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Utopix – French Family Turn Barren Field into Outsider Art

Jo and Dominique Pillet’s home ‘Utopix’ is like something right out of a fairy tale. They started work on it about 30 years ago, and although it was completed as of 2010, it continues to evolve. The beauty of the house is not just in the construction, but the patience and perseverance put in by its builders, given that the land it stands on was considered to be barren. Utopix is located on an 11 hectare (27 acre) plot in Causse de Sauveterre, Lozere, France. Causses are sparsely populated plateaus of limestone. The limestone soil does not hold water and so the terrain is very much like a desert, but that didn’t stop this French family from fulfilling their dream.

The Pillets got married in the 70s and purchased their plot of land with the intention of building a beautiful home. Being artists themselves, they wanted to create something that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It’s been a long journey with several hurdles, but the couple has managed to complete the task and quite beautifully in fact. The construction project was started in 1979, and Jo Pillet mostly worked on it alone, or with the help of a few friends. He mostly made use of the abundant limestone in the region, structuring it in the form of igloos. The domed structures were then reinforced with concrete and wood, and later covered with stones to give them a cave-like feel. After two whole decades, the building finally began to take shape in 1992. Utopix has been quite popular since then, with local newspapers carrying stories, and several visitors coming to see it regularly.

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Hamster Villa Lets You Experience Life as a Small Rodent

According to French scenographer Yann Falquerho, sometimes people really do want to live like their caged pets. I’m not sure I do, but Falquerho must be right, because his creation – the Villa Hamster – is immensely popular. The hotel allows you to experience exactly what the life of a caged hamster is like.

42-year-old Falquerho had always felt that the hotel industry did not pay any attention to the animal transformation niche. So he decided to open his own hotel designed with a hamster theme. Villa Hamster opened in 2009 and has been very popular ever since then. Located in Nantes, western France, the hotel opened with a room tariff of $150 per night, but this was soon increased in accordance with the demand. “We have a lot of success with this little house. It is because of the concept to transform into an animal,” Falquerho told the press just a couple of weeks after the hotel was inaugurated.

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The Unique Hot Water Beach of New Zealand

Can you imagine a beach where the water is actually hot? Seems unnatural, but there really is such a thing in New Zealand. Located on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula (about 175 km from Auckland),  Hot Water Beach got its name from the underground hot springs which filter up through the sand in between the low and high water tidal reaches. The beach attracts a huge number of tourists every year (approx. 130,000) and is one of the most popular geothermal attractions of the region.

What’s even more interesting than Hot Water Beach itself is the ingenious way people create their own spas at the beach. This generally happens in the two-hour time frame before or after a low tide. During this period, you can actually dig large holes into the sand at the beach, allowing hot water to escape to the surface. A hot water pool is created in the hole – a natural spa of sorts. The water gets as hot as 64C (147F). Several tourists bring buckets and spades with them, and later relax in the large hole of thermal water they dug out.

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The Bone Chapel of Portugal – A Creepy Sacred Destination

A structure with interiors covered completely in human bones – sounds like the stuff that scary houses are made of, right? But believe it or not, it is actually a place of worship. Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones, is located next to the Church of St. Francis in the medieval Portuguese town of Evora. The 16th century chapel is a large room that has been adorned with the bones of over 5,000 monks.

The decision to use human bones as building material for a church is certainly an unusual one, but there’s a story to justify it. It seems that in the 16th century, Evora had about 43 cemeteries that took up way too much land. When the decision was made to destroy some of these cemeteries, the corpses of 5,000 monks were exhumed in an effort to save their souls from condemnation. It was decided that the remains of these monks would be relocated to the Capela dos Ossos. However, the existing monks soon realized that it might be a better idea to put these bones on display, rather than behind closed doors. These monks were concerned about the societal values of the wealthy town of Evora.  So they set about creating a place for meditation, a place where the undeniable reminder of death would help people transcend the material world. Read More »

The Coromoto Ice-Cream Shop – 900 Weird Flavors and Counting

Coromoto, an ice cream shop in Merida, Venezuela, is probably the closest you can ever get to Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans from Harry Potter’s wizarding world. The place sells ice creams of virtually every flavor you can think of. Granted, you won’t get vomit or earwax, but you’re sure to come across a few strange flavors like onion, chili, mushrooms, wine and even garlic. The ones you’d probably never want to try are egg, sardines-in-brandy and macaroni-and-cheese flavored ice creams. Of course, for those who don’t like experimenting much, regular flavors like vanilla and strawberry are available as well.

Manuel da Silva Oliveira, a Portuguese immigrant, worked for years at large ice cream companies, before he realized the potential that exotic and unusual flavors held. He then proceeded to perfect an avocado-flavored ice cream, after wasting about 50 kg in his attempts. In 1980, he opened the Heladeria Coromoto, where the Avocado ice cream is now one of the most popular, and is paired with sweet corn, black bean, mango or coconut flavors. The shop sells the largest number of flavors in the world, holding a Guinness World Record for it. There are around 900 flavors to choose from, with 60 of them being served on any given day. Changes are made according to the season.

