Monsanto – A Portuguese Town Built between Giant Boulders

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The charming town of Monsanto, an ancient settlement perched on the side of a mountain in the Portuguese countryside, boasts some of the most incredible sights on Earth. Featuring tiny streets carved from rock and granite houses squeezed between giant boulders, it looks like a real life Bedrock.

In 1938, Monsanto was named ‘the most Portuguese town in Portugal’ which seems strange, considering most buildings in Portugal aren’t sandwiched between two boulders, or have massive rocks hanging above them, but its awarded standing of open air museum, has allowed it to keep its outwardly appearance throughout the years. Due to building restrictions in the area, Monsanto’s appearance hasn’t changed in centuries and has managed to retain its original charm.

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Real-Life Hobbit Shire Exists in the Hillsides of Montana

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The Hobbit House of Monatana, located in a man-made shire built by LOTR enthusiast Steve Michaels and his wife Christine, is a must-see attraction for any self-respecting Tolkien fan.

This isn’t the first time someone builds a real-life hobbit house, but this particular house situated in the hillsides of northwest Montana is actually a tourist guesthouse available for only $245 a night. So if you’ve always wanted to see what it’s like to live as a hobbit, now’s your chance. But unlike the simple homes featured in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, the Hobbit House of Montana comes with a modern king-size bedroom, designer kitchen with customized granite counters, HD Blu-Ray television set, XM Radio, three phones and WiFi. The LOTR theme, however, is everywhere, from the little rock handles on the drawers, to the Gandalf stained glass doors, or The One Ring dangling from the loft.

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Entrepreneur Turns Atomic Reactor into Popular Amusement Park

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Wunderland Kalkar is a unique amusement park built on the site of a never-used power plant, complete with a fast breeder reactor, in Kalkar, Germany.

Construction of the Kalkar nuclear plant began in 1972, but was constantly  delayed due to technical difficulties and protests from those concerned about the safety of nuclear power. When it was completed, over 10 year later, authorities decided to pull the plug on the project, and the $4 billion complex was dismantled in  less than a decade. The fast breeder reactor remained in place, and in 1995 Dutch entrepreneur Hennie van der Most bought what was left of the Kalkar plant for a mere €2.5 million and managed to turn it into a profitable amusement park visited by over 600,000 people, every year.

Wunderland Kalkar has around 40 rides, for children and adults alike, and a 400-bed hotel. Among the most interesting features of the park are the swing ride set up inside the cooling facility, and the climbing wall on its outer walls. Also, chairoplanes, quad bikes, go-karts and a whole bunch of other fun gadgets make trips to Wunderland Kalkar a blast for the whole family.

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China Inaugurates Park Made Entirely Out of Clay

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A unique cultural park made entirely out of clay has recently been open to the public, in Tangshan City, China.

Featuring rows of houses, busy streets filled with vendors and their carts, high ranking officials and horse-pulled carriages, the park is a reproduction of Zhang Zerui famous scroll painting Riverside Scene during the Qingming Festival. The man behind this unique project is a local from the city’s Fengrun District, named Qin Shiping. Tangshan has along standing tradition in ceramics, and Qin worked as a sculptor and painter ever since he was a young boy. In 2005, he got the idea to offer a unique view on China, and since he had always been a fan of Zhang Zherui’s painting, he decided to recreate the images depicted in the artwork with clay sculptures.

Qin Shiping put his idea into practice in 2008. He hired two clay sculpture experts with plenty of experience behind them, and 100 more regular clay workers who got started on the project. Three years later, the Tangshan clay sculpture park has finally been completed and opened to the general public. It’s 300 meters long and 60 meters wide and has been built at 2/3 life-size scale. The exact cost of the park hasn’t yet made public, but back in 2009, Qin Shiping stated he had already invested over 10 million yuan ($1,545,000).

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Thai Temple Interior Inspired by Modern Sci-Fi Movies

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You’d probably expect temple murals to depict religious themes and Buddha, but the Wat Rong Khun temple in Chiang Rai isn’t your ordinary holy place, as you can easily tell by the murals.

According to Wikipedia, in 1997, Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat volunteered to carry out the work for Wat Rong Khun’s ubosol (the temple’s assembly hall) at his own expense, but he changed the original plan so drastically that it  began drawing in both local and foreign tourists, eager to see the white wonder. Just like Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral, the unconventional Buddhist and Hindu temple is still under construction and some say it won’t be finished in the next 100 years.

