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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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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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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Tang Du Zoology – Dining in China’s Indoor Natural Habitat

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There are plenty of cool places to eat at in China, but one of the most amazing has to be the Tang Dousheng State Park, also known as Tang Du Zoology. This unique venue spreads over 1,600 square feet and features over 1,500 exotic plants and various animals.

I don’t know about you but I haven’t yet had the chance to dine in a place larger than three NFL football fields, so the Tang Dousheng State Park in Taiyuan, an industrial city about 400km from Beijing, sounds pretty special to me. But it’s not just the size that makes this place stand out from other food joints in China. Inaugurated in 2005, Tang Du Zoology was meant to be an indoor “natural habitat” full of exotic plants, rugged rockery and rare animals, where people could experience fine Chinese cuisine in a wild-like environment. Usually you have to go outside for a breath of fresh air, but in Taiyuan, you have to step inside this amazing restaurant to let your lungs know what they’ve been missing out on. The place also serves wide range of Chinese food styles (Guangdong, Shandong, Sichuan, Anhui) but the food is not the first reason to dine at Tang Dousheng State Park.

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Welcome to the World’s Craziest, Most Controversial Zoo

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At the Lujan Zoo, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, visitors can do much more than admire wild animals from a distance. They can ride on the backs of wild lions, feed tigers or hand-feed cheetahs.

You couldn’t pay me enough to get up close and personal with a full-grown lion, but apparently there are people out there who can’t wait to get into a cage with it, and at the Lujan Zoo they get to do just that. Daredevils can feed grapes to the grizzly bears or even allow them to use their tongues to pick up the fruits from between their lips, pet elephants, ride on the back of tigers and whatever else you can think of that involves interacting with wild animals. I know what you’re thinking, all this is an accident waiting to happen, but you’ll be surprised to learn that ever since the zoo opened in 1994, there hasn’t been a single accident. In fact, zoo keepers are so confident nothing is going to go wrong that they don’t require visitors to sign any waivers before entering the animals’ cages, and they even allow small children.

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The Creation Museum – A Controversial Attraction in Kentucky

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The Creation Museum, located in Portland, Kentucky, is a $27million museum dedicated to the Creationist theory. Creationism, which opposes the concept of evolution, is based on the Christian Genesis story that God created heaven and earth. Spectacular multimedia displays that use Hollywood technology depict the story of Genesis at the Creation Museum. Tens of thousands of people from all over the US pay regular visits to the place dedicated to God and how he created our world. One visitor proclaims, “I finally realized today that God made time. He made the dates, He made the 24 hours, He gave this to us.”

According to the Creationist theory, the world has not been evolving for millions of years (as stated by the theory of evolution), but was created only 6,000 years ago. Calling scientific experiments and proofs as ‘based on a ton of assumptions’, the videos played at the museum’s auditorium state that it is better to “start with the word of someone who has seen everything from the beginning and told us exactly what happened.” That someone, they say, is God. Some of the other attractions at the museum include life-size models of Noah and his Ark, Adam, Eve, and other characters from the Bible. Also on display are a few fragments of Torah scrolls that were supposedly saved from the clutches of Saddam, in Iraq.

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Sarajevo Roses – Painful War Memories Etched in Asphalt

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They sound like something beautiful, and they are quite nice to look at, but as soon as you learn the story of the Sarajevo Roses, you realize they are really the legacy of a truly tragic event, the Bosnian War of the 1990s.

Between 1992 and 1996, Bosnian Serb Forces bombarded the city of Sarajevo in what is remembered as the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. As you can imagine this kind of event leaves serious scars both in the hearts of those affected and on the city’s infrastructure. A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar made by a mortar shell explosion that was later painted with red resin as a memorial to those who were killed during the Siege of Sarajevo. It seems unnatural to compare the mark of a mortar explosion to the beauty of a rose, but the unique fragmentation pattern of a mortar round hitting concrete does indeed have a floral look. Still, while roses are a symbol of love and beauty, Sarajevo Roses represent a collective memory of the physical scars of war.

