Electric Eels

People are definitely becoming more and more concerned about the environment, also more inventive. Looking for ways to save up energy, the staff of the Helsinki Sea Life Center aquarium in Finland, discovered they had a  totally free energy source living right in their fish tanks – electric eels.

“Our electrician built a device that uses four plastic-encased steel probes to capture the eel’s electrical discharge and feed it to the lights. At feeding time though, it really powers up. You can hear the voltage increasing and the lights shine bright and steady.” explains Markus Dernjatin – from the Helsinki Sea Life Center in Finland.

These deadly deep sea creatures can produce an amount of electrical energy sufficient to light up more than one Christmas tree – around 650 volts. At the same time, the high voltage is enough to kill a grown man…

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Giant Frosty the Snowman Built in Poland

It has been snowing for quite some time in Poland and with all that “raw material” at hand ,three inhabitants of  Trzebnica city, Poland started building a snowman. The problem is they didn’t know when to stop.

The 31ft giant, named Milocinek, was finished after 6 days of work and is now the pride and joy of the city, which is pretty normal, if you believe the rumors that this is not just the largest snowman in Poland, but  also the largest in the world. I hate to break it to them, but this doesn’t even come close to beating the record for the world’s largest snowman.  Milocinek is so large they had to use a barrel for a hat and a traffic cone for his nose, instead of the usual carrot.

Although the three men who built Milocinek started of out of pure boredom, they became more and more enthusiastic as their work progressed., and didn’t stop until they realized their snowman was taller than pretty much all the surrounding houses. In fact, Milocinek is so large they had to use a barrel for a hat and a traffic cone for his nose, instead of the usual carrot.

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Need a Drinking Buddy? You Can Hire One!

With the holiday season fast approaching, if you haven’t yet found a drinking partner, your chances of actually finding one in time for the celebrations are getting very slim. But no need to worry, a Ukrainian firm has come up with the perfect solution – you can hire a drinking buddy.

The “employer” will definitely get his money’s worth, as this firm not only offers a swell drinking companion but someone with whom you can engage in conversations about all kinds of different subjects, like sports, politics, art, philosophy and even women.

The Kind Fairy used to be just another firm specialized in organizing weddings and birthday parties, but ever since they launched their “drinking buddy for hire” service, last December, business has really taken off. The fact that most of their drinkers have different talents, like singing, reciting poems or playing the guitar, offering a variety of choices that guarantee they will be able to liven-up employers’ evening, is considered partially responsible for the success.

But there is also a less obvious reason why people like this weird service – there are those who still consider therapy taboo and  would much rather discuss their problems with a stranger than seeing a psychologist.

Yulia Peyeva, head of the Kind Fairy, claims the services offered by her firm are nothing like dating or matchmaking,  nor do they encourage heavy drinking. Right, like Ukrainians need encouragement to drink heavily…


Chinese Artist Paints on Water

Zhu Shenghi, a talented artist from Xi’an, China’s Shaanxi Province, has developed a unique way of painting on water.

While we can all take a brush and start stroking away on water, results won’t be nearly as spectacular as what Zhu Shenghi can do. Using a fine tool and naphta, he paints all kinds of detailed shapes on the surface of the water, but water isn’t actually the real canvas. After he’s finished the design, Zhu places a piece of paper that absorbs the paint from the surface of the water, thus becoming a regular painting without having been touched by any painting utensils.

UPDATE: Seeing the photos for the first time, I thought Zhu Shenghi’s art was unique, but it’s apparently been around since the 15th century, and used in East Asia and the Islamic World. It might not be as modern as other painting techniques, but it’s still pretty fascinating.

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Kobe Luminarie – Japan’s Festival of Light

Kobe Luminarie is an extraordinary light festival that takes place every December, in commemoration of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

The first edition Kobe Luminarie took place in December of 1995, as a memorial to the lives lost in the terrible earthquake of January 17. It was entitled “Dreams and Light” and was a message of hope that two and a half million people came to see, on the first day. Following the success of the first festival, Kobe Luminarie became a yearly event that celebrates Kobe’s remarkable recovery from disaster.