Wat Rong Khun is entirely white, to symbolize Lord Buddha’s purity, and the mirrors used signify his wisdom, which “shines brightly all over the Earth and the Universe.” There is also an impressive bridge across a sea of human hands reaching out towards the sky, but perhaps the most interesting thing about this unique temple is its interior artwork. The imagery is painted in golden tones, depicting sacred animals and spaceships alike. That’s right, futuristic spaceships piloted by robots, ans superheroes like Superman in flight, that’s what’s painted inside Wat Rong Khun. Other scenes you might recognize show popular characters like the Predator, Neo from Matrix, Spiderman, Batman, and even creatures from the Avatar movie.

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Chefchaouen – The Blue City of Morocco

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One of Morocco’s most popular tourist destinations, Chefchaouen is most known for its blue-rinsed buildings and alleys, an old tradition leftover from the city’s Jewish population.

Chefchaouen was founded by Moorish exiles from Spain, in 1471, as a small fortress to fend off the attacks of invading Portuguese forcess in northern Morocco. After the Spanish Reconquista, the small mountain town became one of the largest Moriscos and Jews  refuge sites, and during their stay they managed to leave their mark on it, one that makes the modern city so special.

The name Chefchaouen comes from “chauen”, which is Spanish for horns, and refers to the shape of the two mountains overlooking the settlement. But it’s not its strange name, the beautiful and unique handicrafts sold by local craftsman, or the delicious goat cheese that attracts the majority of tourists to Chefchaouen. It’s the blue-painted houses and buildings of the city, a tradition inherited from the former Jewish inhabitants. In the Bible, Israelites are commanded to dye one of the threads in their tallit (prayer shawl) blue, with tekhelel. This was an old natural dye, processed from a species of shellfish, but in time its production collapsed and the Jewish people eventually forgot how to make it. But, in honor of the sacred commandment, the color blue was still woven into the cloth of their tallit. When they look at the dye, they will think of the blue sky, and the God above them in Heaven.

While the Jewish population of Chefchoauen isn’t as numerous as it one was, practically everyone in the city still follows this old tradition and frequently renew the paint job on their homes.

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The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats

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The Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats is regarded as a sacred cat haven in Cyprus, as it’s name has been linked to felines for almost 2,000 years.

The original monastery was built in 327 AD, by Kalokeros, the first Byzantine governor of Cyprus, and patronised by Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. At that time, a terrible drought affected the whole of Cypus, and the entire island was overrun with poisonous snakes which made building the monastery a dangerous affair. Many of the inhabitants left their homes and moved off the island, for fear of the snakes, but Saint Helena came up with a solution to the plague – she ordered 1,000 cats to be shipped in from Egypt and Palestine to fight the reptiles.

In the following years, the cats did their duty, hunting and killing most of the snakes in the Akrotiri Peninsula, which soon came to be known as the “Cat Peninsula”. The monks would use a bell to call the cats to the monastery at meal time, and then the felines were dispatched to their snake-hunting duties. Pilgrims from all around Europe traveled to the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas to see its feline guardians, and the discovered documents of a Venetian monk describe them as scarred, missing various body parts, some completely blind as a result of their relentless battle against the snakes.

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The Hill of Crosses – A Man-Made Christian Miracle

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Covered with over 100,000 crosses of different sizes, Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses is both a symbol of the country’s nationalism and an international pilgrimage site.

Located 12 kilometers north of the small industrial city of Šiauliai, the Hill of Crosses is believed to date back to the 14th century, during the occupation of the Teutonic Knights. The tradition of placing crosses began as a symbol of the people’s fight for independence and their fight against foreign invaders, and evolved into a struggle of Lithuanian Catholicism against oppression. During the peasant uprising that lasted between 1831 and 1863, people erected crosses on the hill, in protest, and by 1895 there were around 150 of them on the site. By 1940, the number of large crosses grew to 400, surrounded by many other smaller ones.

Occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, Šiauliai and the Hill of Crosses suffered significant damage when the Soviets took over, at the end of the conflict. The communist regime repeatedly removed all the crosses and leveled the hill three times, in 1961, 1973 and 1975, burning the wooden crosses and turning metal ones into scrap metal. The area was covered with waste and sewage to discourage locals from returning, but the Hill of Crosses was a symbol of Lithuanian nationalism and the pilgrims from all over the country quickly came back to the hill after each desecration, to place even more crosses. Many of them risked their lives sneaking past armed guards and through barbed wire fences to show their commitment to national struggle. The Soviet’s finally got the message and in 1985, the Hill of Crosses was finally left in peace, and its reputation rapidly spread throughout the Christian world.

