The Dark Hedges – Ireland’s Real-Life Fantasy Setting

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Along Bregagh Road, near the village of Armoy in Northern Ireland, lies a tranquil byroad called The Dark Hedges. For the past three centuries, a stretch of Beech trees have been guarding either side of this road. They have reached up and intertwined with each other, creating an ethereal tunnel of trees with shadow and light playing through the entwined branches. The effect is nothing short of spectacular.

The trees were planted in the 1750s by the Stuart family, on the grounds of Gracehill House, James Stuart’s Gregorian mansion. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion. Needless to say, the Stuarts managed to achieve the desired effect. Even today, the Dark Hedges attracts locals and tourists alike.

Up until fifteen years ago, only locals knew about the Dark Hedges. In 1998, Northern Ireland’s national tourist board began to use the setting to promote tourism. Visitors have been pouring in ever since. It is one of the most photographed places in the world, and has become a desktop wallpaper cliché. Several scenes of the hit series ‘Game of Thrones’ have been filmed here and it is also a popular location for wedding photography.

The Dark Hedges

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Dutch Town Has Street Names Inspired by Lord of the Rings

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Geldrop is a small town in the southern part of The Netherlands, with a population of 28,000. Not much information on this place is available online, but it seems like a perfectly ordinary Dutch town. But there is something special about it (apart from the fact that ‘Geldrop’ sounds like some kind of candy).

The names of all the streets in one of the neighborhoods of Geldrop are actually taken out of J.R.R Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. We have absolutely no idea why, or whose genius idea it was, but it’s one of the few places in the world with such bizarre street names. I’d understand if it were just one or two streets, but the entire neighborhood consists of Lord of the Rings references.

At the heart of the city is Laan von Tolkien (Tolkien Avenue). Then the streets branch out into names of hobbits, elves, dwarves and even a few ents (the talking trees). If you want to see for yourself, go to Google Maps and search for Geldrop. Or, you could just follow this link.

Geldrop-LOTR

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Get Ready for Verrückt, the World’s Tallest and Fastest Water Slide

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Verrückt, in German, means ‘insane’. And that’s exactly what this new and upcoming water slide is. Verrückt is touted to be the world’s next tallest and fastest water slide – beating the current Brazilian record holder.

The current record holder, 49.9m-tall ‘Kilimanjaro’, is located at Aguas Quentes Country Club in Rio de Janeiro, but Verrückt is going to be much taller than that. Exactly how much, we don’t know. Its makers at Schlitterbahn Water Park and Resort in Kansas City, are keeping the height a secret until opening day. But if the rumors are true, it could be about 17 stories high. That’s taller than Niagara Falls and the Statue of Liberty from toes to torch. It’s also twice the height of the tallest wave ever surfed.

Imagine sliding down at top speed from such a great height. The adrenaline rush has got to be truly ‘insane’. To get to the top of the ride, you need to climb a whopping 264 stairs. Then, a specially designed raft will take you and three other riders plummeting down at a speed greater than 65 mph (the current speed of the Brazilian ride).

Verruckt-water-slide

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Fadiouth – A Unique Island Made Almost Entirely of Clam Shells

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Joal-Fadiouth is a small fishing village located at the far end of Petite Côte – a stretch of coast in Senegal. Joal is situated on the mainland and Fadiouth is an island just off the coast.  A narrow, 400-meter wooden bridge links the two areas. Fadiouth is special – it is almost entirely covered with clam shells.

For centuries, the inhabitants of Fadiouth have been harvesting molluscs. They scoop out the meat and use the shells to construct almost everything, even the island itself. The millions of seashells accumulated over the years have been held strong by the roots of mangroves, reeds and giant baobabs. Empty shells litter the streets; you can hardly step anywhere on Fadiouth Island without hearing a cracking sound from under your feet.

Fadiouth

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North Sentinel Island – The World’s Hardest Place to Visit

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It’s hard to believe that there are people in this world who have no idea about the internet or cell phones. These are tribes that are completely cut-off from global civilization and do not welcome any kind of contact from the outside world.

North Sentinel Island, a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal Ocean between Myanmar and Indonesia, is home to one such tribe. The Sentinelese people are so hostile to external contact that the island has been dubbed the ‘hardest place to visit’ in the world.

The Sentinelese are thought to be direct descendants of the first humans who emerged from Africa. They have lived on the tiny island for almost 60,000 years. Their exact population is unknown; it could be as low as 40 or as high as 500.

North-Sentinel-Island

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Indonesian Volcano Spews Hauntingly Beautiful Blue Lava

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There are plenty of natural treasures hidden away in the most unsuspecting places on Earth. One of them is an Indonesian sulfur mine, Kawah Ijen, that produces stunning, spectral blue lava. The images of this mine are so breathtaking, I could just stare at them for hours.

Kawah Ijen is a part of the Ijen volcano complex – a group of stratovolcanoes in East Java, Indonesia – with an active crater that’s 200 meters deep. The complex is also home to the world’s largest turquoise-colored acidic lake, full of sulfuric acid. The lake is a sulfur mining site; miners carry sulfur-laden baskets by hand from the crater floor.

