The Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay, in the Bahamas

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Not everyone agrees with me, but I’ve always thought pigs were adorable creatures. Sure, they aren’t exactly the cleanest, but they’re very cute especially when they’re young. So when I heard about this tiny island that a bunch of pigs had all to themselves, I just had to find out more! Turns out this pig island is located in the Bahamas, where the creatures were first discovered in 2009 by photographer Eric Cheng and captain Jim Abernathy.

The island’s official name is Big Major Cay, but most people know it as Pig Island. The region is blessed with a natural water spring and sheltered by a string of neighboring islands that protect it from tropical storms. It’s the perfect environment for the pigs to laze around all day like little beach bums. They frolic in the water, swimming along-side each other and showing off their paddling skills to visitors. It’s interesting how the pigs appeared on this island in the first place. Rumor has it that a few sailors passing by the island a few years ago thought to leave a few pigs behind and turn the place into a reliable and secret source of food. Lucky for the pigs however, the sailors never returned. The creatures have never had to worry about their own food, thanks to the passing yachts that regularly dump excess food into the sea. It seems the pigs are able to tell when their next ‘shipment’ is arriving, so they eagerly plunge into the waves when they spot a yacht. They sweem a few feet up to the vessel, in the hope of getting the best catch.

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Popeye’s Village in Real Life

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Tucked away in the small European country of Malta is a place you’d probably never expect to find in the real world– Popeye’s Village. Also known as Sweethaven Village, it is an ideal family-vacation spot and one of Malta’s major tourist attractions. The fun park is modeled on the theme of the favorite children’s cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor Man. Interestingly, this village was the actual set used by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions to shoot the 1980 film Popeye, based on the comic strips by E. C. Segar.

At Sweethaven, you can expect to see models of all the main characters of the popular children’s cartoon – Popeye the Sailor, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Swee’Pea and Wimpy. You can also go on joy rides and visit play houses, puppet shows, museums, and cinema sessions featuring the film Popeye and the construction of the set. You can even star in your own film, record it and take it home. But that’s not all, there are a host of other things to see and experience, like face painting, balloon modelling, storytelling, open-air barbeques, crafts and Wii games. There’s also a mini golf course and a free wine tasting for adults. The season-specific activities are a huge hit as well, these include water trampolines, play pools and boat rides during the summer, and a Christmas Parade along with Santa’s toy town in December.

Popeye-Village-Malta

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Austria’s Healing Caves Offer Radioactive Miracle Cure

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The largest pain management center in the world, and a popular health tourism destination, the Healing Caves of Gastein welcome over 75,000 people every year. They all flock to this miraculous place to undergo a controversial form of therapy with radioactive radon gas used to cure a variety of medical conditions, from arthritis to psoriasis.

When the people of Gastein started exploring the nearby Radhausberg Mountain in search of gold, they had no idea they would discover something infinitely more valuable –  naturally occurring low levels of radon gas. In time, they realized that the radioactive gas combined with the mountain caves’ high humidity and temperatures of up to 41.5° Celsius helped strengthen their immune system and cured some very serious illnesses. Word about the Gastein Healing Caves spread like wild fire throughout all of Austria, Germany and other Central European countries, and today Gastein is known not only as a world-class skiing destination, but also as a miraculous place of healing with a mind-blowing success rate of 90%. Most of the people who come here for radon treatment say a few sessions in the caves keep them pain-free for a whole year. Apparently, the radioactive gas is absorbed through the skin and lungs, activating the body at a cellular level and stimulating the self-healing process.

Gastein-Healing-Caves

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Sculptor’s Beautiful Tree Carvings Reveal Their Inner Spirits

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The Tree Spirits of Saint Simmons Island are one of the most fascinating roadside attractions in North America. Carved into dozens of live oaks and hardwoods, the mysterious wise faces that seem to reveal the trees’ inner spirits are the work of local sculptor Keith Jennings.

Jennings started his Tree Spirits project in 1982, as a hobby. Looking for a way to kill time around the house, the artist armed himself with a few hand tools and began exercising his artistic talents on a tree in his backyard. “I had too much time and too little money,” Keith remembers about the beginnings as a tree carver, but his works impressed the community to such a degree that he was later commissioned to release the inner spirits of 20 other trees around Saint Simmons Island, off the Georgia coast. Although it has long been said that the faces he sculpts into the trees are meant to represent the sailors who drowned on ships made from trees from the island, Keith Jennings dismisses the rumor. “The trees do it all,” he says. “I don’t have that much to do with it. The wood speaks to you, ya know?” Each of his intriguing artworks are created entirely according to the tree they’re carved into. “I like the way they age as they. The bark starts rolling over the edges and gives each one a spooky, eerie appearance,” the artist says.