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Galleta Meadows – A Metal Menagerie of Incredible Creatures

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Galleta Meadows is a unique sculpture park of the Anza Borrego Desert, filled with dozens of metal creatures that supposedly inhabited the area millions of years ago.

The Anza Borrego Desert isn’t the most hospitable place on the North American continent, and it’s definitely not where you’d expect to find an outdoor art exhibit like Galleta Meadows. Owned by multimillionaire Dennis Avery (as in Avery office supplies), this unusual tourist attraction is a desert creature park open to anyone brave enough to face the desert and the unbearable heat that comes with it.

The story of Galleta Meadows began in the 90’s, when Avery decided to invest some of his fortune in a vast territory in Borrego Springs. Ho got it for an “uncontestable price” but had no idea of how he was going to use it, so he put no barbwire around it and no “Private Property” signs. Later, he built a winter residence, followed by a tourist resort, a country club and a golf course, but he needed something unique to attract tourist to his newly opened facilities.

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The Hair Museum of Avanos

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Regarded as one of the weirdest museums in the world, the Hair Museum of Avanos, in Cappadocia, is definitely a must-see if you’re into bizarre tourist spots.

Ever since 3000 BC, Avanos has been known for its high quality earthenware, made from the mineral-rich mud of the Red River, but in recent years, the town has mostly been mentioned in relation to a unique hair museum created by skilled Turkish potter Chez Galip. The unusual establishment, located under Galip’s pottery shop, is filled with hair samples from over 16,000 women. The walls, ceiling, and all other surfaces, except the floor, are covered with locks of hair from the different women who have visited this place, and pieces of paper with addresses on them.

The story goes that the museum was started over 30 years ago, when one of Galip’s friends had to leave Avanos, and he was very sad. To leave him something to remember her by, the woman cut a piece of her hair and gave it to the potter. Since then, the women who visited his place and heard the story gave him a piece of their hair and their complete address. Throughout the years, he has amassed an impressive collection of over 16,000 differently colored locks of hair, from women all around the world.

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Fossil Cabin Museum Is Made of Thousands of Dinosaur Bones

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Often referred to as “the oldest cabin in the world”, the Fossil Cabin of Medicine Bow is a unique roadside attraction made of thousands of dinosaur fossils.

Located eight miles east of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, on US Route 30 is one of the most amazing tourist attractions in America – the Fossil Cabin. This starter cabin turned fossil museum is constructed of approximately 26,000 dinosaur bones extracted from the nearby Como Bluff dig site. It was designed by Thomas Boylan an entrepreneur who hauled out the dinosaur bones and together with his family completed the Fossil Cabin in 1933. Thomas had apparently been collecting dinosaur bones for seventeen years when he realized his entire pile of bones came from various species and there appeared to be no complete specimen, so he decided to use his collection as building material.

In 1938, Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe It or Not dubbed it “the oldest cabin in the world” and judging by the primary building material, he wasn’t exaggerating one bit. It gained a lot of attention after that and it brought a lot of customers to Boylan’s neighboring gas station, but after he died, and Interstate 80 was built, business started to go downhill. The Fossil Cabin was sold to the Fultz family who managed it as a fossil museum. Inside visitors could admire and in some cases purchases various dinosaur bones, petrified sea-life, and other things that appeal to dinophiles.

Unfortunately, Fossil Cabin is currently closed to the public, pending acquisition of a new manager, but you can stop by and shoot some great photos of its dinosaur bone walls.

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The Miniature Wonders of Ave Maria Grotto

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The Ave Maria Grotto is a four-acre park featuring 125 miniature reproductions of some of the most important Christian buildings and shrines, located in Cullman, Alabama.

Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature” this wonderful attraction was built from concrete, stone and seashells, by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of the nearby St. Bernard Abbey. Joseph was born in Germany, in 1878 and nearly lost his life to a flu epidemic that swept around Europe. He emigrated to the USA as a teenager, and settled in Alabama, where a freak accident left him scoliosis and a back injury. That’s probably the reason he decided to join the newly opened Benedictine monastery of Cullman. He took his vows at the age of nineteen and was put in charge of the monastery’s powerhouse.

