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

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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

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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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Fadiouth – A Unique Island Made Almost Entirely of Clam Shells

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Joal-Fadiouth is a small fishing village located at the far end of Petite Côte – a stretch of coast in Senegal. Joal is situated on the mainland and Fadiouth is an island just off the coast.  A narrow, 400-meter wooden bridge links the two areas. Fadiouth is special – it is almost entirely covered with clam shells.

For centuries, the inhabitants of Fadiouth have been harvesting molluscs. They scoop out the meat and use the shells to construct almost everything, even the island itself. The millions of seashells accumulated over the years have been held strong by the roots of mangroves, reeds and giant baobabs. Empty shells litter the streets; you can hardly step anywhere on Fadiouth Island without hearing a cracking sound from under your feet.

Fadiouth

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Arbol de Navidad – Mexico’s Unique Christmas Tree-Shaped Waterfall

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The Sumidero Canyon, located in the Mexican state of Chaiapas, is home to one of the most unique waterfalls in the world. This breathtaking natural formation, locally called Arbol de Navidad, is shaped like a Christmas tree.

Sumidero Canyon is dotted with several waterfalls, many of which aren’t even visible from ground level. But you can’t miss the enormous Christmas tree. A photograph of the waterfall with a boat below it gives an idea of just how huge it is. The moss-layered green rocks seem to erupt out of nowhere on the mountain-side. They are shaped a lot like the branches of a tree, and the moss completes the effect. Water spills from a hole above this formation, adding to the beauty of the scenery.

According to Sergio Lopez Mendoza, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences in a Chaiapas University, the Christmas tree has formed over 1000s of years. It is a result of the natural hydrological cycle, and the physical and chemical characteristics of the rocks. Unfortunately, the Arbol de Navidad is under threat of being destroyed. Professor Sergio says that the alterations caused by humans to the environment has caused the hydrological cycle to break. There are long periods without any water supply, so the Christmas tree is weakening and breaking.

Arbol-de-Navidad-waterfall

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Jacob’s Well – America’s Stunning-Yet-Deadly Diving Spot

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Jacob’s Well, in Wimberley, Texas, is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Named after a biblical reference, the well has claimed the lives of over eight divers, but judging by the large number of thrill seekers who choose to dive in it, that doesn’t scare many people.

On the surface, Jacob’s Well looks like a harmless spring that feeds Cypress Creek. Its mouth is just four meters wide, and looks like a calm water body, revealing very little of the dangers that lurk within. The well has four chambers extending several feet below the surface. Local dive shop owner Don Dibble puts it perfectly: “This is the horror side of it.” The first chamber is a straight drop of about 30 feet, after which it angles down to 55 feet. This chamber gets sufficient sunlight, so it is bright and populated with algae and wild life.

The second chamber is 80 feet deep, and houses a false chimney that looks like a way out of the well, but in fact traps divers. Richard Patton, a student at Southwest Texas State University lost his life in the chimney in 1983. A restricted opening from the second chamber leads into the third, which is a small room with unstable gravel. Divers must be careful not to dislodge the gravel in order to navigate this chamber successfully.

Jacobs-Well2

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Zalipie – Poland’s Fascinating Painted Village

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People all over the world love decorating their homes, but few are as good as the villagers of Zalipie. Home décor is a centuries-old tradition in this secluded village of southeastern Poland.

The women of Zalipie paint their homes, not with a single color, but a range of vibrant floral patterns. These patterns adorn the external walls, doors, windows and even the roof. The entire village looks pretty in a riot of colors.

It isn’t clear when the tradition began exactly. Local legend says that it originates from a time when smoke from stoves would escape through little holes in the ceilings. Women tried whitewashing  to cover up the tiny spots of soot on the walls, but that didn’t work. So they switched to paintings of beautiful flowers instead.

Zalipie-painted village

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Mas Provencal – The Perfect Restaurant for Flower Enthusiasts

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When you first step into Mas Provencal on the outskirts of Eze Village, you’re likely to mistake it for a greenhouse. Located close to the city of Nice in southeastern France, this restaurant has way more flowers than tables.

Mas Provencal’s interior décor is pretty special, perhaps even one-of-a-kind. Almost every square inch is covered with fresh flowers – roses, orchids, ivy, glads and more. There are plants everywhere and it takes some squinting to even spot the sign board. The large amount of flora either enthralls diners, or leaves them a bit overwhelmed. One tourist called the decorations “fabulously gaudy.” I don’t think I could have put it any better.

Inside the restaurant, each table is done up with elaborate center pieces made of flowers. Exotic trees adorn the passageways and you can spot a few carnivorous plants in the crowd. Antique knick-knacks are scattered everywhere. A large glass enclosed waterfall containing ferns is also part of the décor. The best part – diners can munch on grapes and cherry tomatoes hanging from the ceiling at arm’s reach.

