Lake Toyoni: Japan’s Naturally Heart-Shaped Lake

Nestled in a remote area of Hokkaido island, surrounded by lush forest on all sides and untouched by human civilization, Lake Toyoni (豊似湖) is a hidden gem among Japan’s many tourism attractions. It is a freshwater lake at about 260 m elevation in Erimo town located in the southeastern distriction of Tomakomai city. Up until a few years ago, it was virtually unknown to most Japanese, but a popular television commercial featuring an aerial view of the heart-shaped natural wonder turned it into a popular tourist spot virtually overnight. Of…

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Devil’s Pulpit: a strange rock with a sinister reputation lurks within the crimson waters of this Scottish glen

The real name of the gorge in Scotland is Finnich Glen. The name Devil’s Pulpit comes from a rock formation that looks similar to that of a church pulpit, even if the red coloured water seemed more satanic than saintly, to early visitors. Originally, the name “the Devil’s Pulpit” referred only to the rock that sometimes pokes above the rushing stream, and some say it is where the Devil stood to address his followers, with the crimson current swirling at his feet. Others say Druids held secret meetings there, hidden…

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Gnomesville: an unusual roadside community of thousands of garden gnomes

In the Ferguson Valley of country Western Australia there lives a thriving community of gnomes, in a gnome village called Gnomesville. And no. I’m not joking. Garden gnomes are a classic symbol of kitschy yard decorations around the world, but most people are content to have just a couple of the little creatures living in their yards. But Gnomesville, a collection of thousands of the weird little statuettes set up on a roundabout, is definitely something different. The community of silent gnomes actually began as a whimsical protest some 20…

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St Ninian’s Cave

St Ninian’s Cave stands at the rear of a collapse in part of the rocky headland at the north western end of the stony beach at Physgill, that looks out over Port Castle Bay,some three miles south west of Whithorn. To reach it, there is a car park at Kidsdale, which is signed for St Ninian’s Cave. The walk begins along the path which is signed from a corner of the car park. It then runs down the wooded Physgill Glen. At one point the path divides, with a higher…

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C.Y. O’Connor Horse and Rider

Charles Yelverton O’Connor (11 January 1843 – 10 March 1902) was an Irish-born engineer who found his greatest achievements in Australia, before tragically committed suicide. His life has been commemorated in monuments across Australia, but his death is remembered by a bronze horse and rider who peek out of the waves off the coast of the beach where he died. Born at Gravelmount, Castletown, Meath, Ireland, in 1865 he migrated to New Zealand, where he worked initially on the locating and survey of a route for the first dray and…

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The War Rubble of Crosby Beach

Crosby Beach, about five miles North of Liverpool, is basically a stark reminder of World War II. What remains of the city before the conflict that destroyed the world in the middle of the 20th century is literally strewn across these two miles of coastline: from pebble-sized remnants of bricks eroded by the adjacent Irish Sea, to graves, or large keystones of major civic buildings. Historically, Liverpool was one of the most heavily hit British cities by the German Luftwaffe, the Nazi air force. It was the second most bombed…

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Wat Phu Tok: the most dangerous temple in Thailand?

In Thailand, a country where the majority of inhabitants are Buddhist, there are temples scattered everywhere, even on mountains which are not that practical to build a worship place. Welcome to Bueng Kan province, far in the northeastern Isan region. It’s one of the lesser visited provinces, and you will love it if you are in search for peace, nature, and something off the beaten path. Without a doubt, Wat Phu Tok (วัดภูทอก) is one of the most unique, thrilling, (and scary) temples in Thailand. And, above all, a visit…

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The secret history of Closeburn Castle, one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in Scotland~

Closeburn Castle is a tower house and one of the oldest continually inhabited buildings in Scotland. It is located 1 km east of the village of Closeburn, in the historical county of Dumfriesshire. The lands were granted to the Kirkpatrick family back in 1232, with the likelihood that the ancient fortalice was built thereafter. The tower house was probably built in the late 14th century, although some sources give a date as early as 1180 or as late as 1420. In any case, everything about the building was designed for…