The miners work at night to double their meagre income, but they don’t have to worry about the dark. Kawah Ijen, an ordinary rocky crater by day, transforms into a stunning display of electric blue light at night.

blue-lava

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The Atlantic Road – Norway’s Amazing Island-Linking Scenic Route

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In 2005, the Atlantic Road was honored as Norway’s Construction of the Year. The National Tourist Route runs between two Norwegian towns – Kristiansund and Molde – that are the main population centers in the county of More og Romsdal in Western Norway.

The Atlantic Road (Atlantic Ocean Road) is an 8.3 kilometer long section of County Road 64, running through an archipelago and passing by Hustadvika, an unsheltered part of the Norwegian Sea. The structure is built on several small islands and skerries that are connected by causeways, viaducts and eight bridges. The longest and most prominent of the bridges is the 260 meter long Storseisundet Bridge.

But mere facts about the Atlantic Road do no justice to its magnificence. You need to see pictures to realize just how breathtaking it is. An aerial view of this long structure snaking through the sea is simply breathtaking. It’s hard for me to believe these pictures are real; they seem like someone’s imagination manifested on my screen. Better still, you could visit the road yourself and drive across it to experience its complete beauty. In fact, the Atlantic Road has been declared the world’s best road trip and is a popular site for automotive commercials.

Atlantic-Road-Norway4

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Arbol de Navidad – Mexico’s Unique Christmas Tree-Shaped Waterfall

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The Sumidero Canyon, located in the Mexican state of Chaiapas, is home to one of the most unique waterfalls in the world. This breathtaking natural formation, locally called Arbol de Navidad, is shaped like a Christmas tree.

Sumidero Canyon is dotted with several waterfalls, many of which aren’t even visible from ground level. But you can’t miss the enormous Christmas tree. A photograph of the waterfall with a boat below it gives an idea of just how huge it is. The moss-layered green rocks seem to erupt out of nowhere on the mountain-side. They are shaped a lot like the branches of a tree, and the moss completes the effect. Water spills from a hole above this formation, adding to the beauty of the scenery.

According to Sergio Lopez Mendoza, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences in a Chaiapas University, the Christmas tree has formed over 1000s of years. It is a result of the natural hydrological cycle, and the physical and chemical characteristics of the rocks. Unfortunately, the Arbol de Navidad is under threat of being destroyed. Professor Sergio says that the alterations caused by humans to the environment has caused the hydrological cycle to break. There are long periods without any water supply, so the Christmas tree is weakening and breaking.

Arbol-de-Navidad-waterfall

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Jacob’s Well – America’s Stunning-Yet-Deadly Diving Spot

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Jacob’s Well, in Wimberley, Texas, is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Named after a biblical reference, the well has claimed the lives of over eight divers, but judging by the large number of thrill seekers who choose to dive in it, that doesn’t scare many people.

On the surface, Jacob’s Well looks like a harmless spring that feeds Cypress Creek. Its mouth is just four meters wide, and looks like a calm water body, revealing very little of the dangers that lurk within. The well has four chambers extending several feet below the surface. Local dive shop owner Don Dibble puts it perfectly: “This is the horror side of it.” The first chamber is a straight drop of about 30 feet, after which it angles down to 55 feet. This chamber gets sufficient sunlight, so it is bright and populated with algae and wild life.

The second chamber is 80 feet deep, and houses a false chimney that looks like a way out of the well, but in fact traps divers. Richard Patton, a student at Southwest Texas State University lost his life in the chimney in 1983. A restricted opening from the second chamber leads into the third, which is a small room with unstable gravel. Divers must be careful not to dislodge the gravel in order to navigate this chamber successfully.

Jacobs-Well2

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Zalipie – Poland’s Fascinating Painted Village

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People all over the world love decorating their homes, but few are as good as the villagers of Zalipie. Home décor is a centuries-old tradition in this secluded village of southeastern Poland.

The women of Zalipie paint their homes, not with a single color, but a range of vibrant floral patterns. These patterns adorn the external walls, doors, windows and even the roof. The entire village looks pretty in a riot of colors.

It isn’t clear when the tradition began exactly. Local legend says that it originates from a time when smoke from stoves would escape through little holes in the ceilings. Women tried whitewashing  to cover up the tiny spots of soot on the walls, but that didn’t work. So they switched to paintings of beautiful flowers instead.

Zalipie-painted village

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Chinese Millionaire Builds Six European-Style Castles in China, Plans to Make it 100

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59-year-old Liu Chonghua is the latest to join a string of wealthy Chinese businessmen with eccentric hobbies. Liu is spending millions of dollars building fake European castles in the megacity of Chongqing. And get this – he copies the designs out of a book of castle pictures he keeps in his office.

One of the castles Liu built is a gray stone structure resembling Britain’s Windsor Castle. The only difference – the Chinese version is surrounded by lush green paddy fields. Another one is a red brick fairytale structure with soaring spires, inspired by the Disney movie, Aladdin. He also has a white castle with candy-colored towers, similar to 19th century Bavarian ‘Mad’ King Ludwig’s hilltop fantasy – Neuschwanstein.

