Aogashima Island – Living inside a Volcano

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Can you imagine yourself living in a giant volcanic crater? Well, for starters, you can forget about Starbucks. But it sure would be the ultimate destination to get away from it all. It’s not all that surprising then, that about 200 people actually inhabit the Japanese volcanic island of Aogashima, with only one school and a single post office.

Aogashima, a part of the Izu Archipelago, lies two hundred miles south of Tokyo, in the Philippine Sea. The island and its 205 inhabitants (as of 2009), are a part of Japan and governed by Tokyo. When I first saw pictures of this breathtaking location, it sort of reminded me of an inverted pudding on a plate. Or an oddly shaped donut. But Aogashima is really a volcano within a volcano. The island is quite well known for having a volcanic caldera within a larger caldera. So what you have is one big, giant crater, which is the island itself, inside which is nestled a much smaller version of itself. This gives the whole island a rather mysterious appeal, almost like something out of a fantasy movie. It’s hard to believe there are such places still left in the world, untouched by noisy human activity.

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Meet the Flintstones in Arizona’s Real-Life Bedrock

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If you are a loyal Flintstones fan, then you’re going to love this, especially if you live around northern Arizona. Because that’s where the real-life Bedrock city is located. Not an actual city of course, but a place to go to 365 days a year to experience Stone Age with your favorite cartoon characters. Closed only on Christmas day, it’s an improvement over the first Bedrock city in Cluster, South Dakota, which is open only from the middle of May through Labor Day.

Arizona’s Bedrock City was built in 1972, by Francis Speckles, son of an investor. At the time it used to feature a live Fred and Barney. But that wasn’t easy to sustain, given the isolation of the area and the shortage of local workers. But the isolation is actually a blessing-in-disguise, because it gives the place a whole lot of charm, and an authentic Stone Age feel. Today, the place consists of colorful concrete structures that recreate the magic of the 1960s animated series. Located at about a half hour’s drive south of the Grand Canyon, Bedrock City is a great roadside stop for people who want to relive some wonderful memories, especially those who grew up in the 60s and 70s.

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The Mind-Blowing Installations of Bloemencorso, an Annual Flower Parade in the Netherlands

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Held every year in the Dutch town of Zundert, Bloemencorso is the world’s largest flower parade made entirely by volunteers. Millions of flowers are used to decorate giant floats built from steel wire, cardboard and papier-maché.

The Netherlands is inextricably linked to tulips, but at the annual Bloemencorso flower parade, it’s all about dahlias, as these are the only flowers used to decorate giant floats made of steel wire, cardboard and papier-maché. Every year, members of 20 hamlets from the tiny town of Zundert (population 20,000) work hard to win the title of most beautiful flower float in show. Preparations begin months before the big event, as the older members of the hamlets are tasked with  planting and growing the colorful dahlias needed to cover the larger-than-life installations. Although Bloemencorso takes place on the first Sunday in September, tents are set up around town in May and June, and from then on, members of the competing hamlets start working on their masterpieces. They discuss design ideas and building techniques, but it’s the three days before the big event that are the most stressful. Because the flowers have to be fresh, contestants can only start applying the dahlias on the Thursday before Bloemencorso. If need be, hamlets will work night and day putting needles through the flowers, and sticking them in just the right spots on the cardboard body of their mobile installations. But all the effort pays off once these mind-blowing creations make their way through the streets of Zundert leaving crowds of spectators in awe.

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Chinese Company Knocks Off Entire Austrian Village

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A Chinese metals and mining company has invested nearly 1 billion dollars into replicating an entire Austrian scenic village just an hour away from Huizhou city, in subtropical southern China.

Nestled deep in the breathtaking Northern Limestone Alps, the village of Hallstatt is one of Austria’s most popular tourist attractions. Featuring a rich culture and history dating back to prehistoric times, and gorgeous natural surroundings, this unique piece of heaven draws in hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Did I say unique? I meant once unique, because Chinese company China Minmetals Corporation has recently completed a replica of the iconic Austrian village in a scenic location, close to the city of Huizhou. The cost of this knock-off project was around $940 million. The Chinese have always been known for their skill in creating knock-offs, from designer clothes to smartphones, and fueled by China’s economic growth, their projects are becoming even more ambitious. They started out by copying iconic landmarks from around the world, then they moved to whole districts inspired by western civilization  and now they’re building replicas of entire settlements. I’m betting they’ll be replicating entire countries pretty soon.

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The Fake-Head Waitresses of Japan’s Anime Cafe

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Maid cafes are a dime a dozen in Tokyo’s geeky Akihabara district, but Kigurumi Cafe t.t.t. one-ups them all by introducing waitresses wearing full-body suits and creepy plush heads to reallybring anime characters to life.

Wikipedia defines cosplay as a performance art in which participants don costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea. You’ve probably seen cosplayers dressed as popular video game or anime characters at geeky events, or at least photos of them posted online. But few people know there’s an extreme type of cosplay known in Japan as Animegao or Kigurumi. It implies not only wearing a character’s costume, but also an oversize fake head complete with giant anime-style eyes to bring popular 2D drawn girls into our 3D world. If you’ve seen my post on Anna Amemiya, the half-human half-anime model, you already know what I’m talking about, if not, get ready to be freaked-out.

