Utopix – French Family Turn Barren Field into Outsider Art

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Jo and Dominique Pillet’s home ‘Utopix’ is like something right out of a fairy tale. They started work on it about 30 years ago, and although it was completed as of 2010, it continues to evolve. The beauty of the house is not just in the construction, but the patience and perseverance put in by its builders, given that the land it stands on was considered to be barren. Utopix is located on an 11 hectare (27 acre) plot in Causse de Sauveterre, Lozere, France. Causses are sparsely populated plateaus of limestone. The limestone soil does not hold water and so the terrain is very much like a desert, but that didn’t stop this French family from fulfilling their dream.

The Pillets got married in the 70s and purchased their plot of land with the intention of building a beautiful home. Being artists themselves, they wanted to create something that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It’s been a long journey with several hurdles, but the couple has managed to complete the task and quite beautifully in fact. The construction project was started in 1979, and Jo Pillet mostly worked on it alone, or with the help of a few friends. He mostly made use of the abundant limestone in the region, structuring it in the form of igloos. The domed structures were then reinforced with concrete and wood, and later covered with stones to give them a cave-like feel. After two whole decades, the building finally began to take shape in 1992. Utopix has been quite popular since then, with local newspapers carrying stories, and several visitors coming to see it regularly.

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Hamster Villa Lets You Experience Life as a Small Rodent

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According to French scenographer Yann Falquerho, sometimes people really do want to live like their caged pets. I’m not sure I do, but Falquerho must be right, because his creation – the Villa Hamster – is immensely popular. The hotel allows you to experience exactly what the life of a caged hamster is like.

42-year-old Falquerho had always felt that the hotel industry did not pay any attention to the animal transformation niche. So he decided to open his own hotel designed with a hamster theme. Villa Hamster opened in 2009 and has been very popular ever since then. Located in Nantes, western France, the hotel opened with a room tariff of $150 per night, but this was soon increased in accordance with the demand. “We have a lot of success with this little house. It is because of the concept to transform into an animal,” Falquerho told the press just a couple of weeks after the hotel was inaugurated.

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The Unique Hot Water Beach of New Zealand

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Can you imagine a beach where the water is actually hot? Seems unnatural, but there really is such a thing in New Zealand. Located on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula (about 175 km from Auckland),  Hot Water Beach got its name from the underground hot springs which filter up through the sand in between the low and high water tidal reaches. The beach attracts a huge number of tourists every year (approx. 130,000) and is one of the most popular geothermal attractions of the region.

What’s even more interesting than Hot Water Beach itself is the ingenious way people create their own spas at the beach. This generally happens in the two-hour time frame before or after a low tide. During this period, you can actually dig large holes into the sand at the beach, allowing hot water to escape to the surface. A hot water pool is created in the hole – a natural spa of sorts. The water gets as hot as 64C (147F). Several tourists bring buckets and spades with them, and later relax in the large hole of thermal water they dug out.

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Japan Inaugurates World’s First Hotel for Sheep

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UPDATE: As it turns out, this story is completely FAKE. After it was picked up by Yahoo News, this story got a lot of attention, but according to popular rumor-busting website, Snopes.com, it was just made up by someone who wanted to have a little fun. Well, I’m sure they had quite a laugh to see the Interwebs go crazy over their made-up Sheep Hotel. We fell for it, good job. We’ll just leave the original article below as proof of our “disgrace”:

Sheep are to the Japanese, what dogs are to the rest of the world – awesome pets. Owning sheep in Japan is considered quite fashionable and the latest luxury for the wealthy. Sheep are cute, cuddly, gentle and loving creatures, so who wouldn’t want to keep them, right? Pictures of the rich and famous dressed in designer clothing and holding their sheep by a leash are really quite amusing. And the wealthy Japanese apparently take quite good care of their sheep, even when they’re out of town. Hotel Sheep is a place where the Japanese leave their woolly pets behind whenever they are on vacation.

Hotel Sheep Guest House was inaugurated last month, the first and only place in the world meant exclusively for sheep. No other animal is allowed inside. Not even rams, because hotel authorities feel that ‘rams can be too harsh to accommodate’. And you would be surprised to know that at Hotel Sheep, the sheep aren’t housed in regular barns, but in luxury rooms. Thirty such rooms are available and each of these is equipped with several amenities, including fine beds and television sets, in case they get lonely. Other services include a full-time trained maid service, and complete clean up. Japanese sheep sure are lucky.