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Dujiangyan Zhongshuge: a surreal bookstore that look like endless in China

For a book lover, stepping into a bookstore is always exciting, but a bookstore in China makes the experience absolutely amazing. Dujiangyan Zhongshuge, a bookstore in Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, relies on strategically placed mirrors and gleaming black tile floor to create a stunning illusion that makes the place look like an endless bookworm’s paradise. The roughly 3,200-square-meters bookshop was designed by Li Xiang, founder of Shanghai-based architecture studio X+Living, and inaugurated in the Fall of 2020. Using elements like spiraling staircases, curved archways and strategically-placed mirrors, the designers of this…

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Pescarenico: the fishing village which has kept intact its charm over time

«È Pescarenico una terricciola, sulla riva sinistra dell’Adda, o vogliam dire del lago, poco discosto dal ponte: un gruppetto di case, abitate la più parte da pescatori, e addobbate qua e là di tramagli e di reti tese ad asciugare.» Alessandro Manzoni, I promessi sposi. Alessandro Manzoni mentioned Pescarenico in his most famous work, “The Betrothed” and, thanks to the story of Renzo and Lucia and the ingenious pen of their creator this Lecco’s district, in Northern Italy, has become famous. Manzoni wrote that the monastery of the Capuchins, in…

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The Hartest Stone

If stones could talk – what stories could they tell? Hartest is a small village south of Bury, Suffolk, England, located in a deep dale. At its North end lies its silent stone sentry, a limestone boulder with an interesting past. And, of course, there are different versions of its story. Just as the Treaty of Utrecht brought Britain the Rock of Gibraltar, it is also said, in at least one story, to have brought it this more humble roughly one metre cube rock, dragged to its present spot in…

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Iona’s Beach: the singing beach on Minnesota’s North Shore

Minnesota, or the Land of 10,000 Lakes, boasts a lot of beaches to choose from, with their pictoresque rocky shores and beautiful sandy dunes alike await visitors every summer. Each offers its own beauty, but there is one beach in particular that is truly unique. It is Iona’s beach, unlike any other in the world as, instead of silky, golden sand, it is covered in smooth pink rocks that, if you know when to listen, sing. The beach sings its signature song as the waves come in and disturb the…

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‘Imaginary Elephants’: the sculptures created by a 17th-century artist who had never seen an elephant.

We are in Japan. The Tōshōgu Shrine complex of Nikkō is popular for its architectural and sculptural beauty, including the Three Wise Monkeys and the “Sleeping Cat”. Another among its hundreds of sculptures is commonly referred to as “Sōzō-no-Zō”, literally the “Imaginary Elephants.” The sculpture is located on the gable of the Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse or God’s Storehouse), where a pair of strange-looking animals grin with crescent-shaped eyes. The sculpture on the left is green and white, while the other is black and both are complete with golden tusks.…

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‘Nemuri-Neko’: is the Sleeping Cat asleep, or just pretending?

We are in Japan. As we already know, Tōshōgu Shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, is the most popular tourist attraction in Nikkō. Of course, It’s popular for its elaborate architecture, but also for its carved details, including the three wise monkeys and others. One of the most notable carvings is the Nemuri-neko, or the Sleeping Cat, at the entrance to the okumiya (rear shrine) where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s remains are housed. The carving is attributed to Hidari Jingorō, a legendary 17th-century artist who…

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The Three Wise Monkeys of Tōshōgū Shrine in Nikko, Japan

The grand Tōshōgu Shrine was built in 1617 in Nikkō, and it is one of Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrines. It is actually the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was later deified, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a dynasty that ruled Japan from 1603-1867, with its capital in Edo, current day Tokyo. This Shinto shrine is a part of ‘Shrines and Temples of Nikko’, a UNESCO World Heritage site and 5 of its structures are categorized as the National Treasures of Japan. A cobbled path leads up to its…

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Sibiu, the romanan city where the roofs don’t sleep.