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El Bosc de les Fades – Barcelona’s Fairy Tale Cafe

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If you’re looking for an other-worldly experience in the Catalonian city of Barcelona, look no further than El Bosc de les Fades (The Fairies’ Forest), a unique cafe decorated as an esoteric land of fairies.

Tucked away off Las Ramblas, on Pasatje Banca next to the Wax Museum, El Bosc de les Fades is one of the most unusual attractions of Barcelona. As the name suggests, this offbeat venue was inspired by a fairy forest, complete with an artificial woodland of snaking branches, trickling waterfalls, will-o-the-wisp lights, weird demons lurking in mirrors, various optical illusions  and, of course, fairies. It’s kitschy, yet original, and most people enjoy the novelty of it. The main room of the cafe offers plenty of seats under the lush artificial vegetation, or at the bar that’s also been decorated to fit the fairy tale theme, but for visitors who want the full-immersion effect of this place, there’s the private grotto where they can get lost in the very depths of the mysterious forest. And if you’re looking for a creepier fantasy setting, El Bosc de les Fades also features a “haunted house” room complete with eerie mannequins and a magic mirror in which apparitions suddenly appear and then vanish again.

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Taiwan’s Carton Restaurant, Where Everything Except the Food Is Made from Cardboard

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Located inside the Carton King Creativity Park, in Taichung City, Taiwan, the Carton Restaurant is a unique eatery where everything from the furnishings, to the decorations and even the plates are made from corrugated cardboard.

Unless you’ve actually been to Taichung, I assure you haven’t seen anything like the Carton King Restaurant before. Except for the food, the waiters and some cutlery, everything inside this place is made from cardboard and paper. It seems almost impossible, but you actually sit on cardboard chairs, sip drinks from cardboard cans, and eat your food out of cardboard bowls at a cardboard table. The food is pretty average, according to the reviews I’ve read, a bit on the pricey side, but that’s to be expected considering the amazing venue it’s served in. What’s great about this place is the recycling potential. In case anything breaks or becomes damaged, it’s simply recycled. That was actually the point of the whole Carton King Creativity Park, to show the real power of paper and cardboard, and convince people it can be used for a lot more than generic packaging.

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Bar Devoted to Female Self-Pleasuring Opens in Tokyo

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If you’re a woman looking for a girls-only bar where you can talk about love and sex without any inhibitions, the Love Joule female self-pleasuring bar in Tokyo’s Shibuya entertainment district might be the perfect place.

Japan is known for its wide array of weird bars and restaurants, so it should come as no surprise it now has its very own “love and sex bar dedicated to women”. It’s known as Tokyo’s masturbation bar, and judging by the female self-pleasuring toys put on display behind the bar, you’d be tempted to think it’s nothing but a fancy sex shop. In reality, Love Joule is just a place where women can come and talk about topics that have long been regarded as taboo in the Japanese culture, without feeling embarrassed or worrying about social repercussions. ”Once they take a seat, customers are able to experience a pleasant place in which they can openly discuss masturbation,” says owner Megumi Nakagawa. “Since most people view female masturbation as something of a mystery or taboo, it is not a usual topic at typical bars.”

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World’s Largest Vertical Garden Grows on Italian Shopping Center

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A shopping center in the Italian town of Rozanno has recently claimed a rather unusual Guinness record, for the world’s biggest vertical garden. Growing on the walls of the commercial complex, the unique garden covers an area of 1,263 square meters and is made up of about 44,000 plants.

Just o be clear, the thousands of plants covering the sides of Rozanno’s shopping center were not planted in the ground next to the building and simply grew to cover the walls, they actually grow on the building itself. Italian architect Francisco Bollani, who was in charge of the project, says it took his team a whole year just to grow all the 44,000 plants, and another 90 days to place them on the walls of the commercial building. Although it might seem like the walls are covered with soil from which the flora grows, the walls were actually lined with metallic containers that hold the plants. Using these Lego-like metal pieces made the vertical garden a lot easier to build then with classic methods, but it also increased the cost of the project to a total of €1 million ($1.3 million).

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The Breathtaking Glass Temple of Johor Bahru – A Shining Wonder of Malaysia

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In the city of Johor Bahru, close to Malaysia’s southern border with Singapore, lies one of the world’s most amazing pieces of architecture – a Hindu Temple covered almost entirely with glass. It’s called the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman temple, and it’s one of the must see attractions of Malaysia.

Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman is one of the oldest temples in the state of Johor. It started out as a small shelter, built in 1922, and grew steadily over the years, but its true expansion started in 1991, when the current chief priest, Sri Sinnathamby Sivasamy, inherited the administration of the temple from his father. He became the driving force of this once humble hut, and committed himself to turning it into a beautiful Hindu place of worship. Despite facing many challenges, Sivasamy managed to expand and completely rebuild the temple in just five years, and in 1996 it was reopened to the public. Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman had already transformed into an impressive display of Malaysian architecture, but it would soon become a truly unique Hindu sanctuary, unlike any other.