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Build It and They Won’t Come – World’s Largest Shopping Mall Is 99% Empty

The New South China Mall in Dongguan, China is the biggest in the world. With an area of over 7 million square feet that can accommodate 2,350 stores, and attractions such as roller coasters, ghost trains and a replica of the bell tower of St Mark’s Square in Venice, you would think the place would be swarming with people. So did the owners of the mall, who expected over 70,000 visitors a day when they started building it. But today it stands empty, with almost no customers entering its gates. The 553 meter indoor and outdoor roller coaster hasn’t been operated since it was installed and 99% of the shops have never been leased out. The only ones that do operate are a series of fast food joints at the entrance of the mall and another few shops inside the huge complex.

New South China Mall was built in 2005 by Hu Guirong, who made his millions making instant noodles. He started the project with great enthusiasm, sending teams all over the world in search of ideas for his dream mall. And most of these ideas were even translated into reality. Where else in the world would be able to see a gondola on a mock Venetian canal inside a mall? But then something went horribly wrong, because when the place was completed in 2005, it simply failed to take off. It wasn’t even a dead mall, where tenants simply depart and business winds down slowly. No, Guirong’s mall never attracted merchants in the first place, as they felt it wasn’t a realistic place to set up shop.

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Sarajevo Roses – Painful War Memories Etched in Asphalt

They sound like something beautiful, and they are quite nice to look at, but as soon as you learn the story of the Sarajevo Roses, you realize they are really the legacy of a truly tragic event, the Bosnian War of the 1990s.

Between 1992 and 1996, Bosnian Serb Forces bombarded the city of Sarajevo in what is remembered as the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. As you can imagine this kind of event leaves serious scars both in the hearts of those affected and on the city’s infrastructure. A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar made by a mortar shell explosion that was later painted with red resin as a memorial to those who were killed during the Siege of Sarajevo. It seems unnatural to compare the mark of a mortar explosion to the beauty of a rose, but the unique fragmentation pattern of a mortar round hitting concrete does indeed have a floral look. Still, while roses are a symbol of love and beauty, Sarajevo Roses represent a collective memory of the physical scars of war.

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Famadihana – Dancing with the Dead in Madagascar

The people of Madagascar have a unique ritual to celebrate family ties called Famadihana, also known as ‘turning of the bones’. It is a festival celebrated every 7 years or so, during which family crypts are opened up and the remains of dead ancestors are brought out to be wrapped in a new cloth. The Malagasy then dance with the corpses in great joy. Live music is played, animals are sacrificed and the meat is distributed to various guests and members of the family. The elders explain to their children the importance of the dead who are lying before them. Famadihana is viewed as a day to show your family just how much you love them. Extended families get together and celebrate kinship.

According to Malagasy belief, people are not made from mud, but from the bodies of the ancestors. Hence they hold their forefathers in high regard. They also believe that unless the bodies decompose completely, the dead do not leave permanently and are able to communicate with the living. So until they are gone forever, love and affection is showered on them through the Famadihana festival. It is interesting to note that the festival is not an ancient practice of Madagascar. Its origins cannot be traced beyond the seventeenth century. Read More »

Chinese Artist Creates Transformers Theme Park

It might look like the set of a new low-budget Transformers movie, but Mr. Iron Robot is actually a newly-inaugurated Transformers-themed park in Jiaxing City, China’s Zhejiang Province.

49-year-old artist Zhu Kefeng and his team have spent the last 10 years building giant metal robots from recycled iron and steel parts. He started out by making a realistic model of a car, then opened his own studio and began creating more intricate sculptures. He soon started doing commission work for people who liked his art, and for large orders he even set up a recycle bin where people could donate discarded metal parts. Zhu started working on Mr. Iron Robot theme park in 2010, with the money he had raised for selling his metal sculptures and his apartment in Shanghai. He and his team of collaborators worked hard and managed to turn an old abandoned factory into a modern attraction featuring over 600 Transformers-inspired sculptures.

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Holland’s Repair Cafes Breathe New Life into Broken Objects

Got something in your home that needs fixing? Take it with you on your next trip to Holland. They have a ‘Repair Café’ there, where you can get almost anything fixed. The concept café, sponsored by the Dutch State, is the brainchild of former journalist Martine Postma. She felt that the Dutch people tend to throw away too many things, even the ones that can be easily fixed. Moreover, in modern times people have lost the ability to fix simple things, she says. So as an environmental initiative, she started the Repair Café in Amsterdam, with the intent of bringing together the people who can fix things, and those that need them fixed.

Postma basically believes that people would rather not throw away their stuff. And she sure did turn out to be right. What started off as a local initiative became an overnight success. Today, there are about 20 Repair Cafes across the Netherlands, and another 50 are being planned. A Repair Café Foundation was set up in 2010, where Postma now works full time. The foundation provides volunteers with information on how to set up their own café. The frequency of the cafes range from once a month to twice a week, and are held at a rented workspace.