Various light decorations are created from millions of small light bulbs and LEDs, from bright arches to citadels and whatever else Italian designer Valerio Festi and his team decide on. Since the name of the festival comes from the plural of the Italian “luminaria” -which means light decoration – the decision of employing an Italian team must not have been incidental. Every year, the theme of Kobe Luminarie changes, and that has people from all over the world coming back year after year, to see the new light structures. Approximately five million people attend the Kobe Luminarie every year.

Apart from the beautiful light structures, another impressive aspect of Kobe Luminarie is that it relies on its audience to keep going. Visitors support the event by putting coins in the donation boxes set up around the brightly lit structures, and this assures the funding for next year’s festival. A great way to show appreciation, considering the entrance if free of charge…

Just to be clear, Kobe Luminarie has nothing to do with Christmas, despite the common colorful-lights theme. This year, the festival of light took place between December 2-13, and was named “Il cuore nella luce” (The heart in the light).

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The Incredible Map Collages of Matthew Cusick

Matthew Cusick, a talented collage artist from Dallas, Texas, creates incredible works of art with map cutouts. Using the most rudimentary tools, Cusick reconfigures entire networks of roads, rivers and municipal transit systems to create intricate artworks that look like paintings and drawings, if looked at from afar.

Originally from New York, Matthew Cusick graduated from Cooper Union in 1993, and had his first exhibition just two years later. Since then, his masterpieces have been showcased around the world. Inspired by topography, the artist states that he likes to “catalog, archive, and arrange information and then dismantle, manipulate, and reconfigure it.”

Have a look at these amazing map collages, and be sure to check out Matt’s official site for more of his beautiful artworks.

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24-Year-Old Blackie Is Britain’s Oldest Cat

The leading candidate for Britain’s oldest cat, Blackie is a cat who will turn 24 in January of next year, the equivalent of 118 in human years.

Quentin Shaw, 49, is the proud owner of Blackie and he’s had her since forever. He got her and her brother 24 years ago, and named them Tan and Blackie from the spots they each had on their heads – one was brown, the other one black . Unfortunately Tan died at the age of five, after being hit by a car.

Food and care were not the only ingredients that lead to Blackie’s longevity, but also the love of her owners., who believe love and care is definitely one of the main factors that help pets live a long life. Even though she’s no longer able to see in the dark, hunt mice and she hasn’t got stability in her paws, as she keeps falling over when brushed, Blackie  hasn’t given up on life. She’s been in and out of the vet clinic a few times, but she’s a real fighter, and always managed to get back to full health.

Blackie is now living with her owner, Mr. Shaw, and his family, fiancee Kim Lanham and children Scarlet and Tom, in Thurnby, Leicestershire. “I think that with animals, when they’re loved, they live longer. She’s part of the family. She’s got a lot of attitude still but she’s amazing with the kids and good natured (…)every time we go to the vet she bounces back. She’s certainly a fighter.” said Miss Lanham.

Blackie’s story has even caught the interest of Daniel Fileds of The Guinness Book Of Records, as there is no current record holder of the title for Britain’s Oldest Cat. Hestia, who died in September at the age of 21 years and 11 months, was the last oldest living cat.

Blakie’s age certainly is impressive, considering the average life expectancy for cats is 16 years.

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The House of the Beautiful Flowers – A Retirement Home for Prostitutes

Casa Xochiquetzal (The House of the Beautiful Flowers) is a retirement home for prostitutes, established in Mexico City’s  Tepito neighborhood, that got it’s name from the Aztec goddess of love and women.

The center was founded in 2007 by a former prostitute, Carmen Munoz, impressed by the old sex workers she saw sleeping in the streets. And it wasn’t easy at all. It took years of lobbying for her to get the support of the government and local media. Andres Manuel Lopes Obrador, mayor at the time,  gave her a dilapidated 18th century house, which she transformed into what is now home for 23 old prostitutes, with available accommodations for 45 women. They have to fulfill one condition, other than the obvious one, being a former sex worker, and that regards their age – women have to be at least 60 years old. Interestingly enough, even if they aren’t required to, many of the prostitutes choose to continue practicing their job.

