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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Vrindavan – Where India’s Widows Go to Die

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Superstitious beliefs are generally perceived in light humor, like when a black cat crosses your path, or you look into a broken mirror. But what about the ones that could cause several women to live in poverty and destitution for the rest of their lives? Unfortunately, that’s the ugly side of superstition and it does exist in several rural, underdeveloped societies of India. Societies, where it is normal to believe that apart from being a financial burden, widowed women and even their shadows, bring bad luck. Within such circles, widows – both young and old – are shunned and forced to leave their home. Their bangles are broken, red vermilion (the mark of a married woman) is wiped away from the forehead, and they’re forced to wear nothing but white saris, before being turned away from home. Thousands of these homeless widows gather at one place, Vrindavan, where it is believed that death will bring them salvation. So they go there to live in ashrams, awaiting their turn to die.

Unfortunately, life in the ashrams of the holy city of Vrindavan is not exactly a bed of roses for the lonely and abandoned women. In fact, some of them are so poor that they have even left the ashrams and taken to the streets to beg for their food. The north-Indian city, with a population of about 55,000, is believed to have about 20,000 widows today. The ones who do stay on in the ashrams receive only one small plate of food a day, and live in the poorest of conditions. Young widows face a threat to their safety as well, due to sexual abuse and human trafficking.

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Viganella – The Italian Village that Built Its Own Sun

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Viganella is a small village in Italy located right at the bottom of a deep valley, and surrounded by high mountains on all sides. This means that naturally, every year from mid-November to early February, the region has absolutely no sunlight. The return of the sun’s rays on the 2nd of February was celebrated with joy every single year for several centuries. That is, until December of 2006, when the problem was fixed forever.

Thanks to the brilliance of Giacomo Bonzani, an architect and sundial designer, there now resides on the slopes of a mountainside above Viganella, a giant mirror that reflects sunlight into the town square. A place that had not seen the sun’s rays during the winter since the beginning of time, was now suddenly bathed in its glorious light and warmth. The mirror is 40 square meters in size, 8 meters wide by 5 meters high and is located about 870 meters above the village. What’s more, it is actually controlled by a computer software that tracks the sun and tilts and turns the panels of the mirror so that the rays are always reflected downwards. It has actually become a tourist attraction of sorts, since its installation over 5 years ago.

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassee – Outsider Art in Louviers, France

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassée or The Broken Crockery House, is a very special place located in Louviers, France. I took a look at a few pictures and couldn’t help being reminded of the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel. Of course, you can’t eat this one and there’s no evil witch living there.

This was the home of Robert Vasseur and his wife, who abandoned wallpaper and painstakingly decorated their home with mosaics made from broken crockery, seashells, twinkling china and glass. Born in 1908, Vasseur was a milk transporter and also worked in textiles. His strange passion for mosaic decoration started way back in 1952 when he first got the idea while doing repair work in his kitchen. He embellished an old cement kitchen sink with broken crockery mosaics and never looked back. Starting with that old sink, he expanded his idea to the interior of his house, the backyard, then the garden and later even the dog house. This went on for the next 50 years or so.

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Filipino Restaurant at the Foot of a Waterfall

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Located in the Quezon province of the Philippines, Villa Escudero is a nice hacienda-style resort with cozy rooms and an exotic atmosphere. But what brought its international fame is the waterfall restaurant that allows tourists to enjoy a nice meal right at the foot of a small waterfall.

In most cases, getting too close to a waterfall can prove deadly, but not at this particular restaurant, at Villa Escudero. Here, people are actually encouraged to take off their shoes and get as close to the falls as possible. Set right at the foot of Labasin Falls, this special place invites customers to taste popular Filipino dishes, while fresh spring water from the falls flows under and over their feet, making this an unforgettable experience. As you can imagine, it’s nowhere near as impressive as Niagara, but visitors who don’t mind getting their clothes wet can sit right under the rushing waterfall and get their pictures taken. Words just don’t do this fantastic tourist attraction justice, so I’ll let the photos and video do the talking.

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Italy’s Natural Cathedral Is Made of Growing Trees

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Located on the outskirts of Bergamo, at the foot of Monte Arena, the tree cathedral created by Italian artist Giuliano Mauri is one of the world’s most impressive example of organic architecture.

