Gods of Olympus, Aliens and The Bermuda Triangle – WIF Top Ten Mystery History

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****An all-time Top 10 WIF Post****


Top 10

Historical

Unsolved Mysteries

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Since the world began, we have been surrounded by mysteries. Some are solved by science, but others remain unexplained and might stay unsolved forever. Some are as ancient as humanity, but our fascination with them keeps them timeless. Here are ten such historical mysteries, to both entertain you and make you wonder.

10. The Fate of Hitler’s Stolen Wealth

hitlers-gold

This is supposedly the greatest and biggest cache ever: an unimaginable hoard of looted gold bars, jewelry, and foreign currency, with an estimated value of $4 billion. These stolen riches disappeared in the blink of an eye from the vaults of the German Reichsbank. In the decades after World War II, troves of looted valuables were found in Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain, and Sweden, but they hardly compare in value to Hitler’s supposed hoard.

Groups all over the world are still hunting for his treasure, but even after all these years, the question remains: Where is the gold of Hitler? The only sure thing is that the mystery of the treasure remains unsolved, with all its rumors, speculations, and myths still entwined around it. One of the most popular beliefs is that Hitler himself buried it in a secret location somewhere in Deutschneudorf, Germany. Some treasure hunters believe that the plunder is lying at the bottom of Lake Toplitz in Austria, while others suggest that it’s stashed in banks around the world. The only certain thing is that, when there’s nothing but speculation about the location of a $4 billion treasure, it grows into a legend.

9. The Disappearance of the USS Cyclops

USS-Cyclops

The Bermuda Triangle is famous for mysterious disappearances that have taken place there over the years. Even though scientists are nowadays able to provide logical explanations for most of the disappearances in that area, some have never been explained, including the disappearance of the USS Cyclops, a Proteus-class collier of the US Navy.

During the First World War, the USS Cyclops was sent to Brazil to fuel British ships in the South Atlantic. Returning from Rio de Janeiro, she made a brief stop at the island of Barbados, then departed for Baltimore on the 4th of March, 1918. From that time forward, no one saw or heard anything about the Cyclops ever again. The crew and all 306 passengers vanished once and for all, and no trace of them or the ship has ever been found. It remains the single largest non-combat loss of life in U.S. Naval history. Even though American Naval authorities have tried for years to give a logical explanation, the disappearance remains an absolute mystery with many unanswered questions.

8. Locating the Remains of Christopher Columbus

columbus-purported-tomb

Christopher Columbus is probably the most famous explorer of all time, and we know pretty much everything about his life — except for one mystery: After his death in 1509, his remains continued to travel, and we don’t know where they ended up. Originally buried in the Spanish city of Vigiadolid, in 1537 his bones were transferred to the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, in accordance with his wishes. But when the Spanish lost the region to the French in 1795, his remains were transferred to Cuba, where they stayed until the Spanish-American war. They were eventually returned to Seville, Spain, in 1898.

The Dominican Republic’s official version, however, claims that the remains of Columbus never left Hispaniola. In 1877, in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, a box was discovered bearing an inscription stating that the remains inside were those of the “glorious and eminent Cristobal Colon.” A DNA analysis conducted on the bones in Seville, and on those of Columbus’s brother Diego (who is buried in the same city) showed that the two samples matched perfectly. When researchers announced these findings in 2006, the controversy surrounding Columbus’s earthly remains should have come to a definitive end. However, the Dominican Republic openly challenges the results of the DNA testing, and for years has demanded a DNA analysis of the bones in Hispaniola, leaving open a window of doubt.

7. Secrets of the Phaistos Disc

Phaistos_Disc

The Minoan Civilization is considered by most historians to be the first organized Western civilization, and it has been named “the first link in the European chain.” The Phaistos Disc, which was discovered in 1908 by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in the ancient city of Phaistos, gave hope to even the least optimistic among us that it would help us understand the Minoan civilization in more detail.

But the Phaistos Disc is a global conundrum that has kept its secrets hidden for thousands of years. Suggestions about what its inscription means include a hymn, a prayer, a geometric theorem for the calendar, and the narrative of a story. However, the global scientific community has not been able to confirm any of these. After decades of research, a diverse team of scientists intensively studying the Minoan language and the text of the Phaistos Disc may have come close to solving one of the biggest mysteries of archaeology, but so far the Disc remains an absolutely unsolved mystery.

6. The “Wow!” Signal

wow-signal

It lasted for 37 seconds, and it came from outer space — but what exactly was it?

On August 15, 1977, astronomer Jerry Ehman, working on a SETI project at Ohio Wesleyan University’s Perkins Observatory, glanced as usual at the prints generated by the radio telescope known as the “Big Ear,” but what he saw this time made him write “Wow!” on the printout. But what did he see exactly that caused such a reaction? According to him, it was the strongest, clearest, and most significant signal ever recorded, and a mystery that astronomers have been debating for decades.

That was thirty-six years ago, and still no one knows what caused the signal or where it came from exactly. The scientific world is unable to provide a clear explanation, strengthening the myth surrounding this case. Even skeptics now wonder if the signal could have been the first human contact with extraterrestrial life.

5. Genghis Khan’s Final Resting Place

genghis-khan-tomb

In 1206, Genghis Khan united the warring tribes of his region, becoming the leader of the Mongols and creating an empire that reached from China to Hungary. But the location of the tomb of the famous warrior has been a mystery since his death in 1227. According to legend, a group of his loyal followers buried him and then killed all the witnesses. All the soldiers and slaves who were present at the funeral were murdered, and horses trampled the burial site to destroy any traces of it. His loyal subjects are even said to have diverted a river to roll over his grave so it could never be detected.

However, the most likely scenario is that Khan was buried near his birthplace in the Khentii Aimag province of Mongolia. Over the years, a number of attempts to locate the tomb were barred by the authorities to prevent disturbing the locals or disrespecting the history of the area, but in 2004 a team of archaeologists discovered the palace of Genghis Khan. It is now speculated that the tomb lies nearby, but after nearly ten years of exploration and search, nothing has been found.

4. Pinpointing the Star of Bethlehem

star-of-bethlehem

For Christians, the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem is a faith-based event, and no further explanation is required. But for scientists and non-Christians, many questions remain. For nearly 2000 years, the bright star has been a mystery. Was it a miracle as the Christian religion teaches, a natural phenomenon, or maybe an alien spacecraft? St. John Chrysostom even suggested that it was not a star, but some unseen force that took this form.

The phenomenon has been the object of intense study for researchers, astronomers, historians, and archaeologists since antiquity. Modern scholars sometimes suggest that it was an unidentified flying object because, according to Scripture, it was visible constantly day and night and did not follow a course from east to west like other stars do. Some British researchers propose that the star of Bethlehem was a bright nova, like the one described by the Chinese in the spring of 5 BC. The great German astronomer Johannes Kepler argued that it was the conjunction of two planets forming a temporary “new star,” and Origen of antiquity (185-254 AD) claimed that it was a bright comet, as did the astronomer A. Stentzel in 1913. But no satisfactory scientific account has been provided to this day, and the mysterious star remains unexplained.

3. The Gods of Olympus Could Have Been Aliens

god-of-war

Is it possible that intelligent life forms visited Earth thousands of years ago, bringing with them technology that drastically affected the course of history and human evolution? If so, would people regard them as Gods? According to a few heretic and alternative historians and scientists, this is exactly what happened. “We modern humans, according to Hesiod, belong to the fifth faction created by Zeus, the iron race, a mixture of good and evil,” says Swiss author Erich Von Daniken.

According to his book Odyssey of the Gods, the ancient Greek gods were in fact extraterrestrial beings with superior intelligence who visited Earth, bringing with them their advanced technology. They were not mythological creatures, but actual space aliens. Of course, none of these theories can be proven historically accurate, but as Von Daniken points out to his doubters, neither can Jesus’s divinity.

2. The Truth Behind Bimini Road

bimini-road

In 1968, under the seabed off the coast of Bimini Island in the Bahamas, divers discovered dozens of huge flat limestone blocks forming a perfectly straight highway one kilometer long – a formation unlikely to be created naturally. Many claim that the blocks are the ruins of an ancient civilization, while others are convinced that this is a unique natural phenomenon.

But none of these explanations can account for a prophecy made in the early decades of the 20th century. A famous prophet and healer of that time, Edgar Cayce, made a prediction in 1938: “Part of the ruins of Lost Atlantis will be discovered in the sea around the islands of Bimini … This will be done in 1968 or 1969.” Cayce’s prediction was indeed oddly – and creepily – accurate.

1. The Identity of the Babushka Lady

babushka-lady

In the films and photos recording the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, an unknown woman can be seen in the crowd standing near the Kennedy limousine. She is seen wearing a brown coat and a scarf on her head, which gave her the nickname “the Babushka Lady.” In certain moments of the film, this woman seems to be holding a camera up to her eyes. After the shooting, while most people dispersed, the Babushka Lady remained there calmly recording the events. Shortly afterwards, she vanished in the crowds walking up Elm Street.

What makes the case even more bizarre is that although the FBI, through the press, asked this woman to produce her film, she never appeared. In 1970, a woman named Beverly Oliver claimed to be the Babushka Lady, but her story had many gaps and inaccuracies, and she is largely considered to be a con artist. Nobody knows who the woman with the babushka scarf was, or why she never delivered what she had recorded with her camera.


 Gods of Olympus, Aliens and The Bermuda Triangle

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WIF Top Ten Mystery History

It’s All Greek to Me – Spartan Facts

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Horrifying Facts

About the Spartans

Sparta is one of the most extreme civilizations in Earth’s history. Relatively early in Greek history, even before the Classical World had begun, the Spartans drove through a radical social and political revolution. In effect, all Spartans are made to be equal. Really equal. And they developed key concepts we still use today, like the importance of self-sacrifice for the common good or the value of duties and of rights. In short, all Spartans aimed to be as perfectly human as humanly possible. Every single of our utopic ideas today, can draw their roots from the Spartan example.

 The biggest problem about Sparta, from a historical point of view at least, is that they left very few written records, and didn’t build grand architecture that we could then analyze. However, Spartan women enjoyed a degree of freedom, education and equality unparalleled anywhere in the ancient world. Each member of society, man or woman, master or slave, had a precise role to play, and one can’t talk about Spartan soldiers without talking about Sparta itself. And this is because every Spartan citizen was specifically molded to be the perfect soldier from birth. This preparation was often-times brutal, and we’ll take a look just how extreme the Spartans were.

10. Spartan Children Were Bred for War

Almost every aspect of the Spartan way of life was governed by the state. This included its children. Each Spartan baby was brought before a council of inspectors, who examined him for physical defects. If anything seemed out of the ordinary, they would take the newborn and leave him to die of exposure somewhere on a hillside outside the city. In a few fortunate cases, these forsaken children would be rescued by foreigners passing by, or by the helots (Spartan slaves) working the fields. In their infancy, the babies who survived this first of many tests would be bathed in wine instead of water, as to strengthen their physical attributes. They would also be frequently ignored by their parents when they cried, as to make them accustomed to a “Spartan” way of life. These parenting techniques were so highly admired by foreigners that Spartan women were often sought as nurses or nannies.

Up until the age of seven, Spartan boys lived with their family, but then they were taken by the state to live in communal barracks and start their first training regimen, called “agoge”. This program aimed to mold the young Spartans to become perfect warriors. The training involved hard physical exercises, as well as learning stealth, extreme loyalty, military and combat training, pain-tolerance, hunting, survival skills, social communication, and morality. They were also taught reading, writing, rhetoric and poetry. However, at age 12 they were stripped of all clothing and possessions, save a red cloak. They were then instructed to sleep outside and make their own beds from reeds. They were also encouraged to scavenge or steal food, but if caught they were severely punished by flogging. Spartan girls continued to live with their families after the age of seven, but they too received the famous Spartan education, which involved dance, gymnastics, as well as javelin and discus throwing. These exercises were believed to make them ready for motherhood.

9. Hazing and Fighting Among Themselves

One way through which children were toughened up as a key element in their development as soldiers was to instigate fights among them. Older men and teachers would often start various arguments among their students and encouraged them on, leading the boys to start fighting with each other. Since the main purpose of the agoge was to make these trainees highly resistant to all sorts of hardships found during war, like cold, hunger or pain, those who showed signs of weakness, cowardice, or timidity were subject to harsh punishments and humiliation by peers and teachers alike. Imagine being bullied by someone in school, and then your teacher would come over and join in. To make things even worse, girls often sang choral songs in front of dignitaries during various religious or state ceremonies, sometimes singling out specific trainees for ridicule.

Not even grown-ups were spared humiliation. Spartans absolutely loathed people out of shape. This is one of the reasons why all Spartan citizens, the kings included, had their daily meals at a syssitia, a military mess, where the food was bland and always insufficient. Together with daily physical exercises, Spartan men and women kept in shape throughout their entire lives. Those who didn’t, however, were exposed to public humiliation by everyone, and even risked being banished from the city if they didn’t fix the problem immediately.

