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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Azerbaijan Clinic Uses Crude Oil Baths as Therapeutic Treatments

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A clinic in the town of Naftalan, 160 miles noth-west of Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, has found a therapeutic use for its abundant quantities of crude oil.

Azerbaijan is one of the world’s leading oil exporters, and in the country’s western plains “black gold” has been seeping out of the ground for centuries. In fact, they have so much of the stuff, that in the town of Naftalan, they use the excess crude oil as a cure for various illnesses. It all goes down at the famous Naftalan Clinic, where people from all over the former Soviet Union and even from the Emirates and Europe come to treat various skin diseases, rheumatism, arthritis and even their nerves with crude oil. Doctors here say their miraculous oil therapy is used to trat up to 100 different conditions.

The most popular treatment at Naftalan is the crude oil bath. Patients lower their bodies into 35 gallons of crude oil, at a temperature of 40 degrees. Many of them say the warm oil relaxes their joints and they’d love to spend more than 10 minutes soaked in black oil, but since it contains almost 50% naphthalene, a hydrocarbon deemed potentially carcinogenic by EU regulations, longer sessions could be hazardous to their health. The clinic’s doctors claim millions of people have been treated at Naftalan over the years, and none of them have suffered any complications, as a result. Still, to be on the safe side they limit the sessions to 10 minutes, and no more than a bath per day, during a 10-day treatment.

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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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Valle de la Prehistoria – Cuba’s Jurassic Park

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Valle de la Prehistoria, near the city of Santiago de Cuba, is a prehistoric-themed tourist attraction that features life-size models of over 200 dinosaurs and cavemen.

Located inside the Bocanao National park, Valle de la Prehistoria spreads over 11 hectares of land and is as close as it can get to a real-life Jurassic Park. The vast recreational park dedicated to science and palaeontology is split into multiple areas separated by geological epochs, and features lush vegetation, man-made waterfalls and 227 concrete statues representing 59 different species, including dinosaurs, mammoths, felines and early cavemen.

Perhaps the most spectacular statue in the whole Valle de la Prehistoria is the 12-meter-high Cro magnon welcoming tourists at the park entrance, with a giant stone axe in hand and a Flintstones-like sign post that reads “Do not hesitate! Go! Dare to discover the Jurassic Park dreamed by Spielberg himself”. According to people who visited this popular tourist attraction, it is indeed a fun way to travel back in time, and no other facility manages to recreate a prehistoric atmosphere as faithfully.

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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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The Unique Burial Customs of Tana Toraja

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The Toraja Tribe of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, is known for the cheerful way of treating death, and its unique burial grounds carved in sheer rock.

One of the most beautiful tourist destinations of Indonesia, the green hills of South Sulawesi are home to the Toraja, a tribe that still honors the old Austronesian lifestyle, similar to Nias culture. Most tribe members are Christians, converted during Dutch colonization, but traces of their old beliefs still remain and are most visible during funeral festivities and burial customs. The Toraja are obsessed with death, but not in a tragic sense; to them funerals are a lot like going-away parties celebrated by sacrificing dozens of buffaloes and pigs for a feast enjoyed by the entire community.

The main concern of a Toraja tribe member is to make sure he raises enough money so his family can throw the best party in town, when he leaves this world. Their bodies are stored under the family home for years after their death. During this time the remaining relatives refer to that person not as “the deceased” but as “the sick”, and raise money for the actual funeral, which is usually attended by hundreds of guests. Tourists are welcome to attend the festivities, as long as they don’t wear black or red.

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Meet Dalton Stevens – The Button King

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Dalton Stevens, from Bishopville, South Carolina, has earned the title of Button King after he spent 15 years stitching and gluing thousands of buttons on all sorts of objects.

The Button King’s story began one night in 1983, when his insomnia prevented him from falling asleep. Back then, television went off at two in the morning, so he had to find something to pass the time. Searching through his old things, he found an old denim jumpsuit and started sewing buttons on it. Two years and ten months later, Dalton was still a chronic insomniac, but his jumpsuit was covered with 16,333 buttons and weighed 16 pounds. Remarkably as that sounds, it was only the beginning of his incredible experience with buttons.

Even after completing his button tracksuit, Stevens kept attaching thousands of buttons on various stuff. He glued 3,005 buttons on his guitar and 517 buttons on his shoes. His banjo, piano and his 1983 Chevette soon followed, and before long, his unique occupation grabbed the attention of the media. He was featured on a local television show, from there on CNN, and pretty soon the entire world knew the story of the incredible Button King. He was invited on popular television shows like Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Geraldo, Regis & Kathy Lee, where he would wear a button-covered outfit and play his banjo.

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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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Size Does Matter at Controversial Pigs of God Festival

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Pigs of God is a controversial Taiwanese festival and contest where pigs that have been force-fed for years are publicly slaughtered, then put on floats and paraded through the city streets.

The origins of this gruesome event aren’t very clear, but while some say it’s part of the religious beliefs of the Hakkas, an ethnic group with a population of over four million in Taiwan, animal rights activists claim that in the last few decades it has become a simple meaningless contest used by families to show off their wealth and power. They are currently fighting for the banning of a clear form of animal cruelty, and the substitution of real pigs with ones made of dough, rice or flowers.

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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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