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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North Sentinel Island – The World’s Hardest Place to Visit

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It’s hard to believe that there are people in this world who have no idea about the internet or cell phones. These are tribes that are completely cut-off from global civilization and do not welcome any kind of contact from the outside world.

North Sentinel Island, a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal Ocean between Myanmar and Indonesia, is home to one such tribe. The Sentinelese people are so hostile to external contact that the island has been dubbed the ‘hardest place to visit’ in the world.

The Sentinelese are thought to be direct descendants of the first humans who emerged from Africa. They have lived on the tiny island for almost 60,000 years. Their exact population is unknown; it could be as low as 40 or as high as 500.

North-Sentinel-Island

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Indonesian Volcano Spews Hauntingly Beautiful Blue Lava

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There are plenty of natural treasures hidden away in the most unsuspecting places on Earth. One of them is an Indonesian sulfur mine, Kawah Ijen, that produces stunning, spectral blue lava. The images of this mine are so breathtaking, I could just stare at them for hours.

Kawah Ijen is a part of the Ijen volcano complex – a group of stratovolcanoes in East Java, Indonesia – with an active crater that’s 200 meters deep. The complex is also home to the world’s largest turquoise-colored acidic lake, full of sulfuric acid. The lake is a sulfur mining site; miners carry sulfur-laden baskets by hand from the crater floor.

The miners work at night to double their meagre income, but they don’t have to worry about the dark. Kawah Ijen, an ordinary rocky crater by day, transforms into a stunning display of electric blue light at night.

blue-lava

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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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Seeing Double – Russian Restaurant Only Hires Sets of Identical Twins as Staff

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A restaurant owner in Moscow promises you will have such a great time in his establishment that you are going to see double, not because of the strong vodka, but because the staff is made up exclusively of identical twin brothers and sisters.

Aptly called Twin Stars, the Russian restaurant employs only twin bartenders and wait staff as a gimmick to attract more customers and prides itself on being the only such restaurant in the world. Alexei Khodorovsky, the owner of Twin Stars, says he was inspired by a 1960s movie where a girl finds herself in a parallel universe and discovers there’s another version of her – her twin. The idea seems fun and both the customers and the twin staff say they’ve enjoyed the experience thus far. “We worked as barmen before this summer in a different establishment. It was an internship for us,” Artyem, who works with his identical brother Roman at the bar, says. We really liked that internship. That’s why we decided this profession suits us and we came here to work.” Finding people like Artyem and Roman was a true challenge. Identical pairs with experience working in a restaurant were very hard to track down, but the effort was worthwhile because as Nika, another member of the unique staff, says “One pair (of twins) is already fun – when there are two, it’s even more fun.”

Twin-Stars-restaurant

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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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The Turkish Bird Village Where People Communicate Using 400-year-Old Whistled Language

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Do you know about the ingenious Panamanian golden frog which lives near loud waterfalls and communicates by waving? The people of Kuşköy, a small Turkey village, have proven that they can be just as creative and resourceful as the little poisonous frog. Long before they even had electricity, they invented a brilliantly simple way of communicating over long distances, by whistling.

They call it the “bird language” or “kuș dili” as it originated in Kuşköy, which itself means “bird village”. This fascinating means of communication was created over 400 years ago as a consequence of working in the fields of the Pontic Mountains. The terrain is irregular making travelling very difficult even on short distances, and because of this, the villagers felt the need for an alternative to speaking and shouting , one that made long distance communication easier. Inspired by the songs of birds, they started whistling the syllables of Turkish words which proved to be much more effective and less energy-consuming than yelling or walking all the way to the person they needed to speak with. Villagers notify each other about visitors, ask for help and make invitations for tea. They can even have complex, long conversations just by whistling. The songs of the bird people resonate over distances as long as 1km. If the distance is longer, the neighbors are kind enough to pass on the message to each other until it reaches its destination.

Kuskoy-bird-language

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No Bottles or Plates Allowed at Ukraine’s Unique Jar Bar

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The Jar Bar, in Kiev, Ukraine, is the only place in the world where every item on the menu is served in glass pickle jars. To make sure patrons understand the concept, there’s even a sign on the door that shows bottles, glasses, bowls, cups and any other kind of dishes are strictly forbidden.

Although there are a handful of cafés and bars that use glass jars as dishes, the founders of Kiev’s Jar Bar claim no other venue in the world has taken such a radical approach to the concept as to serve every single item on the menu in jars. From soup, to ice cream, coffee and cocktails everything at this unique venue comes in glasses of various sizes. According to the bar’s official site, eating from a jar reminds people of home, taking them back to their childhood days when they tasted the delicious pickles made by their grandmothers, straight out of the jar. The unusual dishes also make it easy for customers to order their favorite foods and drinks to-go, or take leftovers with them. All they have to do is ask waiters for a jar lid. Apart from being the only available dishes, jars are also used for decoration purposes. The light fixtures are all large glass jars, the bar is lined with pickle jars, and the wallpaper is also jar-themed.

jar-cafe

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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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Dick’s Last Resort Restaurant – Would You Like Insults with That?

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Dick’s Last Resort is an American restaurant chain renowned for its obnoxious waiting staff. Patrons can expect to be insulted, made fun of and put in uncomfortable situations, all in the name of fun, of course.

If you like greasy southern grub Dick’s Last Resort is the perfect eatery for you. They specialize in juicy steaks, ribs, burgers and fried chicken, all served in extra-large portions sure to satisfy the biggest appetite. But that’s not why so many people across America come here. They come to be abused by the surly, obnoxious staff. The first ever Dick’s Last Resort restaurant opened as a fine dining establishment, 28 years ago. There were too many of those around and the venture turned out to be a failure which led to bankruptcy. Determined to make it in the restaurant business, owner Steve Schiff gave it another shot, only this time he decided to “go sloppy”. The classy decor was replaced by a wacky one, and the uber-friendly staff became obnoxious and abusive with patrons. Believe it or not, the bizarre concept proved a winner, and today Dick’s Last Resort is a successful restaurant chain with 13 different locations across the United States.

obnoxious-restaurant

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Live Like a Genuine Convict at Latvia’s Prison Hotel

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Latvia’s Karosta Prison was used as a Nazi and Soviet military prison for most of the 20th century. Hundreds of prisoners are said to have died here, many of them shot in the head. Nowadays the nightmarish facility has been transformed in a prison-themed hotel where guests can sign an agreement to be treated like actual inmates.

Located in the city of Liepaja, Karosta Prison is one of Latvia’s most unique tourist attractions. Visitors can take tours of the old prison facility and learn the gruesome history of this place, visit the prison museum and even book a stay in one of the old cells. Karosta is certainly not the only prison converted to a hotel in the world, but it sets itself apart by allowing visitors to experience authentic prison life in Communist Era conditions. It might sound like a gimmick to attract tourists, but a stay at Karosta Prison is actually no walk in the park. To make sure there are no complaints, the hotel requires guests to sign an agreement acknowledging they are to be treated like prisoners by the trained staff. That includes sleeping in a cell on an old mattress laid over wooden boards, eating prison food served through the barred doors, getting verbally abused by the guards and following orders to the letter. Failure to comply to the strict code of conduct is punished through physical exercise and cleaning work around the prison.

Karosta-Prison-Hotel

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