8. The Contest of Endurance

An integral part of Ancient Sparta, and one of its most gruesome practices, was the so-called Contest of Endurance, or Diamastigosis. This tradition was said to commemorate an incident where people from neighboring settlements killed each other at the altar of Artemis. From that point on, human sacrifices were brought there annually. Since Lycurgus, however – a famous, semi-mythical Spartan lawgiver from the 7th century BC – the ceremony at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia only involved the ephebes (adolescent boys undergoing the agoge) being flogged until they completely stained the stairs of the altar full of blood. During the event, the altar was covered with cheeses and the young boys would try to reach and take them. Older ones would wait for them with sticks in hand, flogging and beating them without mercy. This tradition was in fact an initiation ceremony where the ephebes were accepted as full Spartan warriors and citizens. The last boy standing would receive great honor for his bravery. Deaths were also not uncommon during this event.

During the Roman occupation of Sparta, the tradition of Diamastigosis endured, but lost much of its ceremonial importance. It instead became a favorite spectator sport. People from all over the empire would flock to Sparta and see how young men were being whipped in such a brutal fashion. By the 3rd century AD the sanctuary was enclosed by a theater where spectators could watch the floggings.

7. The Krypteia

When the ephebes reached the age of 20 or so, those who were marked out as potential future leaders were given the opportunity to take part in the Krypteia. This was a sort of secret police, or at least the closest Sparta got to one. It more closely resembled a guerrilla force since its main purpose was to stake out and terrorize the surrounding helot settlements. At its peak during the 5th century BC, Sparta had about 10,000 men able to bear arms, while the surrounding helot population outnumbered them 7 to 1. This was a double-edged sword for the Spartan citizens. On the one hand, the helots were providing the Spartans with all the food they would need, freeing them to become super-soldiers. On the other hand, the Spartans were constantly under threat from helot rebellions. This continuous risk of revolt was also the main reason why the Spartans developed such a highly militarized society in the first place, in which every Spartan man became a soldier by law.

Every fall these young soldiers got a chance to test out their skills, when the Spartan ephors unofficially declared war on the helot population. At night the members of the Krypteia would be armed with knives and set loose onto the surrounding countryside. They were instructed to kill any helot they encountered, especially the strongest among them. This annual slaughter of the lowest class was to ensure the helots’ obedience, as well as to keep their population in check. Only the Spartans who took part in this gruesome event as young men could hope to one day achieve the highest ranks in the army and society. Throughout the rest of the year, this “secret police” would patrol the countryside looking for any signs of unrest. Any potentially troublesome helot would be summarily executed.

6. Compulsory Marriage

While this can’t be construed as particularly horrifying, compulsory marriage by the age of 30 is something that many today consider especially frightening. We don’t think the same rules apply in modern-day Sparta, but in the ancient times they certainly did. Up until the age of 30, all Spartan men lived their lives in communal barracks and made up the active military of the mighty city-state. They would then be relieved of duty, but would act as the reserve force until they turned 60. In any case, 30 was the age when all male citizens were more or less forced to tie the knot, if they hadn’t done so already.

And since Spartans saw marriage primarily, but not exclusively, as a means of conceiving new soldiers, girls usually married at around 19 (later than other Greek girls). Bachelors were encouraged to evaluate the health and fitness of their future mates. But even if the marriage arrangements were made between the husband and his future father-in-law, this doesn’t mean the girl didn’t have any say in the matter. After all, Spartan women were equal to their men, more so than in a lot of countries today.

In the event a Spartan soldier would get married before finishing his active service when turning 30, he would live separately from his wife until that time. Likewise, if a man remained a bachelor after entering the reserves, he was seen as neglecting his duties towards Sparta itself, and would be publicly mocked at every occasion; especially during official ceremonies. If by any chance a Spartan wasn’t able to bear children, he was expected to find a suitable other who could. There were even cases of a woman having several partners and their collective children belonging to all.

5. Spartan Weapons & Armor

The bulk of every Ancient Greek army, Sparta included, was the hoplite. These were heavily-armored soldiers, citizens of their respective city-states, with enough material means to equip and make themselves available to fight. But while other cities’ hoplites weren’t professional soldiers and often lacked sufficient military training, Sparta’s soldiers were bred solely for war, and did nothing else their entire lives. And while other Greek city-states built massive walls to defend themselves, Sparta famously had none, considering its hoplites as its defenses.

The principle weapon of every hoplite, regardless of origin, was the spear, or dory. These spears measured around 8 feet in length and were held one handed, either over or underhand. Its tip was made out of bronze or iron, and the shaft was made from cornel wood. This wood was especially sought after because of the density and strength it gave the spear. The wood is so dense it actually sinks in water. Then in their left hand, the hoplites held their iconic round shields, the hoplon. Weighing some 30 pounds, these were used primarily for defense, but were also used for bashing. These shields were made out of wood or leather with an outer layer of bronze. Spartans marked their shields with the letter lambda. This stood for Laconia, the name of the region of Sparta.

Now, if either their spears broke off or the battle became too overcrowded, the hoplites in the front row turned to their xiphos. This was a short sword, about 17 inches long, which was used for stabbing while behind the hoplon. Spartans, however, mostly preferred the kopis instead of the xiphos, because of the nasty wounds it inflicted. The kopis was used more as an axe in the form of a thick, curved iron sword, and Spartans were often depicted in Athenian art while holding one. For extra defense, they wore bronze helmets that protected the head, the back of the neck, and the face, as well as a breastplate (thorax) of bronze or leather. Bronze graves, knemides, to protect the shins, as well as arm-guards were also worn.

4. The Phalanx

One of the signs a civilization reaches a certain point in its development is the way its army wages war. Tribal societies, for example, usually fought in loose arrangements, each warrior waving his huge broadsword or axe over his head in intimidation, and looking for personal glory on the battlefield. But more advanced civilizations fought in compact formations, with each individual soldier having a precise role to play within a larger strategy. The Romans did this, and so did the Ancient Greeks. In fact, the famous Roman Legion formations were inspired by the Greek Phalanx.

Hoplites were organized into regiments, lokhoi, of several hundred individuals, and fought in 8 rows or more. This is what’s known as a Phalanx. The men stood shoulder to shoulder in a tight formation, with their shields covering their left half, as well as the right side of the soldier next to him. Above their shields and between their heads, there was a literal forest of spears protruding outwards. The Phalanx advanced at walking speed or slightly faster, usually accompanied by rhythmic music and war-cries; something which Spartans studied intensely during the agoge. As Greek cities often fought each other, Phalanx would usually meet another Phalanx in battle, in which case they would push and stab each other until one side emerged victorious. Think of it as a much bloodier version of a rugby scrum. Nevertheless, this formation was also successfully used against the Persians on numerous occasions.

Its biggest weakness, however, was its left flank. As the Phalanx advanced and each man sought to keep behind the shield of his neighbor, the formation had the tendency to shift right, leaving the left flank exposed. A good commander would therefore put his best warriors in his own right flank in order to take advantage of this possible situation and ultimately win the battle.

3. No Such Thing as Surrender

As part of their extreme-loyalty training, Spartans despised cowardice above all else, and soldiers were expected to fight without any sense of fear whatsoever. Even to the last man, if need be. In effect, the act of surrender was seen as the epitome of all cowardice. In the highly unlikely event of a Spartan hoplite doing such an unthinkable thing, it would most likely lead him to commit suicide. The ancient historian Herodotus makes mention of two Spartans who missed out on the famous Battle of Thermopylae and who later, in their utter shame, killed themselves. One by hanging himself, and the other by dying a redeeming death during a later conflict for Sparta.

Spartan mothers were famous for saying things like: “Return with your shield or on it” to their sons just before they left for battle, referring to them either returning victorious or dead. Sparta only considered its debt fully repaid when its citizens died doing their duty for her. Men by dying in battle, and Spartan women during childbirth. In fact, only these two groups of people were ever worthy enough to have their own names forever engraved on their tombstones.

2. The Thirty Tyrants

Sparta was known for wanting to spread its own utopian views upon its neighboring states. First were the Messenians to the west, which Sparta defeated during the 7th and 8th centuries BC, turning them into their subservient helots. They later began looking towards Athens itself. During the Peloponnesian War(431–404 BC), not only did the Spartans defeat them, but would also inherit their naval supremacy over the Aegean; something that Sparta never had. Refusing to raze Athens to the ground, as was suggested by the Thebans and Corinthians, the Spartans decided instead to shape the city in their own image.

To do so, they installed a pro-Spartan oligarchy in Athens, infamously known as the Thirty Tyrants. Their main purpose was to revise or in most cases, completely erase the fundamental Athenian laws for its own style of democracy. They reformed the power structure by first lowering most citizens’ rights, and installing 500 councilors to serve the judicial functions formerly belonging to all citizens. They also hand-picked 3,000 Athenian men to “to share in the government” who were allowed more privileges than the rest. During their 13-month-long regime, some 5 percent of all the Athenian population died or simply disappeared, a lot of property confiscated, and many pro-Athenian democrats were exiled.

A former student of Socrates himself, Critias, the leader of the Thirty, was considered cruel, imposing and downright inhumane, as a man who wanted to make Athens into a mirror image of Sparta whatever the cost. Similar to the Krypteia in Sparta, all people who were considered a threat to the new establishment were quickly executed. They also employed 300 “lash-bearers” to patrol the city, harassing and terrorizing the city’s population into submission. Around 1,500 of Athens’s most prominent figures not in favor of Spartan rule were forced to take poison hemlock.

Interestingly enough, the more violent the Tyrants were with the city’s population, the more opposition they faced. This poor state of affairs eventually resulted in a successful rebellion 13 months later, lead by Thrasybulus, one of the few who managed to escape into exile. With the Athenian restoration, the before-mentioned 3,000 were given amnesty, while the rest, the Thirty included, were executed. Critias died in the initial attack. Riddled with corruption, betrayals and violence, the Tyrants’ short rule ensured severe mistrust among the Athenians themselves in the years to come.

1. The Famous Battle of Thermopylae

Made popular today by the 1998 comic book series, and the 2006 movie 300, the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC was an epic engagement between the few Greeks under the Spartan King Leonidas I and the many Persians under King Xerxes. The whole conflict began even before these two became rulers, during the reign of Xerxes’ predecessor, Darius I. He already expanded his borders into mainland Europe and then set his sights on Greece itself. When Darius died and Xerxes took power in 486 BC, he immediately began preparations for an invasion; the biggest threat Greece had ever faced.

After much deliberation between the many Greek city-states, a combined force of around 7,000 hoplites was sent to defend the pass of Thermopylae against the advancing Persian army. (Somehow the graphic novel and movie failed to mention those other 6,700 warriors, including the legendary Athenian naval fleet.) Among that 7,000 were the famous 300 Spartans lead by King Leonidas himself. Xerxes amassed around 80,000 troops for the invasion, though the numbers vary a lot. The relatively small Greek force was due in part to their unwillingness to send troops so far north. The other reason was more religious, for it was the period of the sacred games at Olympia and the most important Spartan religious festival, the Karneia, during which no fighting was allowed. In any case, Leonidas realized the peril they were facing and chose 300 of his most loyal men, who all had male heirs.

Located some 95 miles north of Athens, Thermopylae was an excellent defensive position. Only at about 50 feet wide, and cramped between an almost vertical cliff-face and the sea itself, the Persians couldn’t effectively deploy their vastly superior numbers. This gave the Greeks a tremendous advantage, coupled with a defensive wall already built there. When Xerxes finally arrived, he waited four days in the hopes of the Greeks retreating, which didn’t happen. He then sent his envoys one last time, asking they lay down their arms, to which Leonidas replied “come and get them.” For the following two days the Greeks withstood the many Persian attacks, including those of the infamous Immortals. Betrayed by a local shepherd who told Xerxes about a hidden pass through the mountains, Leonidas would soon find himself surrounded.

Learning of this unfortunate turn of events, he dismissed most of the other hoplites under his command, and kept only his Spartans and a few others to make the last stand. When the final attack came, the mighty Leonidas, as well as his 300 Spartans fell, fulfilling their duty towards their people and to Sparta itself. Even to this day, there’s an inscription at Thermopylae which says: “Go tell the Spartans, you who read: We took their orders and here lie dead.” Now even if Leonidas didn’t win the battle, what he did manage to achieve reverberated through the following wars with the Persians, leading the Spartans to lead the resistance and defeat their overwhelming conquerors. This battle also ensured that Sparta will forever be remembered in history as one of the world’s most unique and powerful civilizations.


It’s All Greek to Me

Spartan Facts

Human Evolution Handbook – WIF Speculation

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Possible Reasons

Why

Humans Evolved

evolution-of-humans

Before we start, let’s look at three common misconceptions about human evolution. The first is that humans evolved from apes, gorillas, or chimpanzees. While we do share a lot of DNA with them, they are actually more like our evolutionary cousins. We share a common ancestor, but split from their evolutionary path about six to seven million years ago. Then, over the next several million years, our ancestors gradually evolved to early modern humans about 200,000 years ago.