In most cases, they have been sold as young girls or even as children and forced into prostitution, thereby no contact with their families has been kept. Although most of them can still work, the money is very little, compared to what younger women earn, and this makes it impossible for them to survive by themselves, so Casa Xochiquetzal comes as somewhat of a blessing.

Although they display a lot of joy and seem to have a lot of fun together, almost every one of the old prostitutes hides a trace of sadness, especially when it comes to their children who barely remember they exist, much less come to visit them at the House of the Beautiful Flowers.

This story is part of a documentary that CNN made for the launch of VICE magazine in Mexico. Bernardo Loyola, producer of this documentary, confesses he found this weird and quite “different”, but nevertheless, he was impressed by the power these women have to continue with their lives, no matter the difficulties. For him, the visit at the House of the Beautiful Flowers was a turning point that totally changed his perception of prostitution.


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Pet Buffalo Likes To Ride in a Car and Drink Beer at the Pub

No, you’re not imagining things, that’s a real buffalo riding around in a convertible. That’s Bailey, the pet buffalo, and guess what, he’s going to the local pub.

The image of a 1,600-pound buffalo ridding in convertible is not something you see everyday, but it has become  quite common for the people of Spruce Grove, Alberta. This time, it was all caught on tape by a British camera crew from England’s Oxford Scientific Films, a team partially responsible for producing Animal Planet’s Fatal Attraction, a series of documentaries that deals with the close relationship that can come between man and an exotic animal or a big, dangerous one. For that particular reason the film crew followed Jim and Linda Sautner and their two-year-old buffalo “pet”, Bailey,  for almost a week in order to capture the one-of-a-kind relationship between the three.

It has become kind of a habit for Linda, Jim and Bailey to drive around town in their custom modified convertible around town and often stop at the local pub for a pint of ale. And it’s not only beer that Bailey likes, as he has also tried dancing a couple of times, but it seems his hoofs and the slippery dance floor weren’t very compatible.

Matthew Wortman, director/producer of the documentary, said “It’s pretty amazing to see such a wild animal in this sort of an unusual setting, really. Bailey is a little frisky at times, but it’s amazing how tame he is.”

This is not the first time the Sautners and Bailey have caught the attention of the media, as they also appeared on CNN, in a short the piece that made the Scientific Films crew fly all the way to Spruce Grove to find out more about the trio.

Bailey Jr. is the family’s second reared buffalo. There was Bailey Sr. before him  (no relation between the two), but he died when he was just eight years old, due to an accident on the farm. Not long after Bailey Jr. came into their lives, when he was just a calf, a special connection between Jim and the baby buffalo  was formed, as Linda confesses:

“They are best of buddies and Jim’s quite the buffalo whisperer. He really works well with animals and seems to have a special affinity for buffalo – he reads them very carefully and understands them very well. He is very consistent in his training and he doesn’t let them get away with anything, but he also is never harsh. He never strikes them.”

Animal Planet is planning to air the documentary in the spring. Scroll all the way to the bottom for an incredible video of Bailey and his animal-loving owner.


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American House Lit Up by One Million Christmas Lights

For most of us, Christmas lights are just another tradition, but for Faucher family, in Delaware, it has become a real passion. For 23 years they have been decorating their home with one million Christmas lights that cover every inch of their property. The lights are accompanied by other joyful Christmas ornaments that spread through out the garden, like snowmen, candy canes, elves or toy soldiers.

But this beautiful, over-the-top display of Christmas spirit is definitely not cheap. According to  “House Logic”, a homeowners website, the bill could reach a staggering $82,320, if the lights used are common 5 watt C7 bulbs that are left on for four hours every night, for 30 days. If they use LEDs, they “only” have to pay a $10,680 electric bill, while proudly owning an environment-friendly installation.

The Christmas lights tradition is an ancient one. Even in the times when Christians were persecuted, people chose to light candles as a symbol of celebrating Christmas. It was around the year 1500 that Christmas trees were decorated with lights for the first time, in Germany, but quickly spread throughout the world.

It was only in the 17th century the Christmas lights were brought to the outside of the house, as people started decorating their homes and gardens.

Although the tradition of decorating with Christmas lights became very popular after the 1950’s, it’s only fair to say that the Fauchers took it all to another level with their 1 million lights installation. Every year, they enjoy the admiration of not only their neighbors, but also that of people from around the country, who come to admire the Fauchers’ magical display of Christmas spirit.

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Conflict Kitchen – Pittsburgh’s Unique Restaurant

Conflict Kitchen is a unique take-out restaurant that only serves foods from countries the United States is in conflict with.

Although some people might get the idea that Conflict Kitchen is just a way of cashing out on the war on terror, the Pittsburgh establishment is much more than just a great marketing idea. Yeah, they serve some of the most popular dishes from countries like Afghanistan or Iran, developed in collaboration with actual members of Afghan and Iranian communities, Conflict Kitchen also offers important insight into the culture of these countries a lot of people know nothing about (except that they’re the enemy). Every order that goes out the take-out storefront is served in a custom wrapper featuring interviews with members of the Afghan community living both in their home country or the US, on issues ranging from culture and ideology to serious geopolitical issues.

Every four months, Conflict Kitchen changes its focus from one country to another, and every iteration features events, performances and discussions on the problems the country faces, thus allowing attendants to learn more about these nations and their role in the conflict with America.

So far, Conflict Kitchen has covered the Iranian and Afghan cuisines, but they’re preparing for iterations that will focus on North Korea, Venezuela and more.

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Le Truc – Old School Bus Converted into Restaurant on Wheels

Le Truc may have started out as a old school bus, but it’s now one of San Francisco’s most popular gourmet restaurants.

Le Truc is the brainchild of Hugh Schick, a talented chef who wanted to offer his customers a truly unique experience. He managed to convert a 1989 Ford Ward School Bus into an ingenious restaurant on wheels that not only unlike any other restaurants you’ve ever seen, but also serves the finest gourmet meals. It’s now painted all-black, with copper accents, instead of the old yellow, and while it still looks like a bus on the outside, the interior has suffered a complete makeover. The original seating has been altered to accommodate 12 guests, skylights have been added, and the back section has been transformed into a kitchen.

According to San Francisco local media, Le Truc is gaining mad popularity and it’s on its way to becoming one of the city’s busiest restaurants. I guess people are curious to know what it’s like to eat fine foods, on a bus. And to prevent long lines outside the bus, Le Truc has a modern electronic order system that allows people to order from the small kiosk outside, and then simply wait for their meal. They’ll even receive a message on their phone or computer, when the order is ready.

Just so you can get an idea of the foods Hugh Schick and his team cook, on Le Truc here are some of their most popular dishes: grilled Portobello mushrooms and ground chicken meatballs, grilled duck breast with dried cherry, dried pear, and pomegranate molasses, as well various savory sandwiches.

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Sol Cinema – The World’s Smallest Solar Powered Theater

Nowadays eco-friendly is definitely the way to go, and green is a hip color, so the Sol Cinema follows the latest trends.

It was created by artist Peter O’Connor with the help of some of his colleagues from the British art collective Undercurrents, in a travel trailer from the 1960’s. The Sol Cinema is fully powered by the sun, using 120W solar panels that are connected to four large lithium-ion batteries, providing sufficient energy for the LED projector and all the other electronics inside .

But being powered by solar energy alone isn’t the only unique characteristic of the Sol Cinema, as being set up inside a trailer also makes it the world’s smallest solar theater. Believe it or not, it’s able to accommodate up to eight visitors.

The cinema focuses it’s screenings on eco-themed movies or documentaries. If you’re interested, more info on the theater’s tour dates and locations can be found on the official website. Apparently, following its local success, the Sol Cinema is preparing for a tour around Europe.

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