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The Bone Chapel of Portugal – A Creepy Sacred Destination

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A structure with interiors covered completely in human bones – sounds like the stuff that scary houses are made of, right? But believe it or not, it is actually a place of worship. Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones, is located next to the Church of St. Francis in the medieval Portuguese town of Evora. The 16th century chapel is a large room that has been adorned with the bones of over 5,000 monks.

The decision to use human bones as building material for a church is certainly an unusual one, but there’s a story to justify it. It seems that in the 16th century, Evora had about 43 cemeteries that took up way too much land. When the decision was made to destroy some of these cemeteries, the corpses of 5,000 monks were exhumed in an effort to save their souls from condemnation. It was decided that the remains of these monks would be relocated to the Capela dos Ossos. However, the existing monks soon realized that it might be a better idea to put these bones on display, rather than behind closed doors. These monks were concerned about the societal values of the wealthy town of Evora.  So they set about creating a place for meditation, a place where the undeniable reminder of death would help people transcend the material world.

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The Coromoto Ice-Cream Shop – 900 Weird Flavors and Counting

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Coromoto, an ice cream shop in Merida, Venezuela, is probably the closest you can ever get to Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans from Harry Potter’s wizarding world. The place sells ice creams of virtually every flavor you can think of. Granted, you won’t get vomit or earwax, but you’re sure to come across a few strange flavors like onion, chili, mushrooms, wine and even garlic. The ones you’d probably never want to try are egg, sardines-in-brandy and macaroni-and-cheese flavored ice creams. Of course, for those who don’t like experimenting much, regular flavors like vanilla and strawberry are available as well.

Manuel da Silva Oliveira, a Portuguese immigrant, worked for years at large ice cream companies, before he realized the potential that exotic and unusual flavors held. He then proceeded to perfect an avocado-flavored ice cream, after wasting about 50 kg in his attempts. In 1980, he opened the Heladeria Coromoto, where the Avocado ice cream is now one of the most popular, and is paired with sweet corn, black bean, mango or coconut flavors. The shop sells the largest number of flavors in the world, holding a Guinness World Record for it. There are around 900 flavors to choose from, with 60 of them being served on any given day. Changes are made according to the season.

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Living with the Dead – Manila’s Cemetery Dwellers

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Graveyards in Manila can be a strange sight for first-time visitors. Some of them hold a strong resemblance to mini-townships, with no sign of the eerie quietness that usually shrouds such spaces. Mausoleums house shops that sell canned sardines, noodle packs, candy, candles and other essential items. Even prepaid cards for mobile phones are available. Meals and drinks are sold at informal restaurants set up between graves. The walls are scaled with makeshift ladders, helping inhabitants to get in and out with ease. Wondering why in the world would the dead need such conveniences? Well, they’re not for the dead, but for the living. Several thousand homeless people in Manila have made graveyards their permanent homes. The biggest graveyard of the Filipino capital, North Cemetery, is now like a small village in itself with a population of 10,000.

I’m not sure about for long this has been going on, but it must be a pretty long time considering that some inhabitants have actually inherited mausoleums from their great-grandparents, and ended up living there accidentally. But a majority of the graveyard population consists of those who come from the provinces of Philippines to the big city and are unable to make ends meet. Apart from running shops and eateries, the people here make a living by working with the graves. At funerals, teenagers carry coffins for 50 pesos (about 50 cents), adult men are employed to repair and maintain tombs, while women take care of cleaning mausoleums. Children collect plastic, scrap metal and other garbage, which are eventually sold.

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Build It and They Won’t Come – World’s Largest Shopping Mall Is 99% Empty

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The New South China Mall in Dongguan, China is the biggest in the world. With an area of over 7 million square feet that can accommodate 2,350 stores, and attractions such as roller coasters, ghost trains and a replica of the bell tower of St Mark’s Square in Venice, you would think the place would be swarming with people. So did the owners of the mall, who expected over 70,000 visitors a day when they started building it. But today it stands empty, with almost no customers entering its gates. The 553 meter indoor and outdoor roller coaster hasn’t been operated since it was installed and 99% of the shops have never been leased out. The only ones that do operate are a series of fast food joints at the entrance of the mall and another few shops inside the huge complex.