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La Balade Des Gnomes – Belgium’s Fairytale Hotel

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If you’re looking to take a break from your everyday life and retreat in a fairytale world, there’s probably no better place than La Balade des Gnomes, near the picturesque town of Dubuy, Belgium. Featuring ten amazingly-decorated bedrooms and a special suite designed as a Trojan cow, this place is certainly unique.

Formerly an ordinary Belgian farmhouse, La Balade des Gnomes was transformed into a magical tourist resort by architect owner Dominic Noel. Inspired by fantasy settings, ancient Greek history, science fiction and medieval castles, the resourceful Mr. Noel managed to create his incredible hotel exclusively out of natural materials like wood, stone and cob (mud mixed with lime and straw). “The hotel was created by people who have a strong interest in nature,” the owner says, but anyone with a rich imagination would certainly appreciate the unworldly design and decorations of this place. The names of the rooms do a good job of describing what you can expect to see when you walk through the door: The Legend of Trolls seems taken straight out of the Lord of the Rings, In a Moon Neighborhood takes you to a distant future where humans can spend their vacation in a hotel on the Moon, while Macquarie Island boasts a marine decor complete with a boat-shaped bed.

Balade-des-Gnomes-Hotel

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Share Breakfast with the Long Necks at Giraffe Manor

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How do you talk to a Giraffe face-to-face? By peeking out of the top-floor window of a very high house, of course. That’s exactly what the owners of Giraffe Manor, in Kenya, do. And you could too, if you went to spend a few nights in one of the 6 rooms of the old manor turned hotel.

The residents of this unique tourist attraction are the Carr-Hartley family, along with eight Rothschild giraffes, one of the rarest subspecies on the planet. The English-style manor was built in the colonial era and is part of a 140-acre estate in the shadow of Kenya’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Tanya and Mikey Carr-Hartley, both 41, grew up close to the house in Nairobi when they were children and always dreamed of owning it someday. So once they started a family of their own and the house came up for sale, they jumped at the opportunity. Since Michael’s family has been involved in the protection of animals for several generations, they do not mind taking care of the endangered giraffes. In fact, they love it.

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China’s MMO Video Game-Inspired Restaurants

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Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) video games are very popular in China. Combine that with the country’s culture of fakes and copycats and you get lots of unofficial merchandise and even venues  inspired by popular virtual reality universes. One such place was the World of Warcraft-themed restaurant on Chaoyang Road, in Beijing.

Opened in 2008, by a businessman who just happened to also be a huge fan of Blizzard’s fantasy universe, the unique World of Warcraft restaurant was designed entirely around the MMO and its original opening cinematic. Created as a “comfortable gathering place for fellow gamers”, this place had Warcraft-inspired decorations, dishes named after locations in the game and plasma screens showing live footage from the MMO world. The large banner above the entrance featured the game’s logo, an Alliance mage and a Horde warrior, as well as the crests of the two playable races. This would have probably been enough to attract the millions of Chinese fans who live and breathe World of Warcraft, but the entrepreneur really went all out trying to make the restaurant itself appeal to die-hard gamers.

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The Indian Coin Divers of Yamuna River

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It sometimes amazes me how humans are able to find a source of livelihood in almost any type of environment, in accordance with their surroundings. Case-in-point, the coin divers of the Yamuna River, in Delhi, India’s capital city. This unique group of men works around the year, braving the bone-chilling cold waters even during winters, to dive into the river and retrieve coins from the bottom. The same coins that are thrown into the waters by passengers of boats crossing the river, as an offering to the River Goddess. Wondering what such an offbeat job pays? Well, sometimes as little as 100-200 rupees (US $ 2 to 3) a day, and sometimes as much as a diamond ring.