Giuliano Mauri created “natural architecture” by blending organic materials like trunks and branches with classic architectural elements, creating impressive large-scale edifices. In 2001, his love for nature inspired him to draw up the plans for a project that took his art to a whole new level and left the people of Bergamo stunned – a cathedral made only of trees. The artist envisioned a unique organic building desinged in such a way that the branches of the trees forming its pillars would extend and arch to become its roof and walls. Unfortunately, Mauri died unexpectedly in 2009, and never got to see his grand plan come to life, but as a homage to his life’s work, the project was initiated in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.

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Chara Sands – The Miniature Desert of Siberia

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If I showed you an image of desert sands set up against a background of snow-capped mountain peaks, your first word would probably be ‘Photoshoped’. That’s what I thought too, but such a place really does exist and it’s called Chara Sands.

There is really no end to nature’s mysteries and Chara Sands, in Siberia, is just one of them. Located in the Trans-Baikal, about  25 miles from the Kodar Glaciers and right next to the mountains, ice fields and blue lakes, the bright and yellow sand dune is hard to miss. At 10 km long and 5 km wide, the dunes are of varying heights. Some of the tallest ones are 15 to 30 meters high. Given the large volume of the loose and shifting sands, the place actually looks like a desert, although it is not. Spotting a desert-like terrain in the tundra region is nothing short of a miracle and a well-recognized one around the world. According to the Russian Geographical Society, “The contrasts seem impossible: as if an incredible open-air museum was set up, displaying natural curiosities of the north and the south next to each other.” They couldn’t have put it better.

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Chateau Guédelon – A 13th Century Castle in the Making

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It is sometimes unbelievable how beautiful architecture was created in ancient times, without the use of modern technology. A medieval construction project in Treigny, France, aims at understanding exactly how this was possible. Guédelon Castle is a project that is being completed with only the materials and techniques that were available to man in the Middle Ages. Of course, it’s going to take decades to complete.

The construction of Guédelon Castle started back in 1997. Michel Guyot, the owner of the nearby Saint-Fargeau castle, first got the idea of the project when he was restoring his own property. Over the years, the project has matured in terms of complexity, and has become a major tourist attraction. Today, it has created over 55 jobs and draws around 300,000 people every year. It also acts as an educational backdrop for school excursions. The design of the castle is based on the architectural canons laid down by the King of France,  Philip II Augustus, in the 12th and 13th centuries. The work done is mostly manual and slow, involving materials such as wood, earth, sand, stone and clay. The blueprint of the castle includes a moat and six towers. What’s even more fascinating is that the workers dress in the garb of medieval times.

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Shijiao – Where Christmas Lights Go to Die

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Ever wonder what happens to Christmas lights once you toss out into the trash at the end of every holiday season? Turns out a lot of things are made from them, including slipper soles.

Shijiao, in China, has been designated as the world’s capital for recycling old and unusable Christmas tree lights that are thrown away by Americans each year. There are at least nine factories in this small town that process large volumes of tree lights. Yong Chang Processing is one of them, the company recycles 2.2 million pounds of lights each year. Overall, the factories of the town go through over 20 million pounds. Shijiao is known for its cheap labor costs and low environmental standards. These factors make it an ideal place for a recycling zone. It has been so for around 20 years now. Needless to say, the burning of the wire from the lights causes huge amounts of black smoke to rise up in the air, which is clearly visible from the fields around town. The process adopted is the fastest way to extract copper from rubber and plastic, and hence there isn’t any alternative.

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Ancient Documents Claim Jesus Lived to Be 106 and Died in Japan

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There have been bizarre claims before that Jesus Christ lived and died in India, with his tomb located in the state of Kashmir. In what can only be a testament to his omnipresence, another claim has been made to Christ’s whereabouts before his death, this time by the Japanese.

So the story goes like this – Christ visited Japan between the ages of 21 and 33. Of course, this is conveniently supported by the fact that the Bible skips over large periods of Christ’s early life. He spent this time studying the native language and culture, before returning to Jerusalem. What about the Crucifixion, you ask? Well, it wasn’t Christ that was crucified at all. According to this theory, it was his younger brother Isukiri, who took his place on the cross. In the meantime, Christ fled to Siberia. After a few years, he traveled via Alaska and arrived at the port of Hachinohe, 40km from the village of Shingo. He lived the rest of his life in the village, where he married, had three children and died at the age of 106.