We are in Sibiu. Geographically, it is located in the southern part of Transylvania, close to the Carpathian mountains. Built in the 1100s by the Saxon settlers invited by the Hungarian King in Transylvania, Sibiu, also named Hermannstadt, managed to preserve untouched most of its architectural heritage. While walking around the Romanian city, you’ll start to notice something a bit odd, and you may even get the sense that someone, or something, is watching you. And, wnhile you gaze at the city’s architecture, you’ll start to realize are the houses…

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Kanmangafuchi Abyss and the mystery of Jizō statues

Nikko is one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo, and for more than a good reason: it’s got gorgeous shrines, tons of history, and is situated in a really beautiful nature. But besides all the standard stuff you’d see in a trip to Nikko, Kanmangafuchi Abyss (憾満ヶ淵) is probably the most interesting. The area practically untouched by tourists boasts beautiful ravince, rows of shrines, and also a row of stone Jizō statues. How many? Nobody knows for sure, because apparently each time you count them, you end up…

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Salice Terme: the sad story of a beloved tourist destination and its decline

Hotels no longer have a single free room, streets and nightclubs are overflowing with tourists, while flocks of photographers swarm from one limo to another in search of some VIPs. Who will be the winner this year? The jury is hard at work and will soon issue the verdict. It seems like the description of one of the highlight days of the Venice or Cannes Film Festival. But no, we are in Salice Terme, in the heart of the Po Valley, in the mid-1960s, when the spa town in the…

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St. Stephen Bulgarian Church: the unique cast iron Church of Istanbul

We are in Istanbul, Turkey, a city that has no shortage of houses of worship, and the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen set along the shore of the Golden Horn blends in with its holy brethren at first glance. Upon closer inspection, however, this cross-shaped basilica is like few others in the world. St. Stephen Church has the detailed ornaments of a regular Orthodox stone church, but it’s actually made of prefabricated cast iron elements. Sometimes referred to as “The Iron Church”, it is considered the largest prefabricated cast iron…

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Visingsö Oak Forest: a forest of immensely tall and unusually straight trees planted nearly 200 years ago to build naval ships that never existed

Oak has traditionally been used in shipbuilding since centuries, as its wood is incredibly strong, and if tended just right, the grain is straight and true. Going back even to the Vikings, the slow-growth trees have been used in Sweden for vessels of all kinds, including naval ships. On the lake island of Visingsö, a narrow island in the middle of Vättern, Sweden’s second largest lake, there are hundreds of acres of tall and orderly oaks, all planted with an eye to the long term. As far back as the…

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Swaledale Corpse Way: a winding medieval path used by mourners to carry their dead to the nearest church~

There was a time in England when commoners couldn’t afford to hire a horse or a cart to transport their dead, and so they were forced to carry the corpses themselves to the nearest church. This unpleasant situation led to the creation of paths like the Swaledale Corpse Way, now known simply as the Corpse Way or corpse road, a 16-mile medieval track linking the hamlet of Keld with Grinton, farther down the valley, a small village and civil parish in the Yorkshire Dales, in the Richmondshire district of North…

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Standing Rock Monument of Fort Yates, North Dakota: said to have once been a young woman, is sacred to the Sioux people.

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation covers more than two million acres of grass plains, rolling hills, and buttes running alongside the Missouri River. The reservation takes its name from a sacred rock formation that resembles a woman with a child on her back, that stands outside the Standing Rock Agency office in Fort Yates, North Dakota, and it is home to Lakota and Dakota Sioux people. The reservation was set up for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 1889. Before that, it was part of what was known as the…

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Devil’s Lake (and its stories): a remnant of the last Ice Age in Wisconsin, this lake is surrounded by fascinating rock formations.

