Juhyou – The Beautiful Snow Monsters of Japan

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The words “beautiful” and “monster” don’t usually go well together, but when talking about a breathtaking natural wonder like the snow-and-ice-covered trees known as juhyou in Japan, we thought we’d make an exception.

Every year, during the cold winter months, snow monsters make their appearance on the snow covered slopes of Japan’s northern prefectures. But instead of running out of their way, tourists flock to these places to admire their natural beauty. Every one of these juhyou monsters is uniquely shaped by Mother Nature, who uses strong winds as her tools and thick layers of snow and ice as art mediums. Juhyou translates as “frost-covered trees” and is a popular phenomenon that takes place in many of Japan’s northern ski resorts.

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Chateau Guédelon – A 13th Century Castle in the Making

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It is sometimes unbelievable how beautiful architecture was created in ancient times, without the use of modern technology. A medieval construction project in Treigny, France, aims at understanding exactly how this was possible. Guédelon Castle is a project that is being completed with only the materials and techniques that were available to man in the Middle Ages. Of course, it’s going to take decades to complete.

The construction of Guédelon Castle started back in 1997. Michel Guyot, the owner of the nearby Saint-Fargeau castle, first got the idea of the project when he was restoring his own property. Over the years, the project has matured in terms of complexity, and has become a major tourist attraction. Today, it has created over 55 jobs and draws around 300,000 people every year. It also acts as an educational backdrop for school excursions. The design of the castle is based on the architectural canons laid down by the King of France,  Philip II Augustus, in the 12th and 13th centuries. The work done is mostly manual and slow, involving materials such as wood, earth, sand, stone and clay. The blueprint of the castle includes a moat and six towers. What’s even more fascinating is that the workers dress in the garb of medieval times.

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Colombian City Inaugurates Giant Outdoor Escalator

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The last time we spoke about the Colombian city of Medellin here on OC, it was about the tours based on the life of deceased drug-lord Pablo Escobar. Now the city is in the news again, for an entirely different reason. The residents of Medellin who have long been victims of war and urban violence have a reason to cheer – a giant outdoor escalator worth $6.7 million, installed by the Colombian Government. It was unveiled on Monday.

Comuna 13 is a relatively poor hillside neighborhood in Medellin, whose residents have to make a 35-minute hike uphill every single day to get home from the center of the city. This is roughly equivalent to climbing 28 flights of stairs. Now, thanks to the initiative of the Colombian officials, they do not have to make the exhausting journey any longer. The new escalator will allow residents to complete the trip home in just 6 minutes. What’s more, it’s completely free of cost.

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Ancient Documents Claim Jesus Lived to Be 106 and Died in Japan

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There have been bizarre claims before that Jesus Christ lived and died in India, with his tomb located in the state of Kashmir. In what can only be a testament to his omnipresence, another claim has been made to Christ’s whereabouts before his death, this time by the Japanese.

So the story goes like this – Christ visited Japan between the ages of 21 and 33. Of course, this is conveniently supported by the fact that the Bible skips over large periods of Christ’s early life. He spent this time studying the native language and culture, before returning to Jerusalem. What about the Crucifixion, you ask? Well, it wasn’t Christ that was crucified at all. According to this theory, it was his younger brother Isukiri, who took his place on the cross. In the meantime, Christ fled to Siberia. After a few years, he traveled via Alaska and arrived at the port of Hachinohe, 40km from the village of Shingo. He lived the rest of his life in the village, where he married, had three children and died at the age of 106.

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Szopka Making – A Colorful Polish Tradition

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The beginning of December each year sees the transformation of Rynek Główny (Main Market Square)  in the Polish city of Krakow, into a beautiful Christmas market. Arts and crafts, ceramics, sweets and more are put up for sale. Excellent food in the form of grilled oscypek cheese and Polish wine are available too.The szopka, a crèche competition, is of course the major event.

On the first Thursday of December, crèche masters from around Poland and other parts of the world display their szopki at the history museum in the Krzysztofory Palace. The winning models are placed on display throughout the Christmas season. The szopka is a traditional Polish folk art that has its origins in the Middle Ages. The tradition is a rich and colorful one, having evolved over the ages. The szopki depict the Wawel Cathedral, which is a part of Krakow’s Wawel Castle with a Nativity scene set inside its doors. Some of the models are as small as 6 inches while others are around 6 feet high.