Mas-Provencal-restaurant

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Slum-Like African Resort Gives Rich Tourists a Taste of Hard Life

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A Shanty is a small hut made out of old corrugated iron sheets or other waterproof material. It is a place of dwelling for the poor, often lacking in basic amenities like electricity or running water. To be living in one, you’d have to be going through an extremely rough patch in life.

Except of course, when your shanty is located in Shanty Town, and you’re just playing ‘poor’. Yes, as bizarre as it sounds, there are people in this world who think playing poor is a fun sport. And resorts like Shanty Town exist to help them achieve the experience.

Shanty Town is a part of Emoya Estate, a South African five-star luxury game reserve and spa. It comes equipped with corrugated metal huts that can accommodate up to 52 guests. Over here, the rich get to live like the poor. But no, not entirely like the poor. The environment is safe and the shanties are equipped with conveniences like running water, electricity and Wi-Fi. The interiors aren’t too bad either – the beds look clean and comfortable, there are refrigerators, televisions, tables, chairs and cabinets. Oh, and did I mention under-floor heating? Yes, they have that too.

ShantyTown

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Delicias del Sol – Chile’s Sun-Powered Restaurant

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The people in Villaseca, Chile are some of the most the eco-concious on the Planet, using only sun-powered ovens to cook all their food. With these ovens, which can generate temperatures up to 180 degrees Celsius (356 degrees Fahrenheit), the villagers can prepare all kinds of dishes, including vegetables, meats and even deserts.

At first, cooking with solar energy was a necessity, due to the scarcity of wood in the country, which forced the villagers to spend hours on end every day looking for wood so they could eat. Two decades ago, the poor people of Villaseca were facing a tough wood crisis because of the desertification of the region. Every day, one member of the family had to go looking for wood to burn in their ovens so they could cook and eat warm meals. Thankfully, Rojas, a woman who lives in the Elqui Valley, and four other women were chosen to be guinea pigs in a trial project involving solar energy, conducted by the University of Chile. They were given specially engineered ovens that captured the sun’s rays and allowed any kind of food to be cooked in a heated compartment. The idea was well received, since the arid region is extremely sunny with more than 300 days of sunshine every year. Now, their sustainable ovens are the area’s main attraction and, the people there eat healthier because sun-cooked food lacks the carbon dioxide that emanates from burning wood.

Delicias-del-Sol-restaurant

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San Antonio Prison – Venezuela’s Paradise for Incarcerated Criminals

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The San Antonio prison on Venezuela’s Margarita Island is not your typical penal institution. Whilst in other penitentiaries the inmates are forced to obey strict regulations harshly imposed by armed guards, in this atypical slammer, it’s the prisoners who make the rules. From cooking their own food to watching TV, surfing the web on their laptops and managing illegal businesses on their cellphones, the San Antonio inmates are free to go about their day as they please. The only thing they can’t do is leave. Any attempt to escape can result in instant death courtesy of the sharpshooters up in the prison’s watchtowers. But thankfully, most of the prisoners are so happy here that a potential escape is the last thing on their minds.

At San Antonio, prisoners enjoy many privileges, have jobs and make real money. Some are barbers, some sell drugs while others manage the local cock fight club which generates a decent gambling revenue. There is even a guy who photoshops pictures of inmates leaning against a Hummer, using his own digital camera and laptop. Other lazy folk lie around in their air conditioned cells watching TV in the company of their wives or girlfriends who are free to come and go as they please. To the men’s satisfaction, a 54-unit women’s annex was built in 2009 which naturally caused the number of romantic liaisons between inmates to increase. The inmates’ children can also use the prison as a playground and spend the day swimming in one of the prison’s four pools. On weekends, the prison is even open for any visitors who want to have a good time of excess and depravity in its Reggaetón clubs. This really is a prison unlike any other.

San-Antonio-prison

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Stairway to Heaven: The Amazing Haiku Stairs of Hawaii

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Wars always leave behind empty monuments that serve as reminders of hard times. Although haunted by the memories of conflict and often death, these abandoned structures sometimes blend with their natural surroundings, revealing breathtaking landscapes of poetic proportions. One such place is the Haʻikū Stairs popularly known as  the“Stairway to Heaven”, in Hawaii, a 3,922-step ascent into one of the most vivid and stunning natural sceneries on Earth.

The first steps begin in the Valley of Haiku near Kaneohe, on the island of O’ahu and climb up to 2,800 feet at a 30-degree angle. The first ladder was built during World War II, out of wood, to help string antenna cables from one side of the valley to the other. Thus, the personnel at Haiku Valley Naval Radio Station, located at about 2,800 feet above sea level, was able to communicate with the US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay. In the 1950s the ladder was rebuilt out of galvanized steel and expanded in order to accommodate the activity of the Omega Navigation System station of the United States Coast Guard. A total of 3,922 18-inch wide steps were built from ship ladders, bolted together in sections of seven and secured into the rugged hills.

