Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Million Dollar McGuire's Irish Pub

McGuire's Irish Pub and Brewery is a popular restaurant and local landmark in Pensacola, Florida. The pub is located in a 1927 building which was originally the Pensacola Fire Department's firehouse. It later became a drive-in style restaurant called the Old Firehouse Drive-In. When the restaurant closed, the building became the home of McGuire's Irish Pub in 1982. The 20,000 square foot building has 400 seats in various themed rooms such as the Pipers Den, Notre Dame Room, The Irish Links Room and the Ruprecht O'Tolf Wine Cellar. On the inside, every square inch of wall space is covered with framed, and often signed, pictures of politicians, sports figures and entertainers, clever sayings, wood carvings, Irish knickknacks, a dozen moose heads. From the celling hangs thousands of autographed dollar bills whose collective value has been estimated to over one million dollars.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

The Colorful Cemeteries of Guatemala

In Guatemala culture, afterlife is highly celebrated, and this cultural aspect is readily visible in their cemeteries. Scattered throughout the countryside of Guatemala are cemeteries that feature tombstones painted as colorfully as possible. Friends and family members paint them using the favorite color of the departed as a way of honoring and remembering the dead. Some of these cemeteries, especially those in the departments of Solóla, Chichicastenango and Xela (Quetzaltenango), have became tourist attractions.

During the All Saints Day on November 1, also celebrated as the Day of the Dead, the cemetery becomes the focal point for rituals and prayer for those who have passed on. The locals, dressed up in colorful clothing, head to the cemetery to spend the day cleaning and tending to the graves and decorating them with flowers, and have picnics right next to their departed family members. Another tradition is the construction of giant kites of vibrant colors that are flown near the cemetery. The locals believe that by flying kites with messages written on them they could communicate with the dead.

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Cemetery in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Photo credit

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Sinkholes of Cerro Sarisarinama

Cerro Sarisarinama is a table-topped mountain called a tepui, in Jaua-Sarisariñama National Park at the far south-west of Bolívar State, in Venezuela, near the border with Brazil. The name of the mountain originates from a legend of the indigenous Ye'kuana Indians that speaks of an evil spirit living in caves up in the mountain. Sometimes the evil spirit is heard devouring human flesh and then a terrible sound "Sari... sari..." is heard.

The tepui is located in one of the most remote areas in the country, with the closest road being hundreds of miles away. Unlike other tepuis, Cerro Sarisariñama is heavily wooded with 15–25 metre-high forest fully covering the top of it. This isolated ecosystem is home to numerous endemic species of plants and animals.

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A Customer Service Complaint From 1750 B.C

A letter inscribed in an ancient clay tablet, dating from 1750 BC corresponding to the period of Old Babylon, and currently at the British Museum, could be one of the oldest customer service complaint letter found. The complaint was made by a certain Nanni to Ea-nasir regarding the delivery of the wrong grade of copper ore after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery. The full translation, reportedly from the book Letters from Mesopotamia by Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim, is reproduced below. Nanni appears to be quite angry.

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Semuc Champey

Hidden in the jungle in the department of Alta Verapaz, in Guatemala, about 11 km south of the Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín, is a stunning natural wonder. Semuc Champey, which means "sacred water" in the Mayan Kekchi language, is a natural limestone bridge about 300 meters wide under which passes the Cahabon River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped pools filled with runoff from the Río Cahabon, and many are connected to one another by small waterfalls. The water is brilliant turquoise.

Surrounded by lush green forest, Semuc Champey is a perfect spot to swim and relax. Although the place is increasingly popular among travellers, going there is a bit of a challenge. The closest town nearby is Lanquin which takes 4 hours to reach from Guatemala City and requires braving the infamously dangerous roads. This is followed by a 30-minutes bumpy ride in a 4x4, and finally a 20-minutes walk to the pools.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Sunken Pirate City of Port Royal

Port Royal was a city situated on the end of an 18-mile long sand spit known as the Palisadoes, at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour, in south-eastern Jamaica. Founded in 1518, it rapidly grew to become the most important trading post in the Caribbean Sea due to its strategic position on the trading routes between the New World and Spain. When England officially appointed privateers to raid enemy ships in the Caribbean, as a part of its defence strategy, pirates from around the world congregated at Port Royal to legitimize their trade. Soon Port Royal became a notorious hub for pirate activity, gambling, prostitutes, and booze leading it to be branded as "the wickedest city on earth".

Port Royal’s glory days didn’t last long. At the height of its glittering wealth on June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake shook Jamaica. The sea swallowed the town killing 2,000 people and wounding 3,000 others. The local clergy ascribed the destruction of Port Royal as God's punishment on the people for their sinful ways. Today, the area is a shadow of its former self with a population of less than 2,000 and little to no commercial or political importance.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Electric Blue Waters of Chalk Sound

Chalk Sound is a beautiful natural lagoon located on the southwest of Providenciales, an island belonging to the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. The waters of this 3-mile long lagoon is sparkling blue and studded with countless tiny rocky islands. While shallow bays with turquoise water are not unheard of but Chalk Sound is almost totally landlocked, which makes its dazzling electric-blue color all the more unbelievable. The water here is clean and algae free. Chalk Sound’s National Park status prevents the use of motorized watercraft in these waters which helps to maintain the pristine nature of the place.

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Playful Electrical Pylon Designs

The expansion of the power grid is an important part of a country’s development, but the electrical pylons or transmission towers - the huge steel structures that keep high voltage power lines aloft - are viewed by many as unsightly. As such, designers are looking at new ways to better integrate power poles in the urban and natural landscapes (see how some cell phone companies are disguising cell phone towers as trees). In 2011, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the National Grid of UK held a "Pylon Design Competition" to find a design that has the potential to deliver power for future generation while preserving the beauty of the countryside. Similar completions are also held in other countries. While it might take a few years, decades even, to see any of these futuristic designs converted to reality, a few power companies are already trying out new designs that are clever without being too unpractical.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

The Children’s War Victims Memorial in Lidice

On 27 May 1942, a high-ranking German Nazi official and the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia - Reinhard Heydrich, was being driven from his country villa to his office at Prague when he was ambushed by British-trained Czech soldiers. A fatal grenade attack left him severely wounded and he died eight days later. Reinhard Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust and one of the darkest figure within the Nazi elite. Adolf Hitler himself described him as “the man with the iron heart”. Getting rid of Heydrich was a long-premeditated plot.

To avenge the death of Heydrich, the Germans launched a terrifying retaliation. Over the next few days, more than 36,000 houses in 5,000 towns and villages were searched, arresting some 3,000 people. Within a week, 157 people were executed, but the most tragic victims of the German reprisal were the residents of an ordinary agricultural village named Lidice, located some 20 km to the west of Prague, in the Czech Republic.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Qasr al Farid: The Lonely Castle of Mada'in Saleh

Mada'in Saleh is an ancient city of pre-Islamic period located in northern Saudi Arabia, about 1,400 km to the north of capital Riyadh. It lies in a strategic position on one of the most important ancient trade routes, which linked the south of the Arabian peninsula to the north, as well as to the great economic and cultural centres of Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. It is considered one of the most important and oldest ancient cities in the country and the second largest city of the Nabateans who rules in the first century AD. Today, Mada'in Saleh is an archeologically important site with majestic ruins that are often compared with those of Petra. The most stunning among these ruins and the most iconic symbol of Mada’in Saleh is Qasr al-Farid, rising four stories tall not far from the center of the ancient Nabataean city of Hegra.

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