Secondly, according to most theories, Homo sapiens just didn’t appear by themselves as the only species of human. Many scientists believe that there were at least 15 to 20 different types of early humans, which are part of the Hominin classification. These other groups of humans are called tribes. A notable one is Neanderthals. All other tribes of Hominin have died out except for Homo sapiens.

Finally, to say we are more evolved than our primate cousins is a bit misleading. Yes, we have a higher intelligence level. But if you and a chimp were dropped in the middle of the jungle, who would be more likely to survive? Instead, humans are the way they are because of the concept known as “survival of the fittest.” Essentially this means that we had the right tool, at the right time, and this ensured our survival. For example, let’s say you’re locked in an airless glass case with one random tool. If you have a saw, you may not survive, but if you have a hammer, you would. Being locked in that case with a hammer doesn’t make you better or more evolved. You just had the right tool at the right time. Evolution works in a similar way.

So now that we got that out of the way, the question becomes: what caused humans to evolve the way they did? One interesting thing to note is that since humans are so complex, and evolution took place over several million years, all, some, or none of these theories may be true.

 10. The Stoned Ape Theory

Easily, the most far-out explanation for why humans evolved is that they ate psilocybin mushrooms; also known as magic mushrooms. The theory comes from Terence McKenna. As you may have guessed, he was a strong advocate for recreational use of psychedelic drugs made from plants.

McKenna’s “Stoned Ape Theory” is that, about 18,000 years ago, near the end of the last glacial period, the jungles of North Africa started to recede and gave way to the grasslands. Our ancient ancestors came down out of the trees and started to follow around a herd of ungulates, which are large mammals like horses and rhinoceroses. Our ancestors ate the magic mushrooms that started to grow in their dung. McKenna also claims that the mushroom spores came from outer space. Supposedly, our ancestors mostly lived off the mushrooms, which altered their minds. This led to the development of spoken language.

However, 12,000 years ago, due to climate change, the mushrooms were largely removed from their diet. While their brain had evolved so they could talk, early humans ultimately reverted back to their primate social structures, ones that we are still living in today.

Of course, not many people in the scientific community think the theory is true. But there is evidence to back it up. For one, mushrooms are pretty resilient because they can grow in the dark on decaying organic material, so there’s a good chance they could survive on alien planets. Also, spores can be moved by electrostatic forces, which are rather weak, so they travel well. Finally, scientists have recently shown that magic mushrooms do change brain connectivity. So, just maybe, McKenna was on to something. But more likely, he was just on something.

9. The Aquatic Ape Theory

One thing that separates us from a lot of other tribes of Hominin, and other mammals in general, is that we are nearly furless. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why we lost most of our body hair, but it’s believed to be for evolutionary reasons. One theory that was first proposed in the early 1940s is “The Aquatic Ape Theory.”

The theory is that 6-8 million years ago, our apelike ancestors looked for food by swimming. However, fur isn’t ideal for life in the water. So, we shed the hair and developed higher body fat, like aquatic mammals such as walruses and cetaceans (whales and dolphins). The theory is controversial and has yet to be proved.

8. One Human Started it All

In the introduction, we talked about how evolution happened over millions of years. It was a bunch of small changes, and not one sudden, drastic change. A theory that goes completely against this comes from Colin Blakemore, an Oxford neurobiologist. His theory is based on the fact that, about 200,000 years ago, there was a huge jump in the size of the human brain, where it increased about 30%. This sudden increase was odd because, starting three million years ago, the size of the human brain only gradually increased.

 Blakemore believes that this jump was caused by one person, a woman who lived about 200,000 years ago that all humans can be traced back to called “Mitochondrial Eve.” He speculates that she had a mutation in her brain, that either first happened in her brain or was passed on to her by a close relative. This mutation led to massive brain growth. Blakemore says that even a change in one gene would have been enough for the brain to grow as big as it did. Also, the genetic mutation was so dominant that it was passed on through generations. Then, when environmental conditions changed because of things like climate change, droughts, and other problems, the descendants of Eve would have been more capable of handling the problems, making them better able to survive.

7. The Killer Ape Theory

Violence is considered one of the worst human traits, but it may be the reason for our evolution. According to “The Killer Ape Theory,” which was first proposed by anthropologist Raymond Dart in 1963, the fact that humans are aggressive, like violence, are cruel, and will kill in cold blood are the reason that humans evolved. The theory says that early humans would move into other areas, even ones they didn’t need, and through vicious acts, which included cannibalism and killing members of other tribes by ripping them limb from limb, they would take over the area.

This would have a three prong effect. First is that it would decrease the population of other tribes of Hominin. Second, our ancestors would have had the best areas of land and access to the most resources. Finally, if they moved into an area and killed all the males, then they would have mated with the women, ensuring that human DNA was passed on. However, evidence to back up the theory is inconclusive.

6. Disease

Another theory as to why our ancestors shed their fur was to rid themselves of parasites like ticks and lice. These parasites would not have only been annoying, but would have carried diseases with them like malaria, West Nile, and Lyme disease. In some cases, these diseases would have been deadly.

The problem was fur is needed on most primates because it helps regulate body temperature. This is where the human brain comes in. Humans could do two things that other Hominin couldn’t: build fires, and make clothing. This would have helped us regulate our body temperature, thereby eliminating the need for fur.

5. Food

A major difference between Homo sapiens and other species of Hominin is that we were able to build fires. In turn, this allowed us to cook our food. According to researchers, cooking two types of food helped in our evolution. The first one is meat. Human ancestors started eating meat about 2.6 million years ago, but it’s possible they were butchering meat as early as 3.4 million years ago. Eating meat had a twofold effect on human evolution. The first was that the diet would have altered the brain by creating more neurons. Secondly, hunting for food was a group activity that would have helped early humans develop verbal communication and planning skills.

The other food that helped in our evolution, which may surprise devotees of the Paleo diet, is carbohydrates. A study from the University of Sydney found that the human brain would not have been able to evolve unless early humans ate meat and starchy carbs like nuts, fruits, and vegetables similar to potatoes. The carbs were needed for the evolution of the brain because the human brain needs glucose in order to function. In fact, the brain uses 60% of the blood glucose, meaning early humans would have needed carbs in their diet.

4. Climate Change

 Since the days when early humans first appeared, the Earth has undergone hot spells and cold spells. Each time there was a major change in climate, it coincided with large evolutionary leaps, like bigger brains and the ability to use complex tools. This has led researchers to believe that humans evolved to deal with the uncertainty of the environment.

The problem with the theory is that researchers aren’t sure why climate change would have caused these giant leaps. However, they believe that every change could have impacted a different trait. For example, when the earth was hot and there was less water, early humans would have needed to learn to plan to ensure they get water and food. But then during wet periods, planning wouldn’t have been as necessary and something like sexual selection could become more important.

All of these traits that were affected by changes in climate make up the mosaic of the modern human.

3. Interbreeding

 About 60,000 years ago, early Homo sapiens left Africa. When they did, they encountered other Hominin like the Neanderthals and the Denisovans and all of us got a little busy with each other. This intermingling led to a hybridization, which altered the human evolutionary line. This interbreeding would have sped up changes in evolution. These changes would have helped us adapt in areas outside of Africa, which allowed humans to spread across the planet in about 45,000 to 55,000 years.

Evidence to back this up is that people today have traces of Neanderthal and Denisovan in their DNA. Genetic testing shows that Europeans and Asians have about one to four percent Neanderthal DNA and people from Southeast Asia have up to 6% Denisovan DNA. As for people who never left Africa, about 3,000 years ago, there was a migration back to Africa. So even African people have some traces of Neanderthal DNA.

2. Walking Upright (Bipedalism)

One of the major things that set humans apart from our Hominin relatives is the size of our brain. Over the course of human evolution, the human brain has more than tripled in size and the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for complex mental functions, was reorganized. This change happened about 200,000 years ago and researchers are unsure why.

One theory is that it may be a result of humans walking on two feet, which started about four million years ago in one of our ancient evolutionary ancestors. The theory is that over this time, the shape of the pelvis changed and the birth canal became narrower. This led to babies being born with soft skulls so they could maneuver through the narrow birth canal. Due to the soft skulls, it allowed the human brain to expand, thus leading to modern day humans millions of years later.

1. We Could Throw Things

 Located in the Republic of Georgia is Dmanisi, the oldest known Hominin settlement outside of Africa. The fossils from the area are about 1.8 million years old and Dmanisi may hold a clue as to why humans evolved. Based on findings at the site, researchers believe that humans evolved because our ancestors could throw rocks.

The theory is based on the fact that our ancestor, Homo erectus, survived in the Dmanisi area despite the presence of large cats, like saber-toothed tigers and leopards. The Dmanisi people were small and didn’t have much in the way of natural defenses, like claws or fangs. At the site, the researchers found plenty of rocks, which led them to believe that, at first, early humans used rocks by throwing them at large predators to keep them away while they ate. Eventually, the ability to throw rocks was used to hunt and to trick the big cats and steal their food.

This ability to throw made us more human in two different ways. One is that it helped socialize us because bands of humans would have worked together to hunt and trick other predators. Secondly, in the brain, there’s something called Broca’s area. This is a region of the brain that’s responsible for hand and eye coordination, which is needed to throw a rock at a target. The region is associated with higher mental functions such as speech and communication. That means there’s a chance that throwing helped developed speech, which was a major milestone in the evolution of humans.


Human Evolution Handbook

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WIF Speculation

Superconductivity Handbook – WIF Into the Future

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Superconductivity

Powering

Our Future

Light-Driven Superconductivity

A follow-up discovery to electricity in the early 20th century was superconductivity, which is the complete loss of electrical resistance and displacement of magnetic fields when certain materials are cooled to a critical temperature.

Superconductivity has come a long way since its discovery in the early 20th century too receiving the Nobel Prize in physics in 1987.

There are numerous applications of superconductivity being developed and implemented and it is these applications that once again will change our civilization far into the future in the same way that electricity did in the 20th century.

10. ITER

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is a joint venture involving seven bodies of government. ITER is currently one of the most expensive public scientific projects in history. The goal of ITER is to prove fusion is viable by getting more energy out than putting in. ITER is being built in France and will be the largest tokamak ever built. A tokamak is a device using a magnetic field to confine a plasma in the shape of a torus. The amount of temperatures ITER plans to induce inside the tokamak will be between 150-300 million degrees Celsius. At those temperatures, the isotopes of hydrogen (e.g. deuterium) can be fused turning into one of the four states of matter (e.g. plasma). The tokamak will require large superconducting coils to create an immense magnetic field to contain the plasma. The challenge that lies ahead for ITER is vast because there are other means to produce fusion in addition to the tokamak. It is likely that ITER will continues on its path to become operational by the late 2020’s and will demonstrate that fusion energy is attainable. However, companies like General Fusion and Lockheed Martin will likely bring fusion energy to the commercial market before ITER ever gets turned on.

9. Quantum Train

Magnetic levitation (maglev) is on the verge of being adopted in many new modes of transport, but few are adopting HTSM (High Temperature Superconducting Maglev). Although maglev can be created by a number of different processes, the most promising are the companies who are taking full advantage of the Meisnner Effect. The Meisnner Effect allows trains to float on a permanent magnetic guide way. There is currently a lot of buzz around Japan’s proposal to build a HTSM train which could achieve 600 km per hour. Japan’s HTSM train developed by JR Central has its limitations due to extremely expensive cost but the Japanese government intends to develop a superconducting maglev line between Tokyo to Nagoya costing well over $200 billion until completion. A more cost effective HTSM train is known as theQuantum Train. A Quantum Train being proposed by the Dutch would modify existing railway and would cut cost significantly compared to the Japanese proposal.  The Quantum Train intends to exceed 3000 km per hour due to the adoption of patented evacuated tube transport.

8. MRIs

When a patient slides into a modern Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine, superconductivity is what drives the medical imaging technique used in radiology.   MRI scanners use magnetic fields and radio waves to form images of the body. The technique is widely used in hospitals for medical diagnosis, staging of disease and for follow-up without exposure to ionizing radiation. MRI’s use strong magnetic fields and require superconducting coils that are cooled via liquid helium. MRI’s are certainly the most familiar application of superconductivity in the modern world. MRI’s have made a myriad of diagnosis varying from malignant tumors, schizophrenia, heart disease, and so much more. It is clear that use of MRI machines have proved to the world that superconductivity has immense benefits for the wellbeing of mankind. MRI machines in hospitals across the globe have saved millions of lives, all in thanks to superconductivity.

7. HTS Motor

High Temperature Superconductivity (HTS) is the driving force in the field of superconductivity. Historically, superconductor materials required very cold critical temperatures only achieved with the use of expensive cryogens such as liquid helium that operate at only a few degrees above Kelvin (absolute zero).  HTS materials operate at a much higher critical temperature (e.g. 70 K) and require much cheaper cryogens such as liquid nitrogen.  The typical motor requires lots of copper wire, materials and are highly inefficient when compared to an HTS motor. It is no surprise that the USA Navy is paving the way by being the first to apply HTS motors to their armada which will provide savings in energy costs while taking efficiency to a new level.