It was around this time Brother Joseph began tinkering with stones, leftover cement and other junk he found outside the powerhouse. He would build Bible scenes from old ink bottles and rusted birdcages, and his handiwork soon attracted the attention of Father Dominic, who asked him to make two miniature grottoes for him to sell and raise money for the abbey. The artworks were so impressive they sold immediately, so what Joe though was just a one time deal turned into a regular business, and he ended up creating over 5,000 grottoes.

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Man Lives in Real Life Adams Family House

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Steve’s Weird House is a Victorian home decorated with all kinds of oddities and unusual artifacts one would expect to find in the Adams Family mansion.

Steve Bard, also known as “Weird Steve” is just an average guy from Seattle who has dedicated his life to decorating his humble abode in the most unusual way possible. Every inch of his house is covered with curiosities, circus sideshow exhibits, antique medical instruments and all kinds of other weird junk. The items in Steve’s collection include the world’s smallest mummy, Siamese twin calves, wreaths woven from human hair, skeletons, and various two-faced animals.

Apart from all the creepy decorations he collected over the years, Steve has also put together a veritable Toaster Museum with over 150 antique toasters, a Funky Future Room decorated in the style of “The Jetsons” and “Barbarella”, and a Minotaur Garden set up in his back yard. The latter features a 13-foot-tall bust of a minotaur, a 25-foot-tall Rapunzel Castle Tower and a sinister cemetery.

Unfortunately, Steve’s Weird House isn’t an attraction open to the general public. He likes to keep all his precious esoteric collections to himself, although he could probably make loads of money if he turned his house into a tourist spot. Still, you can check out the inside of this real life Adams Family mansion through a virtual tour and two Youtube videos, at the bottom.

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The Tree of Life – A Mysterious Natural Phenomenon

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Standing alone in the heart of the desert, miles away from any water source and other vegetation , the Tree of Life, in Bahrain, is one of the world’s most remarkable phenomena.

The Tree of Life is located 2 kilometers away from Jebel Dukhan, atop a 25-meter-high sandy hill, overlooking a golden sea of sand. The mystery of its survival in such harsh conditions has made it a legend among the people of Bahrain, and has attracted people from all around the world curious to see it first hand. The 400-year-old natural wonder has baffled biologists and scientists for years, and even though they’ve come up with several theories, it remains an enigma. Seeing this is a mesquite tree, some say its roots spread very deep and wide, reaching unknown sources of water, but no one has been able to prove it.

Locals have their own explanations when it comes to the secret of the Tree of Life, but theirs have little to do with science. Many of them believe this is the actual location of the Garden of Eden, while Bedouins are convinced the tree has been blessed by Enki, the mythical God of water. Whatever the explanation, it’s amazing how Sharajat-al-Hayat, as the Arabs call it, has kept growing continuously for around 4 centuries.

While the Tree of Life is one of the most famous attractions of Bahrain, visitors are instructed to double check their gear and make sure their car doesn’t get stuck in the sand, as we are talking about the middle of a desert.

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Aokigahara Forest – The Suicide Woods of Mount Fuji

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Referred to as “the perfect place to die” in Wataru Tsurumui’s bestselling book – The Complete Manual of Suicide – Aokigahara is a thick, dark forest located at the base of Mount Fuji, famous as a popular suicide spot.

No one knows exactly how many bodies go undiscovered among the trees of Aokigahara forest, but the ones uncovered so far have already earned this place an eerie reputation. In 2002 alone, 78 bodies were located in Aokigahara, and by 2006, another 16 suicides were reported. Some of the victims even carried copies of Tsurumui’s book with them, which makes this even creepier. The whole place is dotted with signs that read “please reconsider!” or “please consult the police before you decide to die!” but these have little power on those determined to die here.

“We’ve got everything here that points to us being a death spot. Perhaps we should just promote ourselves as ‘Suicide City’ and encourage people to come here,” says the mayor of Aokigahara exasperated by the high number of suicides registered in the area. Locals claim they can always tell who is going into the forest to admire its natural beauty, and who isn’t planning on ever coming back. They say part of the reason people decide to commit suicide in Aokigahara forest is because they want to die at the foot of the sacred Mt. Fuji and because it’s so dense and thick that sounds from just a few kilometers inside can’t be heard outside the woods.

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