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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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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The Fragile Porcelain House of Tianjin

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Zhang Lianzhi, a 50-year-old porcelain collector from Tianjin, China, has spent four years decorating an old house with hundreds of millions of ancient porcelain fragments and tons of natural crystals. It’s now known as the Porcelain House or Yuebao House.

The Porcelain House of Tianjin opened its gates to the public on September 2nd, 2007, onChifeng Street in Heping District. The old French-style building has a history of over 100 years. It was originally the home of a central finance minister in the late Qing dynasty, and was later converted into a bank, after the founding of New China, in 1949. But after the bank changed its location, the beautiful building was left deserted for several years, until porcelain collector Zhang Lianzhi bought it for 1 million yuan ($160,000). He then spent the following four years turning it into a unique edifice, decorated with porcelain dating from the Tang (AD 618-907) to the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Now the Porcelain House is the most eye-catching building in Tianjin, and one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

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Optical Illusions at South Korea’s Awesome Trick Eye Museums

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Planting a kiss on Mona Lisa’s cheek, riding the legendary Pegasus and even getting peed on by a baby, it’s all possible at one of South Korea’s Trick Eye Museums.

I’ve never been to Korea, but apparently people there, like the Japanese, love to take photos of themselves with cool stuff, so it’s no wonder they’ve created a bunch of tourist attractions where people can immortalize themselves doing the craziest things. They’re called “trick eye museums” and feature various well-executed trompe l’oeil (French for “deceive the eye) artworks that either look like they’re coming out of the frame, or that you’re stepping in. If you manage to get a shot from the right angle, you can get some really cool photos of yourself interacting with the paintings. Judging by the photos I’ve found, these places are lots of fun.

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The Future Is Now – China Opens Robot-Operated Restaurant

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Well, it’s not exactly as advanced as you’re used to seeing in sci-fi movies, but China’s colorful robot-themed restaurant can be a sign of things to come.

They’re probably going to render us extinct one day, so we might as well enjoy their servitude, while it lasts. A unique restaurant, in Harbin, China’s Heilongjiang Province, has 18 different robots doing all kinds of jobs, from ushering in guests to waiting tables and cooking various dishes. All the robots were designed and created by the Harbin Haohai Robot Company. Chief Engineer Liu Hasheng, they invested around 5 million yuan ($790,000) in the restaurant, with each robot costing 200,000 to 300,000 yuan ($31,500 – $47,000). With an average cost per dinner of between $6 and $10, they won’t be recovering their investment anytime soon, but it is great advertisement for what the robot company can create.

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Mr. Kanso – Japan’s Weird Canned Food Restaurants

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I bet you’d have never thought a restaurant that serves only canned food could ever become popular. Well, it can in Japan.

Eating cold food from  metal cans with plastic cutlery, is not everyone’s idea of a good eating out experience, but Osaka’s Kanso Restaurant has been offering this exact type of experience for a while now and has enjoyed great success. Things have been going so well that Clean Brothers, the restaurant and cafe company behind the bizarre diner, has begun franchising the idea throughout Japan, under the name Mr. Kanso. And I’m not talking disaster shelters or anything like that, but big cities like Tokyo and Nagoya. The original Kanso opened in 2002, and there are currently 17 branches, 14 of which are franchises, but the number of interested franchisees is growing steadily.

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Sleazy Avatar-Themed Nightclub Opens in South Africa

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Somehow I thought Avatar-themed nightclubs would be kind of cool, but recently opened Avastar (I know, right?) proves they can be sleazier than you ever imagined.

Judging by the success of James Cameron’s Avatar movie, it was only a matter of time before someone used his fantasy world as nightclub theme. Only I think anyone could have done a much better job of it than Mike Basson, a South African entrepreneur who looks like one of the gangster Guy Richie uses in his movies. He came up with the “brilliant” name “Avastar” for his new nightclub in Rivonia, South Africa’s version of Las Vegas, slapped cheesy artworks of nude Na’Vi women on the walls, and described his idea as a mind-blowing combination of nature and technology. It’s also got some fancy chandeliers supposed to look like the Tree of Life and some fire-spitting volcanoes, fog machines and lasers, LEDs, pretty everything an Avatar fan dreams of finding in a nightclub themed after their favorite movie.

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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 Dog Cafe – South Korea’s Answer to Japan’s Popular Cat Cafes

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There’s a place in South Korea where you can relax by bonding with about twenty dogs of different breeds and sizes, all vying for human attention. It’s called the Dog Cafe and it’s awesome!

If you haven’t yet heard about Japan’s famous cat cafes, they’re venues where stressed businessmen go to relax by surrounding themselves with dozens of purring felines. Cats are very popular in the Land of the Rising Sun, but the concept has been adopted by other Asian countries and recently, even Austria. But animal lovers in the South Korean city of Busan decided to take a different approach and opened a dog cafe, where visitors can surround themselves with furry canines who love human attention. According to Jürgen and Mike, from for91Days.com, Busan is a busy place, with tiny apartments where owning a dog can be considered a luxury, so a place like the Dog Cafe was just what the city needed.

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Stunning Photos from the World’s Most Amazing Suburban Family Garden

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Located in the small backyard of a family-owned property in Wallsall, England, is one of the most incredible-looking gardens in the world. The Four Seasons Garden may not be as large as other famous English gardens you may have visited, but it certainly makes up in beauty and charm.

There are hundreds, probably thousands of breathtaking gardens all over Europe, but most of them were designed and looked-after by teams of professional gardeners, at a considerable cost. The Four Seasons Garden, created by self-taught gardeners Tony and Marie Newton, started out as a hobby, but slowly grew into one of the most popular suburban  gardens in Britain. 20 years ago, the couple from West Midlands decided to transform their traditional garden into a stunning display of creative gardening. Tony hated weeding, but loved building things, while his wife Marie just loved plants, so together they set out to create Four Seasons, their version of the ideal backyard garden.

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Kansas Man Builds Golden Gate Bridge Replica in His Backyard

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Larry Richardson, from Mulvane, Kansas, spent 11 years building a 150-foot replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, out of 90 tons of concrete and lots of salvaged materials.

War veteran Larry Richardson has had only two great loves in his life, his wife Barbara and the Golden Gate Bridge, which he has dreamed of visiting since he was a senior at Derby High School, in 1967. ”I proposed to Barbara over the phone after we’d had one date,” Larry told the Derby Informer. ”I was a senior in high school and she was a sophomore. I don’t think she believed I was serious.” But he also told her to wait until he got a chance to see the Golden Gate Bridge he was so  fascinated by. It didn’t take very long, as he drove over the great American landmark in February of 1968, on his way to Vietnam, for a tour duty. It was dark outside, and although he had fulfilled his dream of seeing it in person, he remembers wishing he got a chance to walk on it for a bit and admiring all the details.

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Playa de Gulpiyuri – A Strange Beach in the Middle of a Meadow

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Tucked away into a small inland hollow, right in the middle of a meadow, Playa de Gulpiyuri is one of the most amazing beaches in the world.

We’ve certainly featured some unique places here, on Oddity Central, and even a few incredible beaches, like the hot water beach of New Zealand or California’s glass beach, but none like the beach of Gulpiyuri. Located near the charming town of Llanes, on the northern coast of Spain, Gulpiyuri Beach is unlike anything I have ever seen, or even imagined existed outside of fantasy books or fictional planets. Imagine walking over 100 meters from the sea shoreline and stumbling over a small charming beach right in the middle of a green meadow. And while you may find other beaches completely hidden from the open sea, around the world, this one is actually fully tidal and even has waves bathing the small strip of golden sand.

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