22-year-old Sartaj Ahmed has been in the profession of coin-diving for the past 6 years. The brave young man says he started diving when he was just a boy, but it was only when he turned 18 that he began hunting for coins. “Some days I get 100-200 rupees but on lucky days, I can find small trinkets. I have even found a gold ring once.” 34-year-old Sajad Ahmed has been at it for 20 long years. He says it gets harder and harder each other, but they really do not have any other choice. 21-year-old Amit Kumar, who’s been doing this for 10 years, says, “We dive into the river and collect coins, brass, copper, sometimes even silver and gold.” Diving for coins is the only source of his daily income. “What can be done, I have to do something for my living. We live here so we keep diving here.”  Vicky, another young diver, says, “I dive and normally take home money for my daily expenses.” Raju says that he prefers coin diving because he doesn’t like working for a boss.

coin-divers-india

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Giethoorn – A Rural Venice in the Netherlands

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The tiny Dutch village of Giethoorn, located right in the middle of the De Wieden nature reserve, is fondly known as the Venice of Netherlands. Quite an apt name for the place, since it has distinct features that are reminiscent of the romantic Italian city – 7.5 km of canals, about 50 little wooden bridges, boat rides, quaint houses, and more.

If there’s something that Giethoorn does not have in common with Venice, it’s history. The small village was first inhabited in the year 1230 by a group of fugitives from the Mediterranean regions. It is said that when they first arrived in the area, they noticed an unusually large number of goat horns that were left over after the big flood of St Elisabeth had ravaged the area in 1170. So they named their settlement Geytenhorn (horn of goats), but with dialect changes over the years the name gradually changed to Giethoorn. There’s a story about how all the lakes came to be as well. Early settlers took to peat mining; they dug for peat in the areas that suited them the most and left holes in the ground. These holes soon filled up and turned into lakes of varying sizes. So to carry the peat from one area to another, they would sail through navigable canals and ditches. The means of transportation that was once a necessity is now a huge tourist attraction.

Giethoorn-Venice

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Conquer Your Fears in China’s Snake Village

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Nestled in the heart of a vast farmland in East China’s Zhejiang province, the small village of Zisiqiao has a pretty common look, but it hides a scary secret. The aptly names “snake village” is home to thousands of the most feared snaked species on Earth.

Snakes are a vital ingredient in Chinese medicine, and are also widely used to make soup and wine believed to increase a person’s immunity. As the number one snake village in China, Zisiqiao breeds and sells over 3 million snakes per year, to satisfy the ever-increasing demand. The 160 snake-breeding families living here now boast an annual income of several thousands yuan, and in this Year of the Snake, a significant profit increase is expected. The once poor village of Zisiqiao is now the envy of similar rural communities, with some of the larger snake farms making tens of thousands of dollars from this lucrative business. Obviously, it’s not the easiest job in the world, and most breeders admit they have been bitten several time, even by deadly snakes, but the rewards are definitely worth the risk.

Zisiqiao-snake-village

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Coober Pedy – Australia’s Underground Town

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Coober Pedy is a small town that’s one of a kind – for being down under in the Land Down Under. Yes, it’s the world’s only underground town, and it’s in Australia.

Located in South Australia, known for being the driest state on the driest continent on Earth, the town of Coober Pedy was established in 1915, when opal was first discovered in the region and miners started settling in. The temperature and weather conditions were so harsh that the miners began digging their homes into the hillsides. All they wanted was to find some respite from the scorching sun, but in the process they ended up creating a small town for themselves. To this day, the people of Coober Pedy prefer to build their houses under the ground. Summers are harsh around here, with temperatures easily rising over 40 degrees Celsius. Air conditioning is a necessity, not a luxury, if you choose to live above ground. But the scenario is completely different in the underground homes of Coober Pedy. The temperature remains at a cool, constant 24 degrees and the humidity doesn’t go beyond 20%. Winters can be rather cold, but people are willing to make that kind of compromise.

Coober-Pedy-Australia

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Het Arresthuis – A Luxury Prison Hotel You Won’t Want to Escape from

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After serving as one of the Netherlands most feared prisons for almost 150 years, Het Arresthuis, in Roermond, has been converted into a luxury hotel that no one wants to escape from anymore.

