Thursday, 31 October 2013

Some More Terrifying Things People Did With The Dead (Historical Figure Remix)

My 6th article for Cracked was published today - The 6 Most Terrifying Things People Used to Do With the Dead.

This one had a bit of a convoluted history. It's actually an amalgamated version of two different articles, combined by the Cracked editors as a Halloween special. My original idea was written under the premise of Undignified/ridiculous journeys and adventures of esteemed dead people and their body parts, which itself was modified from an earlier, and abandoned idea, in the Cracked workshop. Only two entries you see in today's Cracked article survived the new premise and modifications - Rasputin and Blackbeard.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Travel Plans: December 2013 to December 2014


In just ten days, I get married. That's very nice, although as I'm not getting married on the Great Wall of China or on top of the Pyramids, you might think it's not directly related to this blog or to my travels. Well, it is. Since returning from my Wonder hunting in Asia with Burness, the travels have been in small chunks, to various locations in the UK and France. But during that time, I had plans, lots and lots of plans. And I was preparing, lots and lots of preparation.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Preview: Chichen Itza

Think of a pyramid - probably the Great Pyramid of Giza comes to mind. Ok, think of another, this time in Mexico. Probably, you'll be thinking of this one.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Preview: CN Tower

I lived in Korea for two years, in 2004 and 2005. Among the many new cultural experiences I had in that time, I visited my first ever revolving restaurant. I lived in Daegu but on my first weekend in the country, happenstance saw me visiting Seoul, together with a New Zealand fellow called Handsome Matt. It was a highly entertaining weekend that cemented a lifelong friendship, despite us now being at opposing ends of the globe - most recently I saw Matt in Sydney, at the very beginning of the Wonder travels. Part of that weekend involved visiting the 237-metre-high Seoul Tower. It had, to our delight, a revolving restaurant. Here's a photo of us enjoying the experience.

It's fair to say that both of us were hugely enamoured by the revolving restaurant experience. What's not to like? Food, drink, and a slowly changing panorama of the city. Korea rather likes putting tall observation towers with revolving restaurants in the middle of their cities, and in the fresh excitement of youth we vowed to visit every single revolving restaurant in the world (also vowed with Matt: visit every escalator in Daegu, go ice fishing in Alaska for a month, have a child apiece by the same woman and put them in fierce competition with each other to determine who has the best genetics). Clearly, we didn't manage this, but we did at least visit the Daegu and Busan ones. They were great.

All these towers were no more than towers for towers' sake. They weren't useful, the Koreans just liked building tall towers. The revolving restaurants were there because, well, aside from an observation deck, what else do you put at the top of a big tower? But for the ultimate expression of a tower for towers' sake, you need to cross the Pacific, from Korea to Canada. There, in Toronto, is the daddy of tall towers, complete with two observation decks, the prerequisite revolving restaurant, and in the words of their official  guidebook from the 1980s, a "glittering night club". It is, of course, the CN Tower.

31. Wonder: The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (part 2)

(for part 1 of the review of the Houses of Parliament, please go here.)

Monday, 14 October 2013

Another Mysterious Structure With A Creepy Unknown Origin

I've had another Cracked article published today - 5 Mysterious Structures With Creepy Unknown Origins. This one was an absolute pleasure to research and write, and I'm pleased with how it turned out. The premise wasn't mine - somebody else had come up with it in the Cracked writers' workshop but it had been long abandoned and opened up for someone else to take over. I retained the premise but found new examples. Sometimes there can be quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with the editors, to find examples that work. Not this time - to my surprise, it was accepted straight off.

Researching the entries, I realised that there was a fine line between the genuinely mysterious and the pseudoscience nonsense that can infiltrate the internet. All the entries in the article are, to the very best of my research, genuinely enigmatic monuments and locations.  There were many, many more that I didn't use that are pretty well understood by archaeologists but (often willfully0 misunderstood by the more speculative side of the internet. The Yonaguni Monument and the Bosnian Pyramids are two supreme examples of this - and I ended up writing a parallel article about these, which should be published by Cracked in the next month.

I submitted six entries for this one, and five were used. The unused is below, and was definitely the weakest, but here it is anyway.

Preview: Easter Island

A tiny triangular island with volcanoes at each corner, it is in the middle of the Pacific, in the middle of nowhere. Over the years, it has been called San Carlos, Davis Island, Teapy, Waihu, or since 1862 by the official Polynesian name of Rapa Nui. The islanders know it as Te Pito o Te Heua - "the navel of the world". We know it as Easter Island, and we've heard of it because many centuries ago the locals had a penchant for building gigantic stone heads.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Preview: The Nazca Lines

Every society and culture has its hobbies. The Romans liked to watch people fight animals in arenas, the Aztecs enjoyed a bit of human sacrifice, and the modern Australians love a good barbecue. The ancient Nazca people, meanwhile, stuck out in the remote desert in southern Peru, appear to have enjoyed nothing better than drawing thousands and thousands of vast straight lines and animal pictures in the desert.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Preview: Machu Picchu

In the 1990s, the Peruvian government had a great idea. The mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu, or "the Lost City of the Incas" as they are often romantically dubbed, were an ever-growing tourist site and source of income for the nation. However, as the 15th Century Incas had thoughtlessly built this future tourist site in the remote mountains, access was difficult, especially for the kind of wealthy and obese old person who fills the slots of package tours. And so, what better than a direct line to the unique archaeological site by means of a cable car? A tourist could pop up for a couple of hours, take a few nice photos, and be back for afternoon drinks without breaking a sweat. Just, surely, as the Incas had intended...

Friday, 4 October 2013

Preview: Tikal

Depending on what you call the actual beginning, the Maya civilisation was a sprawling beast taking up much of Central America for anything up to 3500 years. Indeed, the people from the civilisation live on - around 60% of Guatemala's 10 million population is Maya, and there are still over 7.5 million Maya living today. But the heyday, there is no doubt, has passed. Typically, with slightly vague boundaries, the civilisation is broken into three easily digestable chunks: Pre-Classic, Classic, and Post-Classic, before the Spanish sailed in during the early 16th Century and slowly finished off the remnants of what was already a lost and faded civilisation. Never being one single entity, the Maya civilisation was more a series of competing city states, which flourished and fell over the centuries, but for the absolute heart of what we generally regard as Maya, we don't need to look much further than the Classic period. Spread across what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador, from roughly the 3rd to the 9th Centuries, this was the time and place that elevated the Maya civilisation to something special. Truly, it was the heyday. And probably the greatest part of this heyday was the city-state of Tikal.