Pheasant Island: The Island That Changes Sovereignty Every Six Months

Less than six kilometers before river Bidasoa, near the French-Spanish border, empties into the Atlantic Ocean, there lies a small river island called Pheasant. It was here, in 1659, that representatives from France and Spain met and signed the Treaty of the Pyrenees, officially ending the Thirty Years War. The treaty also drew a new border that runs along the Pyrenees mountains, and then follows the Bidasoa river to the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic Ocean,  forming a natural border between France and Spain. As is usually the case with borders that follow the course of a river, the French-Spanish border was fixed along the center of the river. Ideally, the border should have cut right through Pheasant Island splitting the 1.6 acre island into two halves, with France and Spain controlling their respective sides. But the Treaty of the Pyrenees agreed upon a different kind of arrangement, by which Pheasant Island became a condominium.


Pheasant Island (Isla de los Faisanes, in Spanish, and Île des Faisans, in French, as seen from the Spanish side. Photo credit: Zarateman/Wikimedia

The Astronaut Beach House

Before astronauts get suited up and launched into space, they spends their final days relaxing with their wives and kids in a private beach house near Cape Canaveral, in Florida. The two-story beach house, located about a mile from the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, has played host to hundreds of astronauts and their families who have barbecued on its patio, a tradition that has been on for nearly fifty years. Situated above the dunes at the edge of a pristine beach, the house provides a spectacular view of the vast ocean and the sky, as well as the launch pad. Its isolation makes it the perfect place to bid farewells to family members.

The house was originally built in the 1940s, and was a part of the Neptune Beach subdivision at Cape Canaveral. In 1963, the property was bought by NASA to accommodate the expanding Kennedy Space Center. While most other houses and structures were torn down, the Beach House was saved from the wrecking ball.


Roofing materials, blown loose by Hurricane Matthew, lie on the ground behind the Beach House at NASAs Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Temppeliaukio Church, Helsinki

In the Töölö neighborhood of Helsinki, Finland, in the middle of an ordinary residential square, a scene from the Steven Spielberg's movie War of the Worlds appears to be unfolding. A giant alien machine has just woken up from deep slumber and is pushing its way out of the ground, where it had been lying dormant for millenniums. A gigantic hole has cracked open on the bedrock and the enormous dome of the alien robot is just visible above the ground. While the movie, based on H.G. Wells classic by the same name, is a work of fiction, the thing here in Helsinki is entirely real. But this mysterious subterranean creature is not a killing machine. On the contrary, it’s a place of worship, a church.


Photo credit: MFKI/Wikimedia

Struve Geodetic Arc: The 2,820 Km Line That Produced The First Accurate Measurement of The Earth’s Size

From the northern coast of Norway to the southern coast of Ukraine runs a chain of survey triangulation points that together forms the Struve Geodetic Arc. It stretches from Hammerfest (Norway) on the shores of the Arctic Ocean to Nekrasivka (Ukraine) by the Black Sea, a distance of 2,820 km, snaking in and out of numerous territories, that today belong to ten different countries. The arc was established by the German-born Russian scientist Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, who undertook a thirty-nine-year-long survey, between 1816 and 1855, to determine the shape and size of the earth. The survey yielded the first accurate measurement of a meridian arc, which in turn allowed the first precise measurement of the earth’s diameter.


The northernmost station of the Struve Geodetic Arc is located in Fuglenes, Norway. Photo credit: Francesco Bandarin/Wikimedia

The Sunken City of Baiae

The ancient Roman city of Baiae, on the northwest shore of the Gulf of Naples, was once a popular coastal resort famous for its idyllic location and therapeutic mineral springs that drew the likes of Julius Caesar, Nero and Caligula. But what really enticed the wealthy and the powerful to this resort town were its beach parties, the wine and the women. In Baiae, “unmarried women are common property, old men behave like young boys, and lots of young boys act like young girls,” wrote the ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro. Others described it as a “den of licentiousness and vice" and a "vortex of luxury". Baiae’s hedonism was as notorious as that of Las Vegas today.

But much of Baiae now lies underwater. The same subterranean volcanic activity that brought hot water to the surface and turned Baiae into the imperial capital of debauchery and vice also caused its downfall, quite literally. The entire land dropped like a plate by more than six meters —a process known as bradyseism, caused by the emptying of the underlying magma chamber. This happened during the 16th century, but by then, Baiae was already a mere shadow of its former magnificence.