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4 Places Where Dying Is Not Allowed

When something as natural and inevitable as death is banned, it does seem a tad illogical. You would be surprised to know that there actually are quite a few places on Earth where death has been forbidden, and deemed illegal. In fact, it seems that this is actually an age-old practice; the earliest known instance of the prohibition of death was in the 5th century BC,  when dying wasn’t allowed on religious grounds at the Greek island of Delos. Each place has a reason of its own, varying from religious beliefs to environmental factors.

We’ll take a look at four places where death is forbidden in today’s world:

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Alcatraz Hotel Offers Tourists Real Prison Experience

If you’ve ever been curious about life in prison, but your record is too clean, now you have a chance to actually buy your way in. Not into a real prison, of course, but the Hotel Alcatraz in London. It’s a four-room hotel that’s been modeled on the lines of the (in)famous Alcatraz of San Francisco Bay, the one that closed down in 1963. The hotel is only open for a week to promote the new TV series of the same name. Bookings are available until Saturday, 17th of March.

Once you’re checked in at Hotel Alcatraz, you can forget about being treated like a premium guest. At best, you’ll only be served the good food that prisoners in the 1950s were served, as prison officials believed that the best quality food would prevent violence amongst inmates. Everything else about the hotel is designed to give you a good understanding of the real deal. They’ve even roped in George Devincenzi, former USP Alcatraz Correction Officer, to oversee and authenticate the experience. So after check-in at exactly 18:30 hours, the prisoner-guests are handed uniforms and have their mugshots taken. They are then showed to their 5×9 foot cells, where they will be spending the night. The cells are sparsely furnished, with a sleeping cot and mattress (no sheets), prison-style toilet, sink and two shelves. The metal cups and serving trays have been specially sourced from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in San Francisco, to maintain authenticity. Guests will also be expected to carry out a number of tasks such as physical exercise, tailoring and model making. Sounds like the experience of a lifetime. If you don’t plan on committing any real crimes, that is.

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Master the Force at New York’s Jedi Club

Flynn Michael calls his students a “bunch of Star Wars dorks.” But that doesn’t mean he’s any less passionate about the sci-fi series himself. Especially since he’s created a whole club on the concept of Jedi, and teaches his trainees how to use the Force to navigate the pressures of living in New York City – be it a stressful workplace, a rowdy bar or a crowded subway. His project is called the New York Jedi Club.

Born Michael Brown, the sound engineer from Brooklyn calls himself a “sci-fi, heavy metal, over-the-top geek.” During his growing-up years in Rhode Island, he watched the first Star Wars film 32 times, and when he saw Luke Skywalker learning the way of the Force, like millions of other fans he wanted to be able to do that himself. Michael’s childhood was not unlike other geeky kids’, he was bullied and beat up a lot. He says that the lightsaber helped bring out the hero inside him, and helped him stand up for himself.

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Bikini-Clad Baristas Serve One Hot Cup of Coffee at Java Girls Cafe

At Java Girls, you don’t just get hot coffee, you get it served by hot women too. And to top it all off, they’re wearing nothing but bikinis and boots. I guess there couldn’t be a better way for men to kick-start their mornings. Java Girl’s latest franchise opened in Orlando last November, although the concept has been around since the early 2000s. Other branches are located in Oregon and Texas.

The Orlando franchise of Java Girls is co-owned by Todd and Bill Brognano, and thought to be the only bikini coffee shop located in central Florida. The shop employs only women, who come dressed to work in either bikinis or lingerie. So it’s not unusual here to spot a woman dressed in a two-piece, brewing espressos, lattes and frappucinos. And the girls don’t mind it one bit. “We like showing off what we got,” says 20-year-old Java Girl Belinda Messer. When they aren’t making coffee, the girls make it a point to stand outside the shop and entice passengers to a cup of coffee. They hold up signs like, “Now Open Extra HOT Coffee Spot.”

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Poveglia – The Venetian Island of the Dead

When I first saw a picture of Poveglia Island, I couldn’t help but notice how pretty it is. But then I read the story behind the place and let me tell you, there’s nothing pretty about it. For centuries, the island has attracted nothing but the worst fate, with hundreds of thousands of people suffering torturous deaths. Today the island may look uninhabited, but legend suggests otherwise…

Poveglia is located in northern Italy, in the Venetian Lagoons. It has no owners and entry to the place is strictly forbidden. The only time any visits are made is to harvest vineyards. Even fisherman won’t venture intot  the waters near the island, for fear of catching human bones in their nets. For a time, it was owned by the Italian state but was sold to a private buyer in the 1960s. The poor guy lived there for a short while, but abandoned the place after a short while. More recently, a family was known to have purchased Poveglia in an attempt to convert it into a holiday home, but again, they couldn’t spend more than one night there. Rumors say that their daughter’s face was split open and 14 stitches were needed to fix it.

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