Haiku-stairs

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Man Builds 12,000 Square-Foot Castle in the Middle of a Florida Swamp

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When he moved from New York to Florida over 40 years ago, Howard Solomon took the saying “A man’s home is his castle” quite literally. The artist once known as “The DaVinci of Debris” spent a total of 12 years building a three-storey castle by hand, in the middle of a swamp.

Solomon began working on his unique castle in the 70’s, after he and his family moved to Ona, Florida. The original plan was to build a nice house on the piece of land he had bought in Hardee County, but after realizing the place was actually a big swamp, he decided to construct something high enough to resist any potential floods. He had always been fascinated with medieval castles and this proved to be the perfect opportunity to build his very own 16-century fortress, complete with a bell tower, moat and drawbridge. Howard worked on his architectural masterpiece on and off ever since 1972, and reckons he has spent over 12 years erecting the structure and covering it in aluminum plating, and an additional 4 years building a Spanish galleon in the castle moat. When he first started building his dream home, people thought he was mad, and wouldn’t even let their kids play with his, but over the last 40 years they’ve accepted him into the community, and Solomon’s Castle is now the most popular attraction in the area.

Solomon-Castle

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Solo Per Due – World’s Smallest Restaurant Only Seats Two People at a Time

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If you’re searching for the most private restaurant dining experience possible, look no further than Solo Per Due, a small ristorante in Vacone, Italy, that only features one table and two chairs.

Aptly named “Solo Per Due”, Italian for “just for two”, the world’s smallest restaurant only accepts two people at a time. This unique feature makes the Italian restaurant a popular destination for tourists from all over the world, but especially for lovers. There are no queues, no turns and no waiting, but booking this place for a romantic dinner, especially on holidays like Valentine’s Day can be a real challenge. Only around 1,500 people get a chance to enjoy the unparalleled privacy Solo Per Due has to offer, and it’s this exclusivity that best explains the set price of €250 ($335) per person (not including wine and champagne). The idea behind this unique eatery is that guests enjoy true intimacy and get the full attention of the cooking and waiting staff, which guarantees an extra special dining experience.

Solo-Per-Due-restaurant

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Scala di Santa Maria del Monte – Probably the World’s Most Beautifully Decorated Staircase

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Located in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, La Scala di Santa Maria del Monte is an old 142-step staircase, each of which are decorated with a different ceramic pattern. It’s a wonder to behold, but during the Spring and Summer seasons it becomes even more breathtaking as locals adorn it with potted flowers and lanterns, creating intricate designs.

Situated 68 kilometers from Catania, the town of Caltagirone has long been famous for its production of pottery. The name of this charming settlement derives from the Arabic qal’at-al-jarar” (“Castle of [pottery] jars”) and befits its longstanding pottery-making tradition perfectly. The talent of local craftsmen can be admired everywhere in Caltagirone, as everything from the palaces, churches and monuments to the gardens and squares of this place are covered in beautiful ceramics. But it’s the splendid Scala di Santa maria del Monte, a 142-step staircase dating back to 1608 that really stands as a testament to the town’s millennial tradition of pottery making. This breathtaking work of art that connects the high part of Caltagirone to the low part, is completely covered in ceramic tiles, with each of its steps featuring a different design inspired by local culture. The Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte is the main attraction of the Sicilian town, and it’s here that locals celebrate their most important festivals, La Scala Infiorata and La Luminaria, during which they use the staircase as a canvas for floral and light masterpieces.

Scala-Infiorata-Caltaragione

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A Cruise on Dry Land – Korea’s Unique Cruise Ship Hotel

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Ever wished you could experience a luxury cruise without the motion sickness? Step aboard the Sun Cruise Hotel, A Korean tourist attraction designed and built to emulate cruising  for the sea sick.Seen from afar, the Sun Cruise Hotel looks like a ship washed up on top of a cliff by a giant wave, but the colossal structure was actually built there in 2002 for tourists who didn’t have the funds or time to go on a real cruise. But its bizarre location is pretty much the only thing that sets it apart from other cruise ships. The 65-metre-long, 45-meter-high and 30,000-ton-heavy land vessel features 211 rooms, both condominium and hotel style, a Western and a Korean restaurant, revolving sky lounge, a night club, a karaoke, a sea water pool, volleyball court, fitness club and even a netted golf range. To make its visitors really feel like they’re on a cruise, bird calls and the sound of waves crashing against the deck are played over loudspeakers strategically installed around the ship. Believe it or not, the Sun Cruise Hotel is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Korea.

sun-cruise-hotel3

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