Nestled near the small circus town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, is Devil’s Lake State Park, named for the large lake that sits at its center. The lake is located in the middle of a deep chasm, with no visible inlet or outlet. Its name comes from a misinterpretation of a term from the Ho-Chunk Nation, the region’s Indigenous inhabitants. In any case, on a cool foggy day, it’s not too hard to imagine why, and imagination probably had a lot to do with it. At the time when white trappers, then…

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Parkland Walk: a walk along an abandoned railway line

An abandoned railway line can be a creepy place to walk alone at night with its overgrown vines, a forgotten railway infrastructure and the smell of spray paint lingering in the air. Well, where once a railroad line crossed through the wilds of London’s Haringey and Islington, a scenic 5.0 km linear green pedestrian and cycle route has taken its place and the crumbling, abandoned stations and tunnels are now home to urban legends, graffiti, and some whimsically unsettling decoration. The route of the path between Finsbury Park and Highgate…

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Poggiodomo: the hamlet in Italy where COVID never arrived

In Italy there is a village that has never known COVID. It is Poggiodomo, located in the heart of Umbria, in central Italy. This small hamlet is living in its own world, and its ancient little houses and wild nature have kept Covid away, which, according to the local mayor, locals have only seen on TV. This village is now one of the few places in the world that has not known this virus, but how is it possible? The hamlet has just 96 inhabitants and this can certainly be…

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Gobodura Hill and the Lioness of Gobedra

We are a couple of kilometers west of the ancient city of Axum, Ethiopia, where stands the isolated hill of Gobodura, also known as Gobedra. The organizational and technological skills of the Aksumites were represented by the construction of elaborately carved stelae, monuments created in line of older African traditions and made of single pieces of local granite. They were cut out and transported from quarries located at least 4 km away (Gobedra Hill) to the location where they needed to be erected. The city is known also for an…

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Breiðamerkursandur: Iceland’s stunning Diamond Beach

A black sand beach littered with huge chunks of glistening ice is today one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. Locally known as Breiðamerkursandur, “Diamond Beach” takes its name from the chunks of pristine ice scattered across the black volcanic sand and glistening like giant, uncut diamonds. It is located next to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon on the South Coast of Iceland, about six hours away from the country’s capital, Reykjavik. Although it’s not part of the popular Golden Circle Tour, Diamond Beach has become one of the country’s top…

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La maison dans la Loire: the sunken structure that looks like the victim of a catastrophic flood.

Known simply as “La maison dans la Loire” (literally the House in the Loire), the three-storey building looks like the victim of a flood that once swept it away, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving…. If you walk along the river Loire, near the town of Lavau-sur-Loire, just a stone throw away from Nantes, are a rather unusual sight: a tilted building located right in the middle of the river. You’d think it was brutally swept away by some catastrophic flood, or something similar, but it was actually placed there…

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Dasht-e Lut desert: the hottest place on earth?

Iran’s Dasht-e Lut desert, also known simply as Lut Desert, is only the 25th largest desert in the world, but it holds another record: the highest and surface temperature ever recorded with over 70 degrees Celsius! Dasht-e Lut (Persian for “Emptiness Plain”) is a large salt desert that, scientists believe, formed on the bottom of a sea. Millions of years ago, tectonic shifts caused the bottom of the sea to rise, with the water slowly evaporating due to the high temperatures. Today, the area is a barren land about 51,800…

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Tolbooth Tavern: now home to a drinking establishment, this Edinburgh building has a macabre history ~

Edinburgh is a very pictoresque city that offers visitors and tourists several nice locales to take a picture. One such place is located along the Royal Mile, in an area known to locals as the Canongate, and it is the Tolbooth Tavern, situated in an impressive stone building with an ornate clock tower. But what many tourists may be unaware of is that this building hides a quite macabre past. Originally built in 1591, the building that contains The Tolbooth Tavern was used to collect tolls from travelers who wished…

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