French Town Inaugurates Bubble Hotel Rooms in Local Park

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The French town of Roubaix, has recently opened a series of portable hotel rooms in a local park. They can be rented by people who want to feel close to nature in the middle of the urban jungle.

The bubble concept thought up by French designer Pierre Stephane Dumas aims to redefine the term temporary leisure accommodation, and is based on the following principles: minimum energy, minimum material, maximum comfort and maximum interaction with the environment. The unusual bubble rooms were launched in 2010 and have since then been made available to people who want to enjoy a unique experience in the middle of nature, for around $700 a night.

In the French city of Roubaix, a series of bubble hotel rooms have been installed in one of the local parks. They come with a clear view of the sky and offer nature lovers to be close to their environment without having to travel to far away. The bubbles are made of recycled plastic and, once inflated retain their shape thanks to an airlock at the entrance and a silent pump which creates constant pressure. Outside noises are reduced to a minimum while inside noises are maximized, so the visitors are encouraged to whisper to each other, in order to create a peaceful atmosphere.

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The Incredible Flower and Sand Carpets of La Otorava

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In the Spanish town of La Otorava, Tenerife, the festival of Corpus Christi Festival is celebrated by lining the streets with beautiful themed carpets made from flower petals and colored volcanic sand.

Featuring some of the most fragrant art displays in the world, the feast of Corpus Christi attracts thousands of visitors from all around the world, eager to see what the skilled alfombras (carpet makers) come up with every year. In the Canary islands, Corpus Christi has been celebrated for the last 300 years, but the first person to ever create a flower carpet is believed to be Leonor de Castillo Monteverde, who in 1847 decided it would be a good idea to decorate the road in front of her house with flower petals, for the procession to walk over. It measured only three square meters, but made a strong impact on the community, and eventually became a local tradition. In the 164 years since then , La Otrava flower and sand carpets have only been suspended twice, in 1891 and 1897.

The tradition of making large carpets with scented flower petals and volcanic sand from the foothills of Mount Teide has come a long way since its humble beginnings and the artworks are becoming more spectacular with each passing year. Several days before the celebration, local families and even design companies draw the carpets on paper, and on the big day, men and children draw the outline on the streets, while women fill the designs with various flower petals. All the locals get involved in this beautiful celebration and create a truly pleasant atmosphere.

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The Haro Wine Battle – A Water Fight for Grown-Ups

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Every year, the small town of Haro, one of the biggest wine producers in Spain, hosts the traditional “Batalla del Vino”, the Wine Battle, where participants throw tons of red wine at each other.

Part of the Haro Wine Festival, the annual Wine Battle takes place on June 29, the day of the patron saint San Pedro, and is attended by thousand of people from La Rioja region of northern Spain. The day starts early, at 7 am, with the town mayor parading through the town, on horseback. The procession of people old and young, dressed in white clothes, wearing red scarves and carrying all kinds of wine-filled recipients, follows him on foot through the nearby Mountains of Bilibio, all the way to a small chapel of San Felices. It’s a 7 km walk from Haro, but the fun everyone has after the short mass performed there.

As soon as the mass ends, the wine battle begins. Some people pour buckets of red wine on each other, other sprinkle it from water guns, or throw bags filled with wine. It’s really up to the participants what kind of “weapons” they choose to bring to the Haro Wine Battle, as long as they don’t cause injuries and are full of wine. After a few hours of bathing in wine, the whole mountain smells like a regular bodega, and everyone’s clothes go from white to purple. It’s estimated over 50,000 liters of wine are used every year, during this unique event.

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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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Entire Village Painted Blue for Smurfs Movie Launch

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The small village of Juzcar, in Spain’s Malaga region, has recently been painted blue as part of a global promotion for the Sony Pictures film “The Smurfs 3D”.

Juzcar is a peaceful, traditional “pueblo blanco” village, located in the Genel Valley region of Andalucia. It boasts a population of just 250, and yet Sony has selected it as the perfect location for the world premiere of its new film “The Smurfs 3D”. Locals were delighted, especially since the news meant their small village would become a temporary tourist attraction, but their fame and fortune came at a price: Sony requested that the entire settlement, including its historic church be painted blue, to resemble the smurfs’ fantasy village.

In preparation for the big premiere on June 16, 12 unemployed locals armed with various painting tools used 4,200 liters of paint to turn Juzcar into a real life Smurf village. There have been no complaints regarding the sudden transformation, and considering tourists have already begun arriving, the locals are more than happy with the change. Although Sony has agreed to turn the village to its former white glory, locals are now considering leaving the town as it is now, hoping Juzcar could become a permanent tourist spot. It sounds like Chefchaouen might have some serious competition.

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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 Offers the Ultimate Chance at Rebirth

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Wat Prommanee, a Buddhist temple, 66 miles northeast of Bangkok, offers believers the chance to lay in a coffin for a few moments, then rise up and feel reborn…

I for one find coffins to be really creepy and I wouldn’t dream of lying down in one if someone paid me all the money in the world, but at Wat Prommanee people actually wait in line and pay a fee for a chance to do just that. It’s one of the strangest ceremonies in the world, but one that has been rising in popularity ever since the temple started practicing it, over six years ago. Nine colorful coffins dominate the main hall of Wat Prommanee Temple, and hundreds of people lie down in them every day, playing dead for about a minute and a half, listening to religious chants, and rise up at command feeling cleansed and relaxed.

Wat Prommanee basically offers a daily resurrection service that many Thais believe washes away bad luck and helps prolong their life. It makes sense that people wish for a second chance in life, especially when confronted with serious issues, but lying down in a decorated coffin hardly seems like a solution. I mean, what if it doesn’t change anything, right? Well, they just go back and do it again. The ceremony apparently relaxes them and gives them positive thoughts, so many people come back to Wat Prommanee Temple for the chance to be reborn several times over a few years. All they have to do is pay a small fee.

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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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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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