6. Elevators

The future of cities is leading to the Megacity; super dense populations of over 10 million residents or more. High Rises will abound and the way people are transported within these “walled cities” will change. The design of the current day elevator has not materially changed for over 160 years and has limited architects from building new, bold and completely different shapes for high rises. The use of new magnetically levitating elevators for skyscrapers will completely change architectural design for high rises going forward. Superconducting elevators will allow Megacities to flourish and will allow for theoretical Mega Structures to reach well over a mile high into the atmosphere.   Superconducting elevators take advantage of the Meisner effect and use a series of Linear Induction Motors to accelerate the magnetically levitating elevators cabins vertically and horizontally. The world tallest building in Dubai, Burj Khalifa, will seem trivial in height in the coming decades.

5. StarTram

It costs a lot of money to send anything into space, billions are spent yearly to send satellites into LEO and the International Space Station (ISS) has exceeded over $125 billion in costs. And because of cost, StarTram is still considered by overwhelming majority as unfeasible in today’s world. But StarTram would make it possible to send cargo and passengers into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  Dr. James Powell, co-inventor of StarTram, is considered way ahead of his time and a true “All Star” in the world of superconductivity. Dr. Powell invented superconducting maglev in the late 60’s and his contributions to superconductivity are substantial to say the least.

The principles behind StarTram involves 100’s of miles of connected tubes evacuated of air that would reach 14 miles into the atmosphere. A SkyTram space portal would be located at a mountain range a few miles above sea level (e.g. Mongolia) to negate some of the cost of connecting the tubes from sea level to 20 miles high. SkyTram’s tubes will be lined with permanent magnets while SkyTram’s superconducting maglev pods will be able to accelerate through the evacuated tubes (no air resistance) at well over Mach 20 to reach LEO. The estimated cost of SkyTram is over $60 billion and would take massive coordination, both political and business in nature, to make SkyTram a reality. As a species, we have always been pondering what lies across the vastness between the stars and it is absolutely critical as a species to survive to get off this ‘Pale Blue Dot’. StarTram would greatly reduce the cost of space travel and would lead to the building of starships such as the superconductive EmDrive which would allow civilization to travel between the stars.

4. EM Drive

Quite possible the greatest discovery in propulsion systems in the history of mankind is the implications of the EM Drive. The EM Drive was Invented by British engineer Roger Shawyer in 2000 and has been shunned by the scientific community for over a decade because the EM Drive indicates its breaking Newton’s 3rd law of thermodynamic, the conservation of momentum. However, Chinese scientists in 2010 and scientist from NASA in 2014 confirmed Roger’s EM Drive that by converting electricity into electromagnetic microwaves inside a specially designed chamber exhibited measurable thrust. The ramifications of the EM Drive means that no propellant is needed to propel a satellite or spaceship across the medium of space, just a source of energy (e.g. radioactive materials).

Despite the skepticism and controversy the EM Drive has brought upon the scientific community, the superconducting EM Drive version would allow increase in thrust efficiency by a huge margin. Star Trek spaceships powered by EM Drives could reach 60% the speed of light after a few years of constant thrust. The physics behind the EM Drive is so revolutionary that the superconductive version is years away and the EM Drive wouldn’t be limited to space explorations. Roger says it best, “superconducting EM Drives will be ‘powerful enough to lift a large car’ (under Earths gravity)”.

3. LHC

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), one of the most expensive completed scientific experimental project in history has brought the discovery of the Higgs Boson. As a result of the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the Noble prize in physics was awarded to Peter Higgs & Francois Englert and has brought some closure to the Standard Model in particle physics. Multiple experiments are being done at the LHC to bridge the gap between the world of quantum mechanics and the world of general relativity. The role of superconductivity for the particle accelerator has been crucial for LHC’s success. In order for the LHC to accelerate protons close to the speed of light, strong magnetic fields and a vacuumed environment are needed to keep the protons on their trajectory. High levels of electrical current are needed to accelerate the protons to high speeds and superconductive coils allow for the electrical currents to flow without additional energy and zero resistance.

In the decade to come, China proposes to build a much larger particle accelerator than the LHC; over 54 km in diameter compared to LHC’s 17 km diameter. The role of ‘atom smashers’ will play an important role to our understanding of the observable universe. Particle accelerators are capable of producing anti matter, at a current cost of $62.5 trillion per gram, and perhaps the cost of anti-matter will follow Moors Law in the coming half century to allow for practical use of anti-matter for numerous applications.

2. HTS Power cables

Currently, almost all transmission of electrical current is via copper wire. In the USA alone, 6% of electricity is lost in transmission according to the EIA.  That 6% equates to 10’s of billions of dollars ‘flushed down the toilet’ due to poor transmission of electricity. The case is a lot worse for developing countries like India. In 2000 India reported a 30% loss of electrical current in transition across their utility lines but has subsequently made improvements and increased the efficiency of transmitting electricity to 18%. A much more efficient way of transmission is through the use ofHTS powercables , which provides 0% loss of electrical current during transmission. High Temperature Superconductors, such as HTS Powercables, use much cheaper cryogens like liquid nitrogen (Nitrogen is 78% of earth atmosphere).  A gallon of liquid nitrogen is 4 times cheaper than a gallon of milk. HTS power cables have become economically viable.

HTS power cables also require a lot less material than copper wire to transmit equal amount of current.  In the USA, the DOE has multiple HTS power cable project across the country to increase the grids efficiency, reduce carbon footprint, and save money. The case for HTS power cables to be adopted across the globe is strong. Germany has tested the world longest HTS power cable line of 1 km and has worked without a glitch. The most mind boggling notion surrounding HTS power-cables, combined with Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies (ET3), is its capabilities to store well over 15 TW (terawatts) of energy on a global scale.

1. Space Travel on Earth

The future of transport is on the verge of becoming a ‘physical world wide web’ of evacuated tubes (ETs) via ET3 (Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies). The case for tube transport had reached its tipping point when Elon Musk met with the ET3 team 2 weeks before he made his Hyperloop announcement 3 years ago. ET3 has been 25 years in the making. ET3’s first patent was in 1999 and dozens more have been developed since then.

ET3 involves a series of factors: evacuating 1.5 diameter tubes of air via vacuum pumps, linear electrical motors, and most importantly HTS superconductors and permanent magnets. Car sized capsules enter the evacuated tubes via airlocks and each capsule holds a cryostat that cools the HTS material on each capsule. A few gallons of liquid nitrogen could keep an ET3 capsule levitated for 4 hours.

So much attention has brought upon the Hyperloop yet ET3 has gone through over 15 years of R&D and is ready to be built right now. ET3 also goes by Space Travel On Earth because it brings ‘space like conditions down to earth’ (e.g. an evacuated environment is a void with only a few particles per million; like outer space). The implication of Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) on the global scale will bring the world ever more connected. ETT capsules (800 lbs per) transporting food, waste, oil, freight, data, persons, energy, etc. will be able to travel over 400 mph in local Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) evacuated tube networks while international routes could reach 4,000 mph. Once Space Travel on Earth is implemented, it will have a far reaching impact on the world economy & would literally double the standard of living for all.


Superconductivity Handbook

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Tourist Attractions that No Longer Exist – WIF Forgotten Travel

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Forgotten Tourist

Attractions that

No Longer Exist

1. Wawoma Tree, Yosemite National Park

Back in 1881 a tunnel was carved through this 2,100-year old sequoia tree in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park. By the late 1910s (when it’s likely this photograph was taken) the tree was popular with tourists, keen to be pictured driving right through the 234-foot (71.3m) high natural wonder. Even President Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1903.

2. Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Two mammoth Buddha statues – the tallest in the world, in fact – once looked out from a sandstone cliffside in Bamiyan. They were carved in the 6th century, with the tallest topping out at 180 feet (55m). But, in 2001, these Buddhist effigies were destroyed by the Taliban.

3. Duckbill Rock Formation, Oregon

Slide 6 of 39: Named, as you might have guessed, for its likeness to a duck’s bill, this rock formation once drew camera-wielding tourists to Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. The sandstone hoodoo stood around seven-foot (2m) tall and, carved out over millennia, had most likely occupied its coastal spot for millions of years.

Named, as you might have guessed, for its likeness to a duck’s bill, this rock formation once drew camera-wielding tourists to Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. The sandstone hoodoo stood around seven-foot (2m) tall and, carved out over millennia, had most likely occupied its coastal spot for millions of years.

4. Sutro Baths, San Francisco

Slide 8 of 39: If you picture San Francisco, attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island or Lombard Street might spring to mind. But did you know that the city was once home to the world’s largest indoor swimming pool establishment? The impressive complex included six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool, with capacity for 10,000 people.

If you picture San Francisco, attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island or Lombard Street might spring to mind. But did you know that the city was once home to the world’s largest indoor swimming pool establishment? The impressive complex included six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool, with capacity for 10,000 people.

5. Pink and White Terraces, Lake Rotomahana, New Zealand

Slide 10 of 39: Back in the mid-19th century, these gorgeous, naturally formed cascading pools attracted tourists from across the globe and were one of the biggest draws for those visiting the Southern Hemisphere. Often dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world”, they were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Tarawera back in 1886. Now their glory is captured only by a handful of paintings, like this one by English artist Charles Blomfield.

Back in the mid-19th century, these gorgeous, naturally formed cascading pools attracted tourists from across the globe and were one of the biggest draws for those visiting the Southern Hemisphere. Often dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world”, they were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Tarawera back in 1886. Now their glory is captured only by a handful of paintings, like this one by English artist Charles Blomfield.

6. Vidámpark, Budapest, Hungary

Slide 14 of 39: While it may not possess stunning architecture or natural beauty, this former amusement park was an institution for thrill-seekers. The attraction offered several historic rides, including the City Wave Roller, a wooden roller coaster built in 1922, and a carousel built in 1906.

While it may not possess stunning architecture or natural beauty, this former amusement park was an institution for thrill-seekers. The attraction offered several historic rides, including the City Wave Roller, a wooden roller coaster built in 1922, and a carousel built in 1906.

7. Guaíra Falls, Paraguay/Brazil

Slide 16 of 39: Thirty-seven years ago, on the border between Paraguay and Brazil, there lay one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. Comprising a series of 18 falls, with the tallest 130-feet (40m) high, this natural wonder attracted tourists from across the globe, who were captivated by its immense power and beauty.

Thirty-seven years ago, on the border between Paraguay and Brazil, there lay one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. Comprising a series of 18 falls, with the tallest 130-feet (40m) high, this natural wonder attracted tourists from across the globe, who were captivated by its immense power and beauty.

8. West Pier, Brighton, UK

Slide 18 of 39: Today, Brighton’s Palace Pier is a beloved attraction in this seaside town, but just along the coastline you’ll find the skeletal remains of an older pier. Opened in 1866, during the Victorian boom for seaside vacations, the West Pier featured a concert hall, funfair and tearoom and was extremely popular in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Today, Brighton’s Palace Pier is a beloved attraction in this seaside town, but just along the coastline you’ll find the skeletal remains of an older pier. Opened in 1866, during the Victorian boom for seaside vacations, the West Pier featured a concert hall, funfair and tearoom and was extremely popular in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

9. Porcelain Tower, Nanjing, China

Slide 20 of 39: If you’ve ever smashed a piece of porcelain crockery, you might think that a 260-foot (79m) tower made from the stuff is not the smartest idea. Yet, surprisingly, this architectural gem lasted for around 400 years, from the 14th to 19th centuries, before being destroyed by rebels. In its day, it showcased a traditional pagoda style, adorned with colorful Buddhist imagery and lit up by lanterns at night.

If you’ve ever smashed a piece of porcelain crockery, you might think that a 260-foot (79m) tower made from the stuff is not the smartest idea. Yet, surprisingly, this architectural gem lasted for around 400 years, from the 14th to 19th centuries, before being destroyed by rebels. In its day, it showcased a traditional pagoda style, adorned with colorful Buddhist imagery and lit up by lanterns at night.

10. The Hippodrome Theatre, New York City

Slide 22 of 39: If you had walked down to 1120 6th Avenue in New York one hundred years ago, you’d have been greeted by the sight of this spectacular theater. The giant 5,697-seat Hippodrome was the brainchild of entrepreneurs Frederick Thompson and Elmer Scipio Dundy, who enticed new middle-class customers with lower ticket prices and made theater accessible for all.

If you had walked down to 1120 6th Avenue in New York one hundred years ago, you’d have been greeted by the sight of this spectacular theater. The giant 5,697-seat Hippodrome was the brainchild of entrepreneurs Frederick Thompson and Elmer Scipio Dundy, who enticed new middle-class customers with lower ticket prices and made theater accessible for all.