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Real-Life Shrek and Fiona Have Their Very Own Fairy Tale Castle

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A Ukrainian couple from the village of Akimova, in the Zaporozhye region have spent 10 years building their own fairy tale castle. And because of their resemblance to the popular animation characters, they are known as Shrek and Fiona by the locals.

Anatoly and Larisa Galitsky love children, so one day they decided to built a castle-themed cafe where they could come and play in a fairy tale setting. The courtyard was supposed to be full of swings and carousels for the kids to enjoy, while the castle interior was designed to look like what they read in popular stories. But alas, the real world has its own villains, and in the Galitskys’ case it was the local sanitation department who just wouldn’t authorize the build of a public cafe on the site of an old landfill. After several attempts to convince the authorities to approve their project, Anatoly finally decided to give up and make his castle into a unique residence. The real-life Shrek drew up the plans himself, and after 10 long years, he and his beloved Fiona finally have a castle to call their own. The entire structure covers an area of 300 square meters, has three large halls, a bedroom and a huge kitchen. The three stone walls also house a bathhouse and a garage. Of the castle’s six pointy towers, only one is actually hollow, the rest are just for show.

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Spassky Cave Church – A Russian Wonder Carved in Stone

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On the banks of the Don River, in the picturesque Voronezh region of Russia lies one of the most fascinating tourist attractions this country has to offer  - the Spassky Cave Church. For hundreds of years, this place has been at the mercy of the elements, then it had to face communist persecution, yet it still stands as a bastion of Russian Christianity.

It’s believed the first caves were dug into the cretaceous mounts of Kostomarovo before the adoption of Christianity in Russia. Hermit monks would use these austere cell-like spaces to hide  from persecution, and it wasn’t until the 12th century that the first rock monastery was carved in the region. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date the Spassky Cave Church appeared near the small Russian village of Kostomarovo, due to the lack of clear historical evidence, but it is now considered one of the most incredible monuments of ancient architecture in Russia. Dug into the cretaceous rocks known as “diva” in the Voronezh region, this unique holy place has a rugged exterior that hints at Byzantine influences, but its interior is much more polished, featuring straight walls, rounded arches and Orthodox decorations. It can accommodate 2,000 people and welcomes thousands of pilgrims from all over Russia, every year.

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Tasmania’s Town of Murals – A Colorful Outdoor Art Gallery

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If you didn’t believe in the power of art to change an entire community’s history and fortune, then Sheffield, also known as Tasmania’s Town of Murals, is the perfect example to convince you.

Despite being located in a spectacular natural setting, at the foothills of Mount Roland, in north-western Tasmania, the small town of Sheffield needed something more to help it overcome a steady economic decline. The population of this typical Tasmanian settlement went up dramatically when construction of several hydroelectric plants began in the area, but once the development was complete, workers started moving away to newer prospects, which led to a decline both in population and local economy. By the mid 1980s, the people of Sheffield realized the gorgeous setting wasn’t enough to attract enough tourists to boost their economy, so they formed a tourism association that decided to follow the example of a Canadian town that had a similar economic clump, and turn Sheffield into an outdoor mural art gallery.

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San Pedro Prison – Bolivia’s Most Bizarre Tourist Attraction

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San Pedro Prison is the largest in La Paz, Bolivia, housing around 1,500 inmates,  but that’s not what makes it special. Unlike most penitentiaries around the world, this place is a self-organized community with its own market stalls, restaurants, hairdressers and even a hotel. Oh, and no guards.

You’ve probably heard of or seen special prisons before. A few months ago we wrote an article on Norway’s Bastoy Island, where prisoners have hotel-like accommodations, are allowed to walk around freely and engage in a variety of relaxing activities. Today we take you on a tour of San Pedro, in La Paz, Bolivia, a sort of jail town where prisoners are free to live with their families and buy whatever they want without fearing repercussions from the guards. In fact there are no guards inside the large prison, or bars on the cell windows, so inmates have the relative freedom of going wherever they please. The police don’t interfere with the affairs of the inmates, who are expected to resolve their own issues with the help of representatives elected democratically.

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Thames Town – A Little Piece of England in China

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It’s no secret the Chinese wrote the book on knock-offs, but did you know they copy whole towns these days? Thames Town, in Shanghai, is a replica of small English town complete with everything you might expect, except the people.

“I wanted the properties to look exactly the same as those in the United Kingdom. I think English properties are very special. When we decide to learn from others, we should not make any improvements or changes.” That’s what James Ho, the head of Shanghai Hengde Real Estate, the company in charge of building Thames Town, told Reuters back in 2006, when the weird settlement was inaugurated. The buildings of Thames Town copy the real ones in England so closely that complaints have been filed by English pub owners, and this genuine British look was exactly what was supposed to draw people to this place. Only, like many other ambitious and expensive Chinese projects, Thames Town failed to impress a lot of people and is now virtually a ghost town in Shanghai, the city that drive’s China’s economy.

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