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Ilha de Queimada Grande – Brazil’s Scary Snake Island

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An aerial view of the Brazilian island of Ilha de Queimada Grande, you would agree, looks breathtaking. It’s probably a place where you would love to spend an exotic vacation. But this is an excellent example that looks can be very deceiving. If you were to set foot on the island, you would always be no more than 3 feet away from your death. Because for every square meter of land on the island, there is a very deadly, very poisonous snake.

Ilha de Queimada Grande is located about 90 miles off the shore of Brazil. The island is, not surprisingly, devoid of any kind of human presence. The Brazilian Navy has forbidden people from visiting the island, except for a few scientists who need special approval. The reason – the presence of highly dangerous Golden Lancehead snakes. The lanceheads that occupy the island of Ilha de Queimada Grande can grow anywhere between half a meter to 2 meters long. The venom these snakes inject is so powerful that it can kill two men at once. This venom is fast-acting too, since it simply melts the flesh surrounding the bite. The scaly creatures breed all year round, producing 50 babies each time. With no enemies, the snakes have been able to take over the island and populate it quite freely. They survive mainly on migratory birds that use the island as a resting point.

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Poveglia – The Venetian Island of the Dead

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When I first saw a picture of Poveglia Island, I couldn’t help but notice how pretty it is. But then I read the story behind the place and let me tell you, there’s nothing pretty about it. For centuries, the island has attracted nothing but the worst fate, with hundreds of thousands of people suffering torturous deaths. Today the island may look uninhabited, but legend suggests otherwise…

Poveglia is located in northern Italy, in the Venetian Lagoons. It has no owners and entry to the place is strictly forbidden. The only time any visits are made is to harvest vineyards. Even fisherman won’t venture intot  the waters near the island, for fear of catching human bones in their nets. For a time, it was owned by the Italian state but was sold to a private buyer in the 1960s. The poor guy lived there for a short while, but abandoned the place after a short while. More recently, a family was known to have purchased Poveglia in an attempt to convert it into a holiday home, but again, they couldn’t spend more than one night there. Rumors say that their daughter’s face was split open and 14 stitches were needed to fix it.

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Really Hang-Out at Tokyo’s Hammock Cafe

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Who needs chairs when you can just relax and have a cup of coffee or tea in a comfortable hammock, right? That was probably the idea behind Mahika Mano, a popular Tokyo venue, better known as the Hammock Cafe.

Located in the Kichijoji district of Tokyo, a place renowned for its chill-out atmosphere, Mahika Mano fits in just perfectly, with its hammocks hanging from the ceiling inviting passers-by to just sit back and enjoy a tasty drink. As soon as you walk in, the first thing that hits you is the absence of chairs, but as soon as you lay down in one of the hanging nets you start to wonder who ever got the crazy idea of using chairs, when hammocks are so much more comfy. As you can imagine, this unique cafe is pretty busy (sometimes you have to wait in a queue to grab a seat hammock) so the place has implemented a time limit of 90 to 120 minutes, so that everyone can have a chance to literally hang out. Whether this policy is enforced or not depends on the occupancy of the cafe.

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Magic Mountain Lodge – Chile’s Water Spewing Volcano Hotel

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Ever wondered what it would be like to live inside a volcano? Now you can have your chance at a hotel that’s shaped like one – Magic Mountain. There’s even stuff spewing off the top (water, not molten lava) and cascading down the walls and windows. But it doesn’t look much like a volcano, not to me at least. I think it’s got this old-world charm to it, like a tower from Medieval times. Especially with the antique doors and windows, and a shaky wooden drawbridge to let people into their rooms.

The Magic Mountain Hotel is located in Huilo Huilo, a private Natural Reserve in the Los Rios region of Chile. The antique appearance ends with the exterior however, as the interiors are done up in luxury. There are only 9 rooms, named after bird species found in the area. Each of them overlooks the thick forest and wildlife outside, including toucans, iguanas, pumas and lizards. Guests even get a glimpse of a real-life volcano from the hotel – the enormous Arenal Volcano. Outside the rooms the special services provided to guests are definitely worth a mention. Hot tubs made out of huge tree trunks, overlooking the forest are a major tourist attraction at Magic Mountain, as is the world’s longest zip line running through the grounds.

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