Het Arresthuis opened its doors in 1862, as a prison. Obviously, no one came here to stay by their own accord, during the 19th and 20th century, but things have changed a lot since then. The jail closed down for good in 2007, and now that the facility has been transformed into a luxurious hotel, guests actually pay big money to spend at least a night in one of the old holding cells. Although “cells” is not exactly the right word to describe the chic accommodations at Het Arresthuis. The 105 prisoner’s quarters have been converted into 40 spacious rooms,  including 24 standard rooms, 12 deluxe rooms, and four suites, all of which feature modern furnishings and chic interior design. They are all equipped with air conditioning, a flat screen TV, free WiFi, and even a personal coffee and tea machine, and the hotel’s include a sauna, a fitness center, a central patio with olive trees, and an organic herb garden. If you’re wondering about bars, this place has both kinds – the ones you can’t get past and the ones where you can get your drink on.

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Sleep as a Hobo at Sweden’s Homeless Experience Hotel

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It costs money to be homeless in Sweden. Well, only for a night though, at the Faktum Hotels. Located in Gothenburg, the hotel has no rooms but instead offers the complete homeless experience. Once you make a booking online, the hotel will lead you to a pre-determined place where the real homeless might spend their nights, one of 10 extraordinary locations they’ve handpicked for their guests.

A ‘room’ at the Faktum Hotels costs $10 a night and customers are free to choose their location from 10 options, including a spot under a bridge, in a derelict factory, a park bench, in forests, or even under seats at a football stadium. High quality images of all these places are available on the hotel website that actually make the experience look tempting. The descriptions accompanying the images are quite enticing and entertaining to read as well. Where else would you find an underpass described as: “Feel the city’s pulse from dawn to dusk at Gullbergsvass. This delightful dwelling is just a stroll from the romantic Dreamer’s Quay: a source of inspiration to musicians and artists alike. And all under the noble eye of the Skansen Lion from his centuries old fortress.”

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The Guinea Pig Festival of Huacho Has Rodents on the Menu

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It’s funny how a cute and furry pet in one part of the world can be considered a delicacy in another. But that’s exactly what guinea pigs are in the small town of Huacho in Peru. In fact, they have a whole festival dedicated to dressing up and cooking the hairy rodents – The Festival of the Guinea Pig, or as the Peruvians call it, the Cavies.

As a part of the festival that has been around since the mid-2000s, guinea pigs are dressed up as kings, miners, peasants, traditional folk singers and also in modern costume for fashion shows. There are prizes for best costume, so every effort is made to impress judges during the show. As cute as they may look in their little outfits, it’s disturbing to know that sometimes, in an effort to make the costumes stay on the guinea pigs, the people of Huacho do not hesitate to use staples. Prizes are handed out for the biggest, fastest, best-dressed and even the tastiest animal of all. Because once the parade is over, it’s time to eat the models! The guinea pigs are taken out of their costumes and cooked in various ways, like baking, frying, or roasting on an open flame. The locals love their cavies served whole on a plate – complete with the heads, guts, paws and even claws. Garnishes include tomatoes, cucumbers, Andean potatoes, and large Peruvian corn calledchoclo. And the best way to eat the animal, according to the Peruvian folk, is to pick up the entire guinea pig and simply suck the meat off the bones. A single dish of whole fried or baked guinea pig with all the garnishes costs approximately $7. According to festival visitor, Juan Rojas, “Guinea pig meat is very nourishing and contains lots of vitamins and other things.” Native to the high Andes, the meat of guinea pigs is considered to be low in fat and an important source of protein.

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Women-Only Sleeping Cafe Opens in Tokyo

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Power naps – those short periods of sleep during the day – have been known to boost brain activity and increase productivity at the work place. Now a sleeping cafe in Tokyo’s Akasaka business district is offering hard-working Japanese women the chance to enjoy the benefits of the power nap, for a fee.

Stress and fatigue at the office are real issues in Japan, but for the women workaholics of the Asakara business district, in Tokyo there is a place where they can go relax and restore their energy – the Quska Sleeping Cafe. This ingenious concept offers patrons the chance to get a quick shut-eye either during their lunch breaks or in between their constant hours of overtime. It charges ¥150 ($1.60) for ten minutes of sleep in their comfortable facilities, but have even more affordable rates for clients looking to buy four-hour slots (¥3,120, around $33) or more. Now, you may think 10 minutes makes no difference if you’re ready to drop to the floor from fatigue, but various studies have shown that brief naps (10 -15 minutes) improve a person’s alertness and overall performance without the negative effects of sleep inertia associated with longer sleeping periods. Japanese companies are well-known for their productivity, and one of the reasons for this may be the power nap. For years, they’ve actually been encouraging their employees to take naps during work hours, and sleeping cafes like Quska provide the perfect environment.

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