Recreating foreign designs on Chinese soil might involve architectural challenges, but Liu’s team has dismissed them. Ma Wenneng, former soldier and now a construction worker, says, “Actually, European castles are really easy to build.”

Chongqing-castles

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Mas Provencal – The Perfect Restaurant for Flower Enthusiasts

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When you first step into Mas Provencal on the outskirts of Eze Village, you’re likely to mistake it for a greenhouse. Located close to the city of Nice in southeastern France, this restaurant has way more flowers than tables.

Mas Provencal’s interior décor is pretty special, perhaps even one-of-a-kind. Almost every square inch is covered with fresh flowers – roses, orchids, ivy, glads and more. There are plants everywhere and it takes some squinting to even spot the sign board. The large amount of flora either enthralls diners, or leaves them a bit overwhelmed. One tourist called the decorations “fabulously gaudy.” I don’t think I could have put it any better.

Inside the restaurant, each table is done up with elaborate center pieces made of flowers. Exotic trees adorn the passageways and you can spot a few carnivorous plants in the crowd. Antique knick-knacks are scattered everywhere. A large glass enclosed waterfall containing ferns is also part of the décor. The best part – diners can munch on grapes and cherry tomatoes hanging from the ceiling at arm’s reach.

Mas-Provencal-restaurant

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Slum-Like African Resort Gives Rich Tourists a Taste of Hard Life

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A Shanty is a small hut made out of old corrugated iron sheets or other waterproof material. It is a place of dwelling for the poor, often lacking in basic amenities like electricity or running water. To be living in one, you’d have to be going through an extremely rough patch in life.

Except of course, when your shanty is located in Shanty Town, and you’re just playing ‘poor’. Yes, as bizarre as it sounds, there are people in this world who think playing poor is a fun sport. And resorts like Shanty Town exist to help them achieve the experience.

Shanty Town is a part of Emoya Estate, a South African five-star luxury game reserve and spa. It comes equipped with corrugated metal huts that can accommodate up to 52 guests. Over here, the rich get to live like the poor. But no, not entirely like the poor. The environment is safe and the shanties are equipped with conveniences like running water, electricity and Wi-Fi. The interiors aren’t too bad either – the beds look clean and comfortable, there are refrigerators, televisions, tables, chairs and cabinets. Oh, and did I mention under-floor heating? Yes, they have that too.

ShantyTown

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Have a Hoot at Japan’s New Owl Cafés!

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If you’re a cat person and you’re in Japan, you surely must have heard of the famous cat cafés. The concept is pretty straight forward: most people live in such crowded places that there’s hardly any room for a pet, so whenever you feel like getting a little love from a furry friend, all you have to do is go to one of these cat cafés. It’s almost like going to a domestic safari while having a cup of coffee.

If at first there was this craze with cats, now there’s a craze with owls. Yes, cafés with real live owls watching you with their big eyes as you quietly sip your drink. Of course, the entire theme of these cafés has something to do with owls, so the background and the menu complete the picture. The owl cafés are pretty crowded places. Customers are not allowed to get in the cafés at the same time and scare the birds, so queues are formed outside. Careful! The weekends are especially busy, so you might want to get up early if you want to have coffee with an owl. There are quite a few owl cafés to choose from, each with its own rules, but there are a few general guidelines that should be respected when entering these places. First of all, you have to find the café, because there won’t be any flashy lights, but merely a curtain, protecting these birds of prey. After you’ve pinpointed the location and managed to get inside, make sure you listen carefully to the personnel: don’t pet, touch or hold other owls than those indicated by them, don’t handle the owls by yourself, don’t use your camera flash and don’t record without permission. What happens if you don’t follow the rules? Imagine the racket created by a dozen freaked-out owls! Lastly, make sure you alert the personnel whenever you see an owl pooping. They really don’t give a hoot about you looking at them.

owl-cafes-Japan

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Send Your Toys around the World with Japan’s Stuffed Animal Travel Agency

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There comes a time in every plush toy’s life when they must leave the comfort of their homes and go backpacking through Europe and the US to learn about the different cultures out there. And it’s all possible thanks to a travelling agency from Japan called Unagi Travel. Their staff takes your toys around the world, shows them a good time and photographs them with popular tourist attractions.

Ms Azuma – who works for the agency, can send your beloved plush toy anywhere in Japan, Europe or the United States for a small fee. Your toy can take a complete tour of Tokyo for only $45 and see some of the country’s most famous onsen (hot springs) for $55. Any beloved stuffed friend is welcome as long as they don’t exceed 250 grams. To keep you updated on what your toy companion has been up to, Ms Azuma will also document the trip and immortalize every moment through videos and photos. One lucky pink animal visited the Schönbrunn Palace in Austria and a melancholic bear was photographed with her footprints on a secluded beach. Another lucky pair of toys was photographed at the Great Buddha of Kamakura, and guess what? Your beloved stuffed friend can be next.

toy-travel-agency

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