New South China Mall was built in 2005 by Hu Guirong, who made his millions making instant noodles. He started the project with great enthusiasm, sending teams all over the world in search of ideas for his dream mall. And most of these ideas were even translated into reality. Where else in the world would be able to see a gondola on a mock Venetian canal inside a mall? But then something went horribly wrong, because when the place was completed in 2005, it simply failed to take off. It wasn’t even a dead mall, where tenants simply depart and business winds down slowly. No, Guirong’s mall never attracted merchants in the first place, as they felt it wasn’t a realistic place to set up shop.

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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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Chinese Artist Creates Transformers Theme Park

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It might look like the set of a new low-budget Transformers movie, but Mr. Iron Robot is actually a newly-inaugurated Transformers-themed park in Jiaxing City, China’s Zhejiang Province.

49-year-old artist Zhu Kefeng and his team have spent the last 10 years building giant metal robots from recycled iron and steel parts. He started out by making a realistic model of a car, then opened his own studio and began creating more intricate sculptures. He soon started doing commission work for people who liked his art, and for large orders he even set up a recycle bin where people could donate discarded metal parts. Zhu started working on Mr. Iron Robot theme park in 2010, with the money he had raised for selling his metal sculptures and his apartment in Shanghai. He and his team of collaborators worked hard and managed to turn an old abandoned factory into a modern attraction featuring over 600 Transformers-inspired sculptures.

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Japan’s Okinawa Island – The Healthiest Place on Earth

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I used to think that there were only a handful of people over the age of 100 in the world. How wrong was I! The Japanese island of Okinawa alone has about 457 of them. It is considered to be the healthiest place in the world, where the average life expectancy of an Okinawan woman is 86, and man’s is 78. Not only do they live long lives, they live very healthy and happy ones too. A fine example is 96-year-old martial artist Seikichi Uehara, who, at his age, defeated a thirty-something ex-boxing champion. And also Nabi Kinjo, the 105-year-old woman who hunted down a poisonous snake and killed it with a fly swatter.

The Okinawans’ secret, I’ve come to understand, lies in two things – their food, and their attitude towards life. As a happy bunch of people, the elders seem to have no worry etched on their faces, stress seems to be a foreign concept to them. An 88-year-old farmer who still works 11-hour days at the field, says, “I hardly ever get angry. I enjoy life because I’m happy at work and I think that’s the medicine for a long life.” I completely agree, and I wish I could look at life the way this brilliant guy does…

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4 Places Where Dying Is Not Allowed

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When something as natural and inevitable as death is banned, it does seem a tad illogical. You would be surprised to know that there actually are quite a few places on Earth where death has been forbidden, and deemed illegal. In fact, it seems that this is actually an age-old practice; the earliest known instance of the prohibition of death was in the 5th century BC,  when dying wasn’t allowed on religious grounds at the Greek island of Delos. Each place has a reason of its own, varying from religious beliefs to environmental factors.

We’ll take a look at four places where death is forbidden in today’s world:

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Bikini-Clad Baristas Serve One Hot Cup of Coffee at Java Girls Cafe

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At Java Girls, you don’t just get hot coffee, you get it served by hot women too. And to top it all off, they’re wearing nothing but bikinis and boots. I guess there couldn’t be a better way for men to kick-start their mornings. Java Girl’s latest franchise opened in Orlando last November, although the concept has been around since the early 2000s. Other branches are located in Oregon and Texas.

The Orlando franchise of Java Girls is co-owned by Todd and Bill Brognano, and thought to be the only bikini coffee shop located in central Florida. The shop employs only women, who come dressed to work in either bikinis or lingerie. So it’s not unusual here to spot a woman dressed in a two-piece, brewing espressos, lattes and frappucinos. And the girls don’t mind it one bit. “We like showing off what we got,” says 20-year-old Java Girl Belinda Messer. When they aren’t making coffee, the girls make it a point to stand outside the shop and entice passengers to a cup of coffee. They hold up signs like, “Now Open Extra HOT Coffee Spot.”

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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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