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Have a nICE Stay At Finland’s Igloo Village

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Ever wondered what it would be like to live in an igloo? Well, you have the chance to find out at the Kakslauttanen Igloo Village, in Finland. A hotel located in the northern part of the country, high up above the arctic circle,  is being touted as one of the coziest romantic getaways in the world.

Holidaying couples have three options at the hotel – Log Cabins, Snow Igloos, and Glass Igloos. Of course, the snow igloos get my vote for the most interesting of the three. Let’s find out more about them. Built to fit 1 to 5 people, it is literally like sleeping inside a room made of snow Of course, while the temperature outside may be dangerously cold at below -30 C, all the necessary amenities are provided indoors to keep you warm and cozy. The temperature inside ranges between -3 and -6 C. Warm down sleeping bags, woolen socks and hood are provided. The ice itself illuminates the igloo.

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The Amazing Oak Chapel of Allouville Bellefosse

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The French village of Allouville-Bellefosse is famous for the Chêne Chapelle (Oak Chapel), which is literally a chapel built into an oak tree. The amazing architecture consists of a wooden staircase spiraling around the ancient tree, leading up to a couple of chambers. These rooms have always been used as places of worship, by the village locals.

The age of the tree has been a subject of debate, but everyone agrees that it is the oldest tree in France, without a doubt. The tree is known to have been growing as far back as the thirteenth century, during the rule of Louis IX, when France was a truly centralized kingdom. It is also known to have survived the Hundred Years War against the English, the Black Death, the Reformation, and Napoleon’s rule. Local folklore dates it a 1,000 years old, when it is said that the acorn took root. However, tree experts say it could only be around 800 years old, which means the thirteenth century saw it’s origins.

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Dargavs – Russia’s City of the Dead

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A place called the City of the Dead actually exists in Russia’s North Ossetia, hidden in one of the five mountain ridges that cross the region. Needless to say, several myths and legends shroud the place, with locals claiming that no one has ever come back alive. The ‘city’ hardly ever gets any tourists either, although this might be due to the difficulty of just getting there.

Reaching Dargavs, the City of the Dead, entails a three-hour journey through winding, narrow roads, and several hills. The foggy mountain weather certainly doesn’t help matters. Once there, you’ll find that the city  is in fact another hill covered with small white buildings. It is these very buildings that cause the place to get it’s name. The white house-like structures, countless in number, are stone crypts where locals buried their loved ones. The city itself is an ancient Ossetian cemetery. Each family of the area has a crypt, and the higher the structure, the greater the number of people buried in it. The oldest of the crypts dates back to the 16th century.

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Drug Lord Pablo Escobar Becomes Colombian Tourist Attraction

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When Pablo Escobar died in 1993, the people of Medellin, Colombia, sighed in relief. But little did they know that the world’s most notorious criminal at the time would become one of their country’s most popular tourist attractions.

The legacy of Escobar lives on in Medellin, in a different and slightly unusual manner. The man and his life are now sold as a tourist attraction to visitors; this has proven to be quite popular. Escobar, who was responsible for several acts of terrorism such as blowing up the Government’s Security Ministry, assassinating a Presidential candidate, bombing a civilian airliner, and waging a war in which thousands of people were killed, would have least expected that the memories he left behind would one day serve as a means to attract tourists to Colombia.

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Taichung’s Rainbow Village – The Hand-Painted Wonder of Taiwan

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It’s hard to believe that one man can change the fate of an entire village. Huang Yung-fu, an 86-year-old war veteran has done just this.

Huang lives in a village in a corner of the Taiwanese city of Taichung, a community that was created for Nationalist soldiers in the 1940s and 50s. Over the years, the place slowly changed into a permanent settlement, suffering from urban problems like abandonment, decay and housing dereliction. However, none of this is visible in the settlement today, thanks to the transformation brought about by Huang’s colorful paintings. The streets and the walls of practically every building in the village are covered with Huang’s simplistic paintings of plants, animals, TV personalities, birds and buffaloes. Considering the fact that he began painting only two years ago, his accomplishment is pretty huge. The bright colors and simple strokes used by Huang only add to the attractiveness of his work.

Photo by Steve Barringer

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