11. Jeffrey Pine, Yosemite

Slide 24 of 39: Yes, it’s just a tree – but it’s possibly one of the most photographed trees ever, after landscape photographer Ansel Adams brought it to fame back in 1940. With its dramatic, keeled-over shape, the tree became a popular photo stop for visitors to Yosemite National Park, and it showed the effects of more than 400 years of windy weather.

Yes, it’s just a tree – but it’s possibly one of the most photographed trees ever, after landscape photographer Ansel Adams brought it to fame back in 1940. With its dramatic, keeled-over shape, the tree became a popular photo stop for visitors to Yosemite National Park, and it showed the effects of more than 400 years of windy weather.

12. Love Locks Bridge, Paris

Slide 26 of 39: This quirky tradition saw tourists flocking to the City of Love to express their amor by signing theirs and their partner's names on padlocks, before attaching them to the Pont des Arts over the River Seine. The practice became so popular that at one point the bridge contained one million padlocks weighing around 45 tons.

This quirky tradition saw tourists flocking to the City of Love to express their amor by signing theirs and their partner’s names on padlocks, before attaching them to the Pont des Arts over the River Seine. The practice became so popular that at one point the bridge contained one million padlocks weighing around 45 tons.

13. Penn Station, New York City

Slide 30 of 39: The former Penn Station, opened in 1910, was a striking sight: designed in the Beaux Arts style, it featured pink granite, vaulted glass windows, giant stone pillars and archways. Unfortunately, like many grand buildings, it cost a hefty sum to maintain, so in 1962 it was demolished – despite the backlash from many New Yorkers.

The former Penn Station, opened in 1910, was a striking sight: designed in the Beaux Arts style, it featured pink granite, vaulted glass windows, giant stone pillars and archways. Unfortunately, like many grand buildings, it cost a hefty sum to maintain, so in 1962 it was demolished – despite the backlash from many New Yorkers.

14. Royal Opera House, Valletta, Malta

Slide 32 of 39: When Valletta’s Royal Opera House was built in the 1860s, it was a neo-classical jewel drawing big-name Maltese and international artists, as well as up-and-coming acts. Sadly, though, its life was short. In the 1870s, the venue was ravaged by fire and its interior was badly damaged. 

When Valletta’s Royal Opera House was built in the 1860s, it was a neo-classical jewel drawing big-name Maltese and international artists, as well as up-and-coming acts. Sadly, though, its life was short. In the 1870s, the venue was ravaged by fire and its interior was badly damaged.

15. The Azure Window, Gozo, Malta

Slide 36 of 39: You might recognize this stunning natural formation – it’s been featured in Game of Thrones, The Count of Monte Cristo and Clash of Titans, as well as on many an Instagram feed. The arch was formed by the collapse of a coastal cave, probably in the 19th century, and was a popular spot for photographs.

You might recognize this stunning natural formation – it’s been featured in Game of ThronesThe Count of Monte Cristo and Clash of Titans, as well as on many an Instagram feed. The arch was formed by the collapse of a coastal cave, probably in the 19th century, and was a popular spot for photographs.

16. Crystal Palace, London, UK

Slide 38 of 39: Once a Victorian masterpiece, this impressive glass and steel structure was built in 1851 in London’s Hyde Park – it was later moved to Penge Place, in the south of the capital, where it remained for 82 years. In the palace's heyday, its grounds were home to a mind-boggling array of delights: a roller coaster, festivals, cricket matches and even a garden complete with model dinosaurs.

Once a Victorian masterpiece, this impressive glass and steel structure was built in 1851 in London’s Hyde Park – it was later moved to Penge Place, in the south of the capital, where it remained for 82 years. In the palace’s heyday, its grounds were home to a mind-boggling array of delights: a roller coaster, festivals, cricket matches and even a garden complete with model dinosaurs.


Tourist Attractions that

No Longer Exist

WIF Forgotten Travel

I’ve Got a Secret – WIF Military Bases

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Super “Secret”

Military Bases

World militaries have a strange function in society these days, having to be both present and visible yet secretive and under the radar in many regards. We all know the military exists, but what they do is often so under wraps they’ll deny doing it even when people can see them doing it. Case in point: Area 51. The Nevada base is highly classified and the CIA only admitted the base was a real thing in 2013, despite the fact people could literally go there and see it. So we take it with a grain of salt these days that the military, in the US and abroad, will engage in not just clandestine missions, but build bases that the rest of us aren’t supposed to know about. Here are 10 of the most interesting.

10. Pine Gap

For a secret base, an awful lot of people know about the joint US and Australian base called Pine Gap. That’s mostly thanks to the fact there’s an actual TV show called Pine Gap. Developed in the 1960s as a joint operation between the two countries and given the ambiguously vague name “Joint Defense Space Research Facility,” Pine Gap was built in the Australian Outback away from prying eyes.

In the ‘60s, the base was used to spy on Soviet missiles and these days it still has control over a number of spy satellites. As far as people know that’s what still goes on but it doesn’t get much more clear than that. Even former Australian Prime Ministers weren’t informed about what happens on the base.

Edward Snowden’s data leak in 2013 included information on Pine Gap and how the base and its satellite network helped guide drone strikes in Iraq and elsewhere during the War on Terror. Additionally, it has been a hub of surveillance, spying on targets in Asia.

That’s what we know about Pine Gap today, and odds are there’s plenty that we still don’t know.

9. Porton Down

Across the pond, the British secret base known officially as the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory is located at Porton Down. There are other facilities on the site, even commercial science labs, but it is the DSTL that interested most people. Formed back in 1916 as the War Department Experimental Station, this was where chemical weapons were tested.

In modern times the site still does research into chemical weapons but also diseases. The site researches things like ebola and anthrax as well as deadly nerve agents. Officially, according to the British government, Porton Down does no research into chemical or biological weapons anymore. Those British programs were said to have ended in the 1950s. That said, as a countermeasure to other people developing chemical and biological weapons, the facility does develop them in small quantities for research purposes in an effort to counteract those weapons.

8. Area 6

Everyone knows about Area 51 but not everyone knows that it isn’t just a cool, random number and there are a multitude of other “capital A” Areas in Nevada as well, most of which were nuclear test sites back in the day. You can find a quick breakdown of Areas 1 through 30 on Wikipedia, even. But while this breakdown is fairly limited in scope and just lists every single site as having been the location of nuclear tests back in the day, there’s more to it than all that. For instance, there’s Area 6.

Located just 12 miles from the infamous Area 51, Area 6 is home to a mysterious landing strip visible on Google Earth that indicates there’s obviously more than just nuclear tests from the 1950s going on here.  A spokesman from the National Nuclear Security Administration said that the DOD and DHS use the area to test sensors. That means conducting drone tests, but that’s about the extent of what is publicly known about the facility.

7. Dugway Proving Ground

Spanning 800,000 acres of Utah desert, an area the size of Rhode Island, the Dugway Proving Grounds is as massive as it is mysterious. The facility dates back to 1942 when it was established to test biological and chemical weapons. The stated purpose of the facility is essentially the same as that of Porton Down in the UK. They test chemical and biological weapons to develop countermeasures against them.

The site is also used by the US Army Reserve and National Guard as a training grounds which is part of the reason it’s so enormous, and the US Air Force conducts test flights there as well.

Those who lean more towards the outlandish think there’s a lot more going on at Dugway and it’s been dubbed, at least in some circles, the New Area 51. The base opened its doors to the media for the first time in 2018 to potentially quell some of the rumors and conspiracy theories, but obviously the reveal was very controlled and only a small portion of the massive base was revealed.

6. Kapustin Yar

If Russia has an Area 51, this is it. Both in terms of alien conspiracy theories and in terms of secrecy. This was their most top secret air base and the place that Laika, the dog that became the first living thing ever to orbit the planet, was launched from. On the weirder side, former employees have alleged that there are underground labs where alien’ autopsies occur and alien craft are tested. To get some idea of how serious this alien business is, here’s a New York Times article about an alien crash that occurred near the base. Does that mean an alien ship crashed there? No. But someone sure reported that one did.

The existence of the site wasn’t even confirmed by the Soviet government until 1983, decades after the site had been built. It had been used not just for rocket launches and test flights but  low-yield nuclear tests. Most of the facility is located underground and to this day no one outside of those involved with the base really knows what goes on there or even how much base is located under the ground.

5. South China Sea Bases

Located mostly in the Spratley Islands and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese government engaged in a seriously impressive effort of dredging and island building, constructing 3,200 acres of new land. There are numerous facilities spread across the area used for radar, missile launches, and helicopters. More than that, they announced plans in 2016 to build an underwater base 10,000 feet below the surface. Why announce something like that if it’s a secret base? Why, indeed.

Those who fly too close to the bases are warned to leave immediately by Chinese forces so the precise goings-on at the bases are really just left to speculation and what the government is willing to tell the world since there is no way to get to them as isolated as they are. In fact, the nature of the bases is so mysterious it’s not fully known whether they are strictly military, they’re for controlling trade routes, or even if they’re being used to control natural gas and oil rights. Whatever their ultimate purpose, they are well-armed with surface-to-air missiles and ground-launched missile systems.

4. HAARP

Few military bases have reached the heights of conspiracy theories around them as much as the High Frequency Active Auroral Frequency Program, or HAARP has. In fact, this base may even outdo Area 51 for sheer volume of conspiracies about the nature of what goes on there, and it’s technically not even a military base anymore.

Located in Alaska, HAARP was an ionospheric research facility run jointly by the Air Force, the Navy, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and everyone’s favorite hub of conspiracy fodder, DARPA. It’s that last one that probably made so many people start to question what was happening at HAARP.

The stated goal of HAARP was to research ways to improve communication and surveillance technology by analyzing the ionosphere. One of the main conspiracies about the facility is that it was designed to weaponize the weather. Hugo Chavez once accused the facility of causing the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Other conspiracy theories claim that the facility has the capability to burn the sky, cause floods, hurricanes, and droughts. It’s also been accused of developing mind control technology, chronic fatigue syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, causing plane crashes and power outages. It can flip the Earth’s poles and even trap human souls.

As goofy as these conspiracies may sound, people take them seriously. That last one about trapping souls was a claim made by two men who were arrested on drug charges and found to be plotting a massive terrorist attack on the facility in 2016. The men had numerous weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo they were going to use because God told them to free the trapped souls at HAARP.

3. Dulce Base

The moment people learn about a base that’s secret, the first conspiracy to be floated about it is that it houses aliens. Welcome to New Mexico’s Dulce base, another hub of extraterrestrial involvement.

The town the base is named for, Dulce, has a population of just over 2,700. Word is they don’t even have a traffic light in town, it’s so small. But the base isn’t in the town. It’s under the ground. A New Mexico businessman blew the lid off of the alien conspiracy back in 1979, believing he had been intercepting alien communications around the same time a former state trooper began documenting animal mutilations in the area.

A former explosive engineer with security clearance said he helped in the construction of the facility and while he was there, he witnessed a straight up battle between humans and aliens, so take from that what you will. The town of Dulce has been home to numerous UFO sightings over the years as well.

As for the official word from the US government on Dulce, they don’t have one. Dulce doesn’t exist in any official or even unofficial capacity. No one has ever proven there’s a base anywhere in the area so if it exists, it’s incredibly well hidden.

2. Raven Rock Mountain

Known as Site R, the Raven Rock Mountain Complex is a poorly kept secret located in Pennsylvania and basically where control of the military would head in the event of nuclear war. They call it the Underground Pentagon and it was built to keep the whole machine running below ground if everything above ground was destroyed.

The facility is dug out of a mountain, a half mile in and a half mile down. It has a power plant, water reservoirs, three-story buildings carved into the rock, and room for 2,000. There’s infrastructure for having its own police and fire departments as well as a cafeteria to serve everyone. Essentially it’s a city inside a mountain and it’s still the go to location for high-ranking officials should the world fall into chaos.

The facility runs all day, every day and you have to assume that there’s a lot going on no one knows about since it’s planned to be the center of US power in the event of catastrophe. The existence is far from a secret though and it’s so well known you can even visit the facility in the world of Fallout video games.

1. Mount Yamantau and Mezhgorye

Deep in the Ural Mountains of Russia you’ll find Mount Yamantau which the US government is pretty sure is home to a top secret Russian base, equivalent to Cheyenne Mountain. Surveillance and eyewitnesses in the 1990s attested to a massive undertaking in the mountains that had apparently started during the reign of Brezhnev.

The official explanation from Russia about what goes on at Yamantau is about as unhelpful as it gets. They have at different times claimed it’s just a mining site, a storage facility for food or treasure, or a place for Russian officials to wait out a nuclear apocalypse.

A hop, skip, and a jump from Yamantau is the town of Mezhgorye, which is a closed city. You can’t visit this place unless the government gives you permission. That’s just as well since it doesn’t exist on maps, even though 17,000 people live there according to a census. But why would you take a census of a secret town? Military battalions are stationed there and between it and Yamantau there are supposed to be a whole underground facility and nuclear test sites in the area.


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Intrusive Programs

Run by

the NSA

Before Edward Snowden revealed us an unprecedented amount of the National Security Agency’s activities in 2013, most of us were only vaguely familiar with the shadowy organization and its information-gathering ways. The NSA has its tendrils in virtually every digital aspect of our daily life, to the point that one of their automated information-collecting programs is probably reading this right now (Hi!) and trying to figure out whether we’re a threat to national security (We really aren’t!).

While reports of their current activities are understandably few and far between, thanks to Mr. Snowden and his leaked documents we do have some insight into the things the NSA were up to in 2013 and before that … and it’s not pretty. Here’s a look at some of the agency’s strangest antics.

10. Angry Birds

No, it’s not just a fun code name, or, for that matter, even code name. It’s that Angry Birds.

In 2014, the Guardian reported that the NSA, along with its significantly less catchy British counterpart GCHQ, were looking into various techniques where they can sneak all up the “leaks” of your favorite phone apps, up to and very much including the world’s premier “Birds Vs. Pigs” game. The idea was to slip through the security cracks of the apps in order to reach the users’ personal data, which would provide the agencies with a number of significant advantages. They would gain access to a huge amount of the kind of data that would allow them to exploit people’s phone information on a mass scale, instead of just having to hack their way into our phones one by one like some commoner. Location, as well: When you use Google Maps to find a place, the NSA can use it to find you.

The NSA seems to put great value on such technology, to the point where one 2010 presentation called it a “Golden Nugget” before rattling off a long list of information the agency could gather from just a single picture uploaded on social media. Fortunately, this plan was among the documents Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, so at least we’re aware that some of America’s taxpayer dollars go towards surreptitiously scrolling through your contact lists as you play Candy Crush or whatever.

9. Boundless Informant

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Boundless Informant is a highly sophisticated data mining tool the NSA uses to analyze and record its surveillance information. It’s essentially a hyper-competent archivist that sifts through the sea of data and arranges it to neat folders. However, it doesn’t appear to do it by user — unless they decide to take a personal interest in you, Boundless Informant probably doesn’t have a folder of your most embarrassing emails and IMs. Instead, the system sifts through the incoming information by “counting and categorizing” the communications records metadata (sets of data that describe other data). However, the level of detail it goes to even includes individual IP addresses … which, as you may know, can totally be tracked down to the countries they’re from.

8. Dishfire

SMS texting is slowly but steadily going the way of the dodo as instant messaging platforms are taking over, but the NSA has been collecting them like they were coming back in fashion. According to the 2013 data leak, the Dishfire program performs a daily, global and supposedly untargeted sweep of SMS messages, and took them to a second program called Prefer, which automatically analyzed them for assorted red flags.

The agency was head over heels about this particular avenue of information collection, to the point where a 2011 presentation was titled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit.” They weren’t exactly wrong, either: automated messages, international roaming charge texts, missed call alerts, electronic business cards and text-to-text payments gave them access to unprecedentedly clear metadata in ridiculous droves.

To put the scale of the operations in context, at the time of the leaks the NSA was able to collect over five million missed-call alerts (for contact chaining analysis), Around 800,000 money transactions, 1.6 million border crossings, over 110,000 names, 76,000 people’s real-time locations, and a total of nearly 200 million SMS messages. Per day. 

7. Egoistical Goat and its friends

The anonymous Tor network is obviously a bit of a problem for an information-gathering entity like the NSA, but it appears the agency had already made some progress to lift the veil of secrecy as early as in 2013.

To crack down Tor’s information safe, the agency created a number of programs with increasingly stupid names, all lovingly crafted to compromise Tor user anonymity. There was Egoistical Goat and its sister programs Egoistical Giraffe and Erroneous Identity, which tried to worm their way in the Firefox parts of the Tor Bundles in order to identify users. Before them, the NSA had Mjoliner, which was meant to divert Tor users to insecure channels, and a marking operation called Mullenize, which was the online equivalent of a surveillance helicopter trying to shoot a tracking device in a car before it drives in a hidden tunnel. Meanwhile, NSA’s British version, GCHQ, did its level best to outdo its American counterpart’s ridiculous code names by trying to crack Tor with operations called Epicfail and Onionbreath.

Despite all their antics, the NSA’s success rate at identifying Tor users was spotty at best — but really, who knows what they have come up with since 2013?

6. GILGAMESH

It’s one thing for the NSA to want to know about people’s information, and completely another to use that information to find out your location and giving it to the Joint Security Operations Command in case they need to bomb someone. This explosive application of NSA tracking technology is called GILGAMESH, and it’s essentially what would happen if a bunch of NSA’s geolocation tracking technologies married a Predator drone.

Thanks to the vast array of online information available to them, the NSA has taken to recommending drone targets with complex metadata analysis instead of relying on human intelligence. However, the Intercept points out that while the tactic has had some success it has by no means been particularly accurate and reliable. One drone pilot operating with NSA-dictated targets has admitted it “absolutely” has resulted in innocent people getting killed.

5. Optic Nerve

To be fair, Optic Nerve was technically a brainchild of the British GCHQ, but since they NSA happily assisted in it, we’ll let it slide. It was a code-name for a surveillance program that surreptitiously collected a bunch of images from Yahoo’s webcam chats from all over the world by the million, with little to no regard whether the people they were collecting them from were persons of interest or not.  This might be pretty creepy in and of itself, but becomes doubly so when you remember the sort of stuff that tends to go on in webcam chats. Yes, we’re talking about nudity, and judging by the scale of the operation, there must have been plenty of it, too. In fact, leaked documents reveal that the GCHQ actually had some trouble keeping all the naked pictures away from the interested eyes of its employees, which in a way is even scarier than just stealing images in bulk.

Understandably, Yahoo was less than thrilled to find out about the situation, which they say happened only when the British media reached out to ask some questions. The company called Optic Nerve a “whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy,” and really, it’s hard to argue with them.

4. PRISM

PRISM is massive surveillance program that started in 2007 and came into light when the Washington Post and the Guardian whipped out a pile of leaked documents in 2013. Technically, PRISM was/is a system for monitoring foreign communication passing through American servers. However, in practice, they monitored everything they humanly could, and gathered their data from “providers” that you might be familiar with.

As of 2013, tiny little companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and the like had to hand the NSA remarkable access to their servers, and the vast buckets of data from their users that lays within. NSA can use this giant pool of information to a terrifying accuracy, to the point where they could just directly access your — yes, specifically your — information and spy on every little thing you do online. The only caveat is that some analyst in their machinery has to vouch that they’re, like, 51% sure that you’re probably foreign, maybe.

3. Upstream

If you thought the NSA was happy just spying what you do on the internet, worry not — there’s more to come. Upstream is basically the same deal as PRISM, only with telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T … and in a much more classic “spying” capacity. Where PRISM relies on intangible tech shenanigans of the “access to big company servers” variety, project Upstream has physically installed a host of surveillance equipment to the internet’s physical “backbone”: the routers, cables and other gear that carry all the online traffic.

The NSA uses this infiltration to track down specific keywords related to potential foreign intelligence activity, though even this noble-ish intent is rendered moot by the fact that they also often target the media, legal attorneys and human rights people instead of just supposed spies and suspected terrorists. The American Civil Rights Union has called the practice “unprecedented and unlawful.”

2. Bullrun

What good is stealing data from countless unwary people if you don’t know what to do with it? The NSA answered this question with code-name Bullrun, a state-of-the-art decryption program that can straight up decode the encryption used by several prominent providers, which means they can read your emails with the greatest of ease should the need arise. This powerful Sigint (signals intelligence) weapon is built by stealthily working with large tech companies to install weaknesses in their products, and then exploiting these openings with their own decryption tools. This way, the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ are able to browse through not only their targets’ emails, but banking accounts and medical history as well. Essentially, if you have personal information online, Bullrun can find out how to decrypt it.

Bullrun’s importance to the NSA can easily be seen by looking at its budget: When Edward Snowden brought the system out in the open in 2013, PRISM’s operating costs were around $20 million a year. Bullrun? Over $250 million.

1. FASCIA

The FASCIA database was among the more interesting documents Edwards Snowden leaked. It was a massive collection of metadata, consisting of all sorts of call information, IP addresses and suchlike. What made the project so impressive(ly scary) was its sheer scale: Though the document dates back to January 2004, it said that FASCIA II had over 85 billion metadata records, and an estimated 125 million were added on a daily basis. Leaked graphs (like the one above) indicate that the system has since evolved, and in 2012, FASCIA already received five billion device-location records every day. There’s no telling what that number is now, but smart money would probably say that it’s significantly larger.

The NSA started getting hold of all this metadata during the War on Terror by straight up forcing phone companies to hand it over to the agency. Originally, this data included pretty intimate stuff, such as the numbers you called and the duration of said calls, though not the actual content. In 2015, the process was slightly changed so that the NSA could only collect bulk metadata and looking at an individual person’s records would require a court order. Even so, the NSA has been known to call this system one of their “most useful tools,” and they say it has even helped them capture multiple terror suspects.


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The Most Secure

Bunkers in

the World

Heavily guarded buildings are awesome, and what buildings are better guarded than bunkers? These man-made cave complexes are custom designed to keep out everything that’s not invited in, and they’re often equipped with fantastic defenses and luxurious amenities that are a far cry from the brutal underground concrete boxes you probably imagine when you think of the word “bunker.” Let’s take a look at some of the most impressive ones out there!

10. The Nike missile bunker

The Nike missile bunkers (no relation to the sportswear manufacturer, as far as we know) were a pair of Cold War-era bunkers that were so secure, they were actually as effective offensively as they were defensively — if not more. The Nike bunker location started out as a strategic spot that defended the nearby Hanford Nuclear Facility, which is (in)famous for churning out two thirds of the plutonium used in U.S. nuclear weapons, including the plutonium used in the first atomic bomb that was tested in New Mexico in July 1945.

The bunkers were arguably at their mightiest from 1955 to 1958, when they housed a sophisticated air defense system of Ajax and Hercules missiles under the designation of “H-52.” The bunkers were later refashioned into an emergency operations center and, more recently, a Gravitation Physics Laboratory that was rendered in-operational in 2011. However, the legacy of Nike missile bunkers lives on in the Golden Gate Recreational Area in California, which houses a reconstructed Nike site that is open for public tours.

9. The Sonnenberg bunker

Every European and North American country worth its salt has a nuclear bunker or six thousand lying around, but few have gone as far as Switzerland. The alpine country is the home of Sonnenberg Bunker, an unassuming pair of mile-long motorway tunnels that can transform into a massive fallout shelter by closing the 350-ton blast doors at both ends.

The tunnels and the bunker complex hidden within them lie under the town of Lucerne, and was designed to house 20,000 people in the event of the nuclear threat everyone was afraid of at the time. However, soon after its completion in 1976, the Sonnenberg Bunker turned out to be a little less efficient than advertised. While it was highly secure and could technically house the amount of people it was supposed to, provisions were a problem. Since the kitchen facilities could only feed the bunker staff and the hospital, almost everyone taking cover inside it would’ve had to bring their own food with them — and store said food on the tiny bunk bed they were also supposed to sleep in. There was also the small matter that it took a whopping two weeks to close the blast doors and get the bunker operational, which seems a little slow for a structure that exists specifically to shelter people from a disaster that could come with precious little notice.

Despite its flaws, the Sonnenberg Bunker remains operational, though only at a fraction of its intended capacity: In 2006, it was wisely downsized to only accommodate 2,000 people.

8. Survival Condo Project

Survival isn’t just a primal instinct. For some people, it’s a chance to turn in a sweet profit. Larry Hall is one of these entrepreneurial spirits, as evidenced by his Survival Condo Project, which combines luxurious accommodations with all the Armageddon-proof safety that a nuclear missile silo can provide. In 2008, Hall coughed up $300,000 for an old nuclear missile silo in Kansas, and spent a further $20 million to turn it into a series of luxurious homes, complete with communal spaces and luxuries such as swimming pools and cinemas. Hall even has plans to open a small grocery store within the complex.

Homes in the Survival Condo Project start from $1.5 million — well, started, since they were all sold out way back in 2012 — and apart from their underground location they’re virtually indistinguishable from your average inner-city apartment, complete with all the expected amenities such as dishwashers and washing machines. There are even LED screen “windows” that show live feed from the prairie range outside, though it’s probably safe to assume their view will be significantly less idyllic if the bunker is ever put to serious use.

7. Vivos xPoint

Somewhere in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, near the city of Edgemont, there’s a vast field where sturdy concrete bunkers litter the land like molehills. These 575 identical structures are Vivos xPoint, a luxury “survival community” for the people able and willing to tie themselves down to a down payment of $25,000 and a 99-year annual lease of $1,000. For that price, you get a barren bunker in one of the statistically safest locations in North America, ready to ride out whatever shelter-worthy disaster might strike.

While you’re free to ride out future disasters in an unfurnished concrete hole, the company also offers all sorts of luxurious refurbishments for your bunker — for a price, of course. They also offer “24/7 security” in the shape of trained guards and camera systems, and should the doomsday scenario allow you to exit the bunker every once in a while, there are also amenities such as a shooting range and a hot tub spa.

6. The Houston Bunker

The owners of the Houston Bunker (or “The Bunker” for short) claim that the site has “perhaps the most interesting history of any data center ever built.” While this may or may not be true, there’s no denying that the complex has a pretty wild past. Unlike your average converted Cold War -era nuclear shelter, the Bunker is a relatively young structure: A man called Louis Kung built it in 1982 as part of a supposed HQ for his Westland Oil company. The construction site was extremely secretive — armed guards and all — which is why most people didn’t know that Kung’s building also included a massive nuke-proof bunker.

Kung’s bunker was meant to save the families of Westland Oil employees (and, of course, that of Kung himself) from large-scale disaster, and it was equipped to house 350 people for three months. Apart from the usual nuclear shelter amenities such as filtration systems, water reservoirs and medical facilities, it seems Kung was also prepared for various Mad Max-style scenarios, seeing as he equipped the complex with machine gun nests and prison cells. Even the mundane office building parts of his structure featured bulletproof glass, emergency generators and other end-of-the-world features.

While Kung’s apocalyptic fears never came to be, the sturdy structure of the Bunker came in handy later, when the building got a new life as a data security center. In this role, the structure has proved its worth by surviving disasters such as hurricane Ike with zero system downtime.

5. Europa One

Remember Vivos, the company behind the xPoint bunker community? Turns out, they can do one better. When storms of fire one day raze the world, Europa One is where billionaires will go to ride things out. This giant structure in Rothenstein, Germany is an old Soviet Cold War bunker that has been converted into an underground city of unparalleled luxury that can be compared to a five-star cruise ship. Opulent swimming pools, stylish art galleries, comfortable cinemas, elegant bars and medieval-style cathedral spaces litter the complex, and if you don’t feel like hanging out in the communal spaces, you can always retire to your private accommodations, which with their plasma TVs and bedroom aquariums are not unlike a presidential suite.

It’s pointless to ask how much it costs to enter this lap of luxury, because if you have to ask you almost certainly can’t afford it. Even if you can, entrance is by no means guaranteed. First, a potential Europa One resident has to apply for Vivos “membership,” after which they’re moved to a vast pool of prospects, from which the company selects “best candidates” for the shelter.

4. The Shanghai Complex

It might be wise to take the stories about Shanghai’s massive underground bunker with a grain of salt, since it appears most reports of its existence are from 2006 and can be traced back to a single article by the Shanghai Morning Post. Still, even if just a fraction of its scale is true, it’s a massive feat of engineering that easily earns a place on this list. We’re talking about a colossal, nuclear-proof, million-square-foot bunker complex that can house a reported 200,000 people for up to two weeks. “Miles of tunnels” connect the shelter to a number of buildings, shopping centers, and the city’s subway system.

While the scale and existence of this particular shelter might be debatable (even the Shanghai Morning Post article didn’t go into too many specifics), it wouldn’t be too surprising to find out it’s real. After all, there’s no denying that China’s large cities have a long history of large-scale bunker building, and Shanghai alone built many large shelter complexes during the Cold War. To get a sense of the scale, you only need to take a look at another large Chinese city, Beijing, where an estimated million people live in the city’s old, forgotten nuclear shelters.

3. Burlington bunker

At first glance, the Burlington bunker seems less like a real location and more like a video game level. Located 100 feet under the cobblestones of the quintessentially English small town of Corsham, this massive complex is a little bit larger than your average doomsday prepper’s concrete bunker: A full-on 1950s “Cold War City” that features an insanely complex, mile-long labyrinth of nuke-proof underground structures and 60 miles of criss-crossing subterranean roads. The climate-controlled location was designed to house up to 4,000 people, ran on massive generators that powered over 100,000 lights, and was chosen because a vast network of natural limestone caves that was already running under Corsham.

The Burlington bunker’s amenities include usual Armageddon fare such as control rooms, kitchens, storage rooms and a pneumatic tube system for messages. It also features a hospital, the second largest phone exchange in Great Britain and, of course, an underwater lake that supplies the drinking water. A fully equipped TV studio allows whoever’s left of the government (and, for that matter, the British royals) to address the people, which is why the site used to feature a secret rail line that forked from the main line between London and Bristol.

People only learned of the top secret Burlington bunker’s existence after it was decommissioned in 2004, at which point most of its supplies had been drained and a small staff of four people was running the entire bunker.

2. Raven Rock

Where does the Department of Defense go when things get really hairy? Like, “actual bombs are falling on the Pentagon” serious? The answer is Raven Rock. This mountain complex, which is also known as Site R, was built underneath Pennsylvania’s Blue Ridge mountains, and is connected to Camp David (the country retreat of the President of the United States) with a 6.5-mile tunnel in case the POTUS needs evacuating as well.

Raven Rock is basically every Cold War -era fear rolled into one giant bunker complex, which comes as no surprise seeing as it was built between 1951 and 1953 — the heyday of the post-WWII Red Scare. It’s basically the Pentagon, but as a huge, ultra-safe underground structure that was (at least theoretically) self-sufficient enough to shelter the country’s best and brightest for an indeterminate period of time. Some of its tunnels are large enough to house several large buildings that, in turn, are designed to house hundreds of high-ranking folks. The site also has its own power plant, two water reservoirs, and even a well-stocked bar. Being a military project, its price tag was equally impressive — its original budget of $35 million eventually ballooned into $350 million, adjusted for inflation.

Despite all of its obsolete Cold War glory, Raven Rock remains fully staffed even today. It was even used for emergency evacuation during the 9/11 attacks, when Vice President Dick Cheney sought shelter there. However, it’s hardly a top secret location — in fact, the Obama administration even started offering tours of the site as part of their “Weekend at Camp David” program.

1. The Oppidum

And then there is the Oppidum. Where other luxury bunkers stuff their underground complexes with high-end features and millionaire opulence, this super-secure compound in the Czech Republic takes things even further.  Apart from the five-star nuclear bunker comfort you’d expect at this point of the list, the Oppidum’s living quarters are two-part affair where you can go from living in your palatial above-ground residence to an equally lush underground bunker, which can be sealed with a sturdy blast door in under a minute.

Because the whole structure is surrounded by mountains and located in a peaceful country with no ready enemies, it’s unlikely to be nuked to oblivion in the first place, but should the situation demand taking things underground, the massive two-level bunker is reportedly the most luxurious “residential doomsday shelter” in the world. Incidentally, it’s also the largest, at a ridiculous 323,000 square feet. The Oppidum isn’t shy about using all that space for sheer extravagance, either; apart from unexpectedly fancy living quarters, the complex features amenities such as a spa, a wine cellar, and even a nice garden with “simulated natural light.” Oh, and to protect the luxury compound from attacks by mutants of the radioactive post-apocalyptic wasteland, the Oppidum also features state-of-the-art defense systems, ranging from high walls and sensors to “automated defense technology.”


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The Graveyard of the Atlantic Ocean – WIF Travel

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Sable Island:

The Graveyard

of the Atlantic

Sable Island is a small island located about 190 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This remote and very isolated location is one of the farthest offshore islands in Canada. Although it’s almost 200 miles from the mainland, it is still part of the Halifax Region.

The island is famously known for its hundreds of wild horses that inhabit the island, as well as several other animals and birds that make this place so unique. There is, however, a darker history that surrounds the island, specifically the hundreds of shipwrecks that have occurred there over the years. In fact, the island is eerily referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

From the incredible wildlife that inhabits the island, to the French criminals who lived there centuries ago, to the horribly dangerous weather and hundreds of shipwrecks, this article will detail 10 of the most amazing facts about Sable Island.

10. The Location

The distant crescent-shaped sandbar is located almost 200 miles from Halifax in the Atlantic Ocean. Sable Island measures 26 miles long and is home to a considerable amount of wildlife, such as wild horses, seals, and numerous rare birds. In fact, the island is the world’s largest breeding colony for grey seals. The exceptionally strong plant life also attracts many insects that are found no other place on Earth.

The weather is highly unpredictable and the tides are continuously changing. There is much debate on whether Sable Island is, in fact, moving eastward. Some scientists believe that the western part of the island is washing away, while the eastern side of the island is gathering more sand. This makes the island appear as if it’s moving eastward; however, others argue that the island is not moving but it is actually getting smaller and could potentially one day disappear altogether.

9. First Settlers From The 1590s

In the 1590s, a Frenchman with quite a name – Troilus de Mesgouez, marquis de La Roche-Helgomarche, viceroy of New France – decided to harvest colonists for Sable Island to make money from fur and fish. He gathered criminals, vagabonds, and beggars from a French port and told them they would be going to an island where they would work for the colony. By the late 1590s, about 50-60 settlers, along with 10 soldiers, were living on Sable Island. They also had a storehouse.

The criminals, not surprisingly, committed crimes on an almost nightly basis, mostly by robbing each other. When the marquis, who had previously left to explore the mainland, tried returning to the island later that year, he couldn’t find it and ended up sailing back to France. While the settlers received living supplies annually, in 1602 they were cut off and had to fend for themselves. When a new supply ship arrived on the island in 1603, they discovered that only 11 of the settlers were still alive. They had resorted to murdering each other during that year alone on the island. The survivors returned to France, where King Henry IV rewarded them with silver coins. And the island, once again, became uninhabited by humans.

8. It’s Been Named A Canadian National Park

In December 2013, Sable Island was named Canada’s 43rd National Park. The island is home to a variety of animals and plant life. There are over 350 species of birds living on the island, with some listed as endangered. The world’s largest breeding colony of grey seals is found on Sable Island, not to mention the countless number of wild horses living there.

While there are nearly 200 different species of plants found there, there is oddly only one tree on the island – a small pine tree that stands at just three feet tall. The strong winds make it nearly impossible for trees to survive on the island, along with the fact that there isn’t much real soil found there.

There’s also plenty of history and cultural resources connected to the island, such as the many shipwrecks that have happened there. In fact, sometimes when the sand shifts, the remains from shipwrecks are found. Other important locations on the island include the life-saving stations, lighthouses, and telegraph poles.

7. The HMS Delight

In 1583 the HMS Delight, the first recorded shipwreck took place at Sable Island. The Delight was exploring the waters along with another ship named the HMS Squirrel when the commanders of each vessel got into a dispute about the safest course to sail their boats. Richard Clarke, who was the master of the Delight, agreed to obey Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s (the commander of the Squirrel) orders.

The HMS Delight, which was the larger of the two ships and carried the most supplies, ended up wrecking on one of Sable Island’s sandbars and sank. The HMS Squirrel was unable to rescue them as the water was too shallow to enter. The majority of Clarke’s crew members drowned and only 16 of them, along with Clarke himself, were able to get into a small boat and sailed the water for days, hoping for someone to rescue them. They were on the boat for a total of seven days when they finally reached the northern province of Newfoundland. Five days after that, a Basque whaling vessel found the men and rescued them.

6. The Merrimac – Not the Ironclad

The most recent shipwreck on Sable Island – and the first one since 1947 – happened on July 27, 1999, and it was that of the Merrimac. The 12-meter fiberglass yacht with an auxiliary engine was owned by Jean Rheault of Montreal, Quebec. At around 2:00 a.m., after the ship had wrecked, they got into a life raft but quickly realized they were just a few meters away from Sable Island. Once the three-man crew (including Rheault himself) had reached the island, natural gas exploration workers rescued them. The crew members flew to Halifax the following day.

Although Rheault hired a fisherman to try to recover the yacht, they were unable to retrieve it. After just six weeks, the remains of the yacht were nothing more than tiny fragments of fiberglass caused by the sand and strong waves crashing upon the wreckage. A portion of the yacht’s Dacron sail is now on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which is located in Halifax.

5. It’s Home To More Than 350 Species Of Birds

There are over 350 different species of birds living on Sable Island. It’s believed to be the only nesting place in the world for the Ipswich Sparrow. Also found on the island are 2,000 pairs of Herring Gulls, more than 2,500 pairs of terns, and over 500 pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls. Other birds include American Black Ducks, Semi-palmated Plovers, Red-breasted Mergansers, and sandpipers, just to name a few. In addition, there have been several migrant birds, along with exotic strays that have been found there.

There are three types of terns: Roseate, Common, and Arctic. While there are over 2,500 pairs of terns that live on the island, approximately 60% of them are Arctic Terns. The Roseate Terns are listed as an endangered species.

4. Horrible Weather Conditions

Sable Island is known to have extremely strong winds and a lot of fog. In fact, there is a daily average of at least one hour of fog on the island for about a third of the year (125 days). When the warm air from the Gulf Stream mixes in with the cool air from the Labrador Current, it creates fog throughout the island. It also has the strongest winds in the entire province of Nova Scotia. The temperatures, however, are not too severe, with the yearly average ranging between 26 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s believed that many of the shipwrecks that have happened on Sable Island were caused by the dangerous and severe weather. Prior to the more advanced modern day navigational equipment, the older instruments depended greatly on using the sun and the stars for navigation, making it impossible for the crew members to use when they reached the thick fog and clouds near the island — a perfect recipe for a shipwreck. In addition to the sometimes horrible weather conditions, Sable Island is also directly in the path of many storms (including hurricanes) that travel up the Atlantic Coast.

3. Human Population: One

We’ve talked about the high wildlife population on this remote island, but there is also one — and only one — person who lives there year-round. In fact, she’s been living there for over 40 years, by herself. Zoe Lucas, who is a 68-year-old scientist, first visited the island in 1971 when she was just 21 years of age and studying goldsmithing. While there are other workers and scientists who rotate shifts on the island, Lucas is the only permanent resident.

While it would seem that living on an island all alone would be terribly boring, Lucas claims that she’s never lonely and spends her time studying the ecology. She lives in a wooden house that’s settled within the sand dunes, and she has supplies flown in every two weeks. She’s found many strange things that have washed ashore, but the oddest one was a fake leg. While many of us couldn’t imagine living in solitude on a remote island, it’s obvious that Lucas really enjoys it, or else she wouldn’t have stayed there for over four decades.

2. It’s Nicknamed the “Graveyard Of The Atlantic”

With severe weather hiding the island from sight because of dangerous storms, large waves, and thick fog, it’s not surprising that many ships have crashed there. Since 1583, more than 350 shipwrecks have been recorded on Sable Island, which is why it has been given the ominous nickname of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

One of the reasons so many ships have wrecked in that area is that it’s a very rich fishing ground, as well as being directly on the shipping path between North America and Europe, so a lot of boats pass by there every year.

In 1801, the first lifesaving station was developed on the island and by 1895 there were a total of five stations. This project was referred to as the “Humane Establishment.” There were two lighthouses on the island, where someone would always keep watch during the nights. There were also shelters in place where survivors from shipwrecks could go to keep warm and eat. However, after 11 years without any reports of shipwrecks, the Humane Establishment ended in 1958.

1. Wild Horses

When most people think of Sable Island, their first thought is usually of the many wild horses that inhabit the island. While there isn’t an exact count of the number of horses living on the island, it’s believed that there could be up to 400.

While some people assume that the horses ended up on the island by swimming there from one of the shipwrecks, historians believe that they were put on the island on purpose in the 18th century. In the 1750s or 1760s, a Boston merchant and ship-owner named Thomas Hancock transported Acadians to American colonies during their expulsion from Nova Scotia. He also brought horses, cows, hogs, goats, and sheep with him. In the end, it was only the horses that were able to survive on the island, and it’s believed that the horses today are the descendants from those introduced there centuries ago.

And when you consider the horses live on the remote island and have never had any veterinary care or antibiotics, it’s amazing that these animals have survived for centuries on their own.


The Graveyard of the Atlantic Ocean –

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Crazy Railroad Tracks – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Crazy Railroad Tracks

Around

the World

While we don’t think of them in the same way as cars or even commercial airplanes, trains are a staple mode of transportation and may be the very definition of the “standard routine” at times, being guided by rails. Yet rail and train construction is often anything but standard or routine, and is sometimes hatched from the brains of ultra-creative and – at times – desperate engineers.

We’ve already told you about bizarre locomotives themselves, so in this account we’re going to get into some of the crazier railroads from around the world…

10. Hindenburgdamm, Germany

Rail and sea travel might seem to be worlds apart, but when trains appear to run across the waves on a narrow causeway, the role of a ferry may be replaced by the capabilities of a train. The island of Sylt, off the coast of Germany, is not accessible by either roads or ferries. Instead, the method of traveling and, most significantly, of bringing cars to and from the popular island destination consists of what might best be called a sea train.

Locomotives pulling railcars stacked with personal vehicles travel between Sylt and Schleswig-Holstein on mainland Germany just barely above the waves on rails laid upon a precarious-looking causeway called the Hindenburgdamm that crosses almost 7 miles of water. The causeway is solid but exceptionally narrow, and also has very little height above sea level. The shallow waters in between the mainland and the island of Sylt made the creation of this remarkable alternative to the more typical means of transporting vehicles to an island by boat possible. Around 100 trains per day travel between the island and the mainland, half of those carrying cars and trucks.

9. Rail Transit No. 2, China

Chongqing, in China’s Sichuan Province, is a populated area where spicy food is popular and urban residential, commercial, and transportation space is at a great premium. So much so, in fact, that when the planned construction of Rail Transit No. 2 Line in Chongqing was set to go forward an apartment building was right in the way of the track slated to be built. While such a defined problem might baffle some designers and planners, a remarkable planning compromise was reached that balanced the competing transportation and residential needs.

Lacking an alternative route for the railway and not wanting to take the drastic step of demolishing the building, transit planners and engineers concocted a successful plan that removed several suites and passed the elevated train track right through the apartment building. While not easy, taking the approach of routing the railway through the building was still more feasible than trying other paths, given the little available space. The apartment still houses most of its original inhabitants, who apparently don’t mind a monorail barreling through their place once in awhile. Care to maintain the structural integrity of the building through the tunnel-like modifications combines with the quiet and efficient railway system to make the building livable, and surprisingly without significant noise or disturbance to residents.

8. Gisborne Airport Railway Crossing

Planes, trains, and… wait, planes and trains together? Yes. New Zealand is not the largest nation on Earth, and the competition for flat land that can be used for purposes dependent on flat land (especially, for example, an airport) is significant in certain areas. In a dramatic example of space sharing in transportation infrastructure, a railway intersects with a runway. On New Zealand’s North Island, thePalmerston North – Gisborne Railway Line crosses the runway of the Gisborne Airport.

Any mistake by a pilot or an engineer could potentially cause a plane to crash right into a train crossing the middle of the runway at right angles, but not to worry: schedules are carefully coordinated. Still, a locomotive steaming across a runway may shock the eyes of the unprepared. The railway is busy throughout the day and into the night, according to scheduled train routes. In contrast, the runway is only in operation to handle air traffic between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. During the day when both are in full use, it is a job and of itself to coordinate the arrival and departure of aircraft with the seemingly out-of-place trains that cross the runway. Aircraft and trains both stop for each other.

7. Gotthard Tunnel Route

Northern and Southern Europe may be geographically different and set apart by massive Alpine peaks towering above sloping forests and fields, but the remarkable Gotthard Tunnel solves the problem by tunneling directly through the mountains, connecting Europe on either side of the imposing Swiss Alps by going right under especially difficult sections. The tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in the world at 35 miles in length, greatly reducing the need for truck traffic. The tunnel is also not only the longest railway tunnel existing on the planet, it is also the deepest under the surface.

At its greatest point of depth, the remarkable tunnel is 1.42 miles below the mountainous surface above as it carries trains in the subterranean desolation. Replacing the traffic of a million trucks that have been transporting goods every year, the twin-bored tunnel links the municipality of Erstfeld, with its German language name and located towards Switzerland’s north, with the south of Switzerland municipality of Bodio, closer to the Italian border and with a corresponding Italian name – examples of Switzerland’s linguistic diversity. The tunnel route was opened in a ceremony that involved hundreds of passengers getting the opportunity to ride the train in each direction.

6. Maeklong Railway Market

Playing on train tracks is not recommended, but the Maeklong Railway Market in Bangkok, Thailand takes things one step further. You see, not only do people gather around the tracks, but an entire marketplace is set up and dismantled daily. When the market is open, stalls are erected and goods are sold… right on the tracks upon which trains will soon arrive. Each time trains are scheduled throughout the day, items and people are moved hastily off the track, before the trains come through. Paying attention to the time is certainly a matter of survival in this particular set up.

The scale and complexity of the market in its cumulative sum makes its dismantlement seem immensely challenging. But it is the coordinated effort of multiple vendors working together that also makes it possible for the entire set up to be moved out of the way of oncoming trains when the need arises. Close attention is duly paid to the schedule of the train despite the apparent distraction of the busy selling conditions and throngs of market visitors. As the tracks are cleared according to train schedules, disaster is consistently averted.

5. Katoomba Scenic World Railway

Australia may be thought of as a land of flat terrain and desert, but it is worth remembering that while that impression may be true across much of the Australian landscape, there is topographical variation. The Blue Mountains of New South Wales are not only noteworthy natural features but also home to an incredible railway system that forms a tourist attraction. Remarkable as the world’s steepest funicular railway and the steepest passenger-carrying rail system worldwide, the Katoomba Scenic World Railway was originally built in the late 1800s and has a rich history, given its construction to aid in transportation aspects of mining operations.

Funicular indicates that the railway operates with the assistance of cable traction, pulling cars up the steep inclines that would otherwise pose an insurmountable challenge to rail travel. With tracks positioned at 52 degrees, which is a 128% incline, the incredibly steep railway now sees modern vehicles operating as an attraction for daring rail travelers. The railway offers spectacular views of mountain, forest, and cliff formations as it traverses difficult terrain. In one particularly hair-raising section, the railway drops 1,017 feet as it travels through a tunnel in the side of a mountain cliff.

4. Tren-a-las Nubes, Argentina

The Andes are known as exceptional geographical formations that offer some of the most ambitious mountaineering routes on the planet. Translating to “Train to the Clouds,” Tren-a-las Nubes in Argentina rises just over 13,779 feet above sea level. Passing through numerous spectacular landscape types and climate zones, the train traverses arid lowlands, rocky precipices, and high elevation landscapes where the air is thin enough to potentially create challenges for those not accustomed to the height. And speaking of that height: onboard oxygen is available in case of medical symptoms due to the exceptional height reached on the journey.

Construction of the incredible railway route began in the year 1921 under a plan to connect Northern Argentina to Chilean lands by reaching across the Andes. As the tracks cover variations between peaks and immense valleys, the differences are leveled out by carefully constructed trestles equipped with an incredible array of beams, abruptly transitioning into railway track, skirting slope edges with sufficient clearance made in the rocks. Typical track may seem to be the exception rather than the norm in such parts of the route. While the train to the clouds reaches astonishing heights, the name actually refers to clouds of steam from the locomotive hovering in the cold air rather than any natural clouds that may be encountered on the route.

3. Qinghai-Tibet Railway

The highest railway in the world, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway reaches the exceptional height of a little more than 16,640 feet at its highest point, while its average height is still exceptional at nearly 14,764 feet. The railway passes through the world’s highest elevated railway tunnel, with sections of the track experiencing severe freezing conditions. The route contains a number of record-holding elements in the track layout, including the most lengthy plateau tunnel on the planet at Kunlun Mountain, extending 5,531 feet, while the Fenghuoshan Tunnel is at the top of world records for the tunnel that is at the highest elevation, being built at 16,092.52 feet.

The railway is recognized as a Chinese engineering feat of great significance, standing out with many ingenious and challenging engineering solutions given the vast distances involved in the route, remote locations, and the need to build sections of the track on frozen soil that never thaws. The thinness of the air at the higher elevation along the route has presented challenges not only to passengers, but significantly affected construction workers to the point where oxygen facilities were set up. Passengers fill out a health declaration and are also supplied with personal oxygen masks, while train windows filter excess UV rays.

2. Mauritania Railway, Sahara Desert

Yes, there is a train running through shifting sands and shimmering heat. At 437 miles in length, the Mauritania Railway braves the blistering isolation of the Sahara. The seemingly endless trains running from desert to coast along this route, the national railway of the sizable, Sahara desert-dominated African country of Mauritania, are the longest freight trains in the world at 1.5 miles in length. The route is used to transport iron ore vast distances across the desert to port locations, where it is shipped.

Given that the nation is almost entirely stark and desolate desert, iron ore export plays a crucial role in the economic survival of the country. While the trains are mostly intended to carry freight, passengers can hitch a ride on the trains, either opting to ride for free in the hoppers or to pay a small fee to travel on available benches. But if the train were to break down in the extreme heat of the Sahara, the results could be disastrous for travelers. The risks of the adventure on the desert tracks include extreme sandstorms brought about by the harsh desert winds and easily disturbed fine sands that characterize the desert landscape.

1. Dawlish Railway Station, Exeter to Plymouth Line

Trains on the beach, a seawall station, and sea cliff tunnels. That’s a lot to combine together in a railway route, and sometimes, the cause of an awful lot of trouble due to collapsing tracks. An example of particularly notable and extreme railway line construction that has left much to be desired, the Dawlish Railway Station in southern England and the railway tracks to and from the areas close to the station have at times been fraught with problems. The challenges have included the collapse of a track section after being partially washed away by the waves caused by extreme weather.

The spectacular appearance of the beach-side station and nearby tracks stands out, seemingly being out of place due to the station being right on the seawall, allowing salt spray to easily wash over the tracks. The sight of trains in a view-scape where one might expect beached or moored ships adds great interest and creates fantastic photography opportunities. Adding to the drama of the exceptionally challenging rail route, the track travels through tunnels bored into challenging sea cliffs just to the south of the station, creating a contrast between track running through the closed seaside tunnels, and track laid along open seawalls.


Crazy Railroad Tracks –

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