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World’s Smallest Theater Fits Only Eight Guests

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Possibly the smallest theater in the world, and a strong contender for a Guiness record, the Kremlhof Theater is located in Villach, Austria. It’s so tiny, it can only fit eight guests, all of whom get front row seats.

In fact, it look doesn’t look at all like a theater, more like a cabin of sorts. The stage inside measures 1.30 by 1.30 m, and runs regular shows. Built by Felix Strasser and Yulia Izmaylova, irregularly puts on shows of the opera, ballet and plays for the privileged limited audience. The guests are required only to make a mere donation, as the theater doesn’t sell tickets. The Kremlhof Theater was opened 2 years ago in 2009, with the help of the theater organization for the stimulation of the dramatic appetite (der Verein zur Anregung des dramatischen Appetits or VADA). Also involved were the drama companies, ONEX and kärnöl. Their first production ever was called “Schnee” and began in January 2010.

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Have a nICE Stay At Finland’s Igloo Village

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Ever wondered what it would be like to live in an igloo? Well, you have the chance to find out at the Kakslauttanen Igloo Village, in Finland. A hotel located in the northern part of the country, high up above the arctic circle,  is being touted as one of the coziest romantic getaways in the world.

Holidaying couples have three options at the hotel – Log Cabins, Snow Igloos, and Glass Igloos. Of course, the snow igloos get my vote for the most interesting of the three. Let’s find out more about them. Built to fit 1 to 5 people, it is literally like sleeping inside a room made of snow Of course, while the temperature outside may be dangerously cold at below -30 C, all the necessary amenities are provided indoors to keep you warm and cozy. The temperature inside ranges between -3 and -6 C. Warm down sleeping bags, woolen socks and hood are provided. The ice itself illuminates the igloo.

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The Miniature World of the Holiday Train Show, in New York

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The New York Botanical Garden has put up a new  Holiday Train Show, which has been attracting several visitors. Held in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the show isn’t very far from the entrance to the garden. The display does feature some trains, but the real attractions are the models of famous buildings made entirely from plants.

The miniature trains weave around the lush plants and flowers, and replicas of the Empire State Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, TWA Terminal at JFK and a few other buildings that are made entirely of plant parts. What’s special about these models is that they aren’t exact replicas of the structures themselves. Rather, artists have tried to capture the defining characteristics of these buildings. Creator Paul Busse, along with his team of artists gathers the material from woodlands around their studio situated in Kentucky, making an effort not to disturb the natural environment. The 100% natural models are created from plant material, with acorn chimney tops and magnolia leaf roofs. The reproduction of Washington Irving’s home has pink orchids surrounding it, one of the branches wrapped like a vine around the entrance. Small plants and flowers are used to depict trees and bushes on a perfectly manicured front lawn.

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The Amazing Oak Chapel of Allouville Bellefosse

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The French village of Allouville-Bellefosse is famous for the Chêne Chapelle (Oak Chapel), which is literally a chapel built into an oak tree. The amazing architecture consists of a wooden staircase spiraling around the ancient tree, leading up to a couple of chambers. These rooms have always been used as places of worship, by the village locals.

The age of the tree has been a subject of debate, but everyone agrees that it is the oldest tree in France, without a doubt. The tree is known to have been growing as far back as the thirteenth century, during the rule of Louis IX, when France was a truly centralized kingdom. It is also known to have survived the Hundred Years War against the English, the Black Death, the Reformation, and Napoleon’s rule. Local folklore dates it a 1,000 years old, when it is said that the acorn took root. However, tree experts say it could only be around 800 years old, which means the thirteenth century saw it’s origins.

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Dargavs – Russia’s City of the Dead

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A place called the City of the Dead actually exists in Russia’s North Ossetia, hidden in one of the five mountain ridges that cross the region. Needless to say, several myths and legends shroud the place, with locals claiming that no one has ever come back alive. The ‘city’ hardly ever gets any tourists either, although this might be due to the difficulty of just getting there.

Reaching Dargavs, the City of the Dead, entails a three-hour journey through winding, narrow roads, and several hills. The foggy mountain weather certainly doesn’t help matters. Once there, you’ll find that the city  is in fact another hill covered with small white buildings. It is these very buildings that cause the place to get it’s name. The white house-like structures, countless in number, are stone crypts where locals buried their loved ones. The city itself is an ancient Ossetian cemetery. Each family of the area has a crypt, and the higher the structure, the greater the number of people buried in it. The oldest of the crypts dates back to the 16th century.

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Drug Lord Pablo Escobar Becomes Colombian Tourist Attraction

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When Pablo Escobar died in 1993, the people of Medellin, Colombia, sighed in relief. But little did they know that the world’s most notorious criminal at the time would become one of their country’s most popular tourist attractions.

The legacy of Escobar lives on in Medellin, in a different and slightly unusual manner. The man and his life are now sold as a tourist attraction to visitors; this has proven to be quite popular. Escobar, who was responsible for several acts of terrorism such as blowing up the Government’s Security Ministry, assassinating a Presidential candidate, bombing a civilian airliner, and waging a war in which thousands of people were killed, would have least expected that the memories he left behind would one day serve as a means to attract tourists to Colombia.

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Taichung’s Rainbow Village – The Hand-Painted Wonder of Taiwan

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It’s hard to believe that one man can change the fate of an entire village. Huang Yung-fu, an 86-year-old war veteran has done just this.

Huang lives in a village in a corner of the Taiwanese city of Taichung, a community that was created for Nationalist soldiers in the 1940s and 50s. Over the years, the place slowly changed into a permanent settlement, suffering from urban problems like abandonment, decay and housing dereliction. However, none of this is visible in the settlement today, thanks to the transformation brought about by Huang’s colorful paintings. The streets and the walls of practically every building in the village are covered with Huang’s simplistic paintings of plants, animals, TV personalities, birds and buffaloes. Considering the fact that he began painting only two years ago, his accomplishment is pretty huge. The bright colors and simple strokes used by Huang only add to the attractiveness of his work.

Photo by Steve Barringer

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Leila’s Hair Museum Is a Tribute to Victorian Hair Art

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Leila Cohoon of Independence, Missouri is a retired hairdresser. She now teaches hair weaving and runs her own cosmetology school. She is however, linked to hair in more ways than apparent. Leila collects hair art, and puts it all on display in her museum.

What is hair art, you ask? We wondered the same. Contrary to expectations, the museum does not display human hair in bunches, like the hair museum of Avanos, nor is the hair taken from the heads of the dead. Ask Leila, and she explains that hair art consists of intricate wreaths of hair set in frames to create beautiful designs. These frames were frequently used to decorate Victorian homes. Leila’s collection started in 1956, with wreaths and jewelry made from hair. Initially she stored her collection in her house, under the bed. Around 20 years ago, she decided to display them and started a one-room museum in her cosmetology school. She later rented out a commercial space and runs her museum there. The walls of Leila’s Hair Museum are completely covered from floor to ceiling, with hair art. Her collection includes over 300 wreaths and 2000 pieces of jewelry containing human hair.

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Collector’s Holiday Home Houses over 10,000 Teddy Bears

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Ricky Lenart, an artist and resident of Uptown New Orleans, has an entire holiday home dedicated to his collection of teddy bears. Every room of his three-story house at Duffossat Street is filled with the soft toys, a total of 10,000 in number.

Lenart’s unusual hobby did not come cheap. He says that it would have actually been cheaper to give people $10,000 each. This year alone, he spent a total of $40,000 to $50,000 on decorations for his home. He says he has had a lifelong fascination of teddy bears, which prompted him to start his collection. Before he knew it, the bears were everywhere. The Teddy Bear House, as it is called, hosts guided tours for visitors in the holiday season. All the bears are put on display in various rooms, and are otherwise put in storage between seasons. The guided tour sessions are an hour-long and proceeds from ticket sales are donated to nonprofit organizations.

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The Iconic Goat Tower of Fairview

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The Fairview Wine and Cheese farm in South Africa is famous for more than just its wine and cheese. Owned and run by Charles Back, it houses a unique monument built for the comfort and use of the farm’s goats – The Goat Tower. Acknowledging the fact that goats love to climb, sometimes even up on livestock, to get a better view, Back first got the idea of the tower some thirty years ago.

The tower, a first of its kind, is built of brick and mortar, and consists of a steep metal roof. It also has a spiral staircase made of wood, and windows too. The goats in Fairview farm have the privilege of climbing the two-story tower at will, resting within it. Since 1981, the tower has become a symbol of the winery, so much so that they produce a wine called “Goats do Roam”. The goat tower is by far, the first known to be built with such a purpose in mind. However, according to Back, the tower was inspired by a similar one his parents had seen during a vacation in Portugal. As a result of that trip the farms first goats were purchased, and the tower built.

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