Photo credit: Roberto Serani/You Tube

Mapparium: The World’s Only Inside-Out Globe

The Mapparium at Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, is a huge, 30 foot tall globe of bronze and glass that has no parallel anywhere else on earth, not because of its size —there are much larger globes elsewhere— but because of the way the map of the world is presented.

At the Mapparium, the earth’s surface has been turned inside-out, or rather outside-in. Viewers walk into the glass globe via an elevated bridge, that goes right through the globe, and crane their necks to see North America and Europe. The map of the world has been projected on the inside surface of the globe and illuminated by bright lights placed outside. Because the map projection is on the inside concave surface of the sphere rather than on the outside, every part of the globe faces the observer making it possible to view the entire planet from pole to pole with non of the distortion in area and distance that occurs on a regular globe or a on a flat map.


Photo credit: Smart Destinations/Flickr

The 870-Year Old Historic Sausage Kitchen of Regensburg

One hundred twenty five kilometers north of Munich lies the old medieval town of Regensburg, situated at the confluence of three rivers —the Danube, Naab and Regen. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Regensburg is famous for its historic medieval center containing as many as fifteen hundred listed buildings, the largest such collection north of the Alps. Among the most notable sights in town, is a 12th-century-old stone bridge over the Danube, and its contemporary and aptly titled “Historic Sausage Kitchen” that has been serving fine fried sausages to patrons for nearly 900 years. It is perhaps the oldest continuously open public restaurant in the world.


Photo credit: Manuel Strehl/Wikimedia

The Ancient Roman Walls of Hisarya

Located on the outskirts of the Sredna Gora mountain range, about 40 km north of Plovdiv, in Central Bulgaria, lies the ancient town of Hisarya, famous for its nearly two dozen mineral springs. This small wonder of nature has been attracting people since the prehistoric times, with traces of settlement here that dates back to at least the 4th century BC. It’s the healing waters of Hisarya’s springs and its pleasant climate that brought the Romans to this place in 46 AD. The Romans overthrew the Thracians and Hisarya became a Roman town.

Not much happened for the next two hundred and fifty years, until Emperor Diocletian decided to promote Hisarya to the status of a Roman city, and renamed it Diocletianopolis. At once, there were constructions all over Hisarya as the small town tried to adapt itself to the prestigious role. Buildings and bath house were built, and streets were laid, but the most striking construction to take place were the massive fortification walls around the city.


The southern gate of Hisarya’s Roman walls. Photo credit: Ramon/Flickr

Boulder Field of Hickory Run State Park

Hickory Run State Park, located in northern Carbon County, on the Pocono Plateau of northeastern Pennsylvania, is home to one of the most striking geological feature in the state. It’s a huge bed of rocks measuring approximately 400 feet by 1,800 feet and at least 12 feet deep, containing a jumbled assortment of loosely packed boulders —most of them medium-sized, less than 4 feet in diameter, although some of them measures up to 25 feet. The boulder field is extremely clean, in the sense that there is no fine material such as sand or clay filling the space between the boulders. And if you listen closely, you can sometimes hear water flowing beneath the rocks.


Photo credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli/Flickr

The Forgotten Tunnel Under Naples Filled With Vintage Cars

One hundred and fifty meters from the large public square of Piazza del Plebiscito in central Naples, Italy, is an entrance that descends about thirty meters under the ground to the short Bourbon Tunnel, consisting of around 530 meters of giant passageways, huge caves and narrow culverts. Built in the middle of the 19th century, the tunnel was largely forgotten after the end of the Second Word War, until its rediscovery in the early 2000s.

The tunnel was conceived as an escape route from the Royal Palace, by the then King of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand II of Bourbon, who was extremely paranoid about being overthrown by the riot-happy populace of Sicily and Naples, during the tumultuous Napoleonic period. Since 1816, there had been three revolutions against the Bourbon rule, and a very violent one in 1848, where the revolutionists seized the kingdom for 16 months. After coming back to power in 1849, Ferdinand II hastily rewrote a new constitution and began making plans for a safe escape should the people rise in revolt again.


Photo credit: