Guidebook to America Must-Sees – WIF Travel

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 Must-Visit

Tourist Attractions

in the United States

For all intents and purposes, the United States can almost be considered an entire continent in itself. This means that a person from another country can’t come, visit for several days or a week, and say that he or she has seen what the entire US is all about. But there are several landmarks that every traveler needs to see before they can even begin to consider checking the US off of their travel bucket list. Even though there are plenty to choose from, and these are presented in no particular order, here are 10 must-visit tourist attractions in America.

10. The Statue of Liberty

As far as famous American national monuments go, the Statue of Liberty is probably the most easily recognizable of them all. Officially known as Liberty Enlightening the World, it was a gift from the French to the American people in 1886 – celebrating the centenary of American Independence. It stands at a total of 305 feet tall, of which 151 feet is the copper statue itself, while the rest is comprised of the pedestal and foundation. Designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the statue is in a neoclassical style with Art Nouveau elements, and is a representation of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty and personal freedom. Gustave Eiffel was responsible for the framework, while the pedestal was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, a prominent American architect.

While the statue’s construction and shipment were paid for by the French, the building of the pedestal was left to the Americans. Nevertheless, the whole project was under threat when the US government wasn’t able to raise sufficient funds. Luckily, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World newspaper, organized a drive to raise $100,000 (roughly $2.3 million today) from readers across the country by pledging to print the name of every contributor, regardless of the sum given – and the construction was finally finished. The site was chosen on Bedloe’s Island, now called Liberty Island, in New York Harbor, and the statue was aligned to face towards the southeast, thus greeting ships entering from the Atlantic Ocean.

In 2016, the Statue of Liberty was able to draw in roughly 4.5 million tourists – a number higher than in previous years. Still, this is a relatively small number compared to other famous NYC landmarks such as Central Park or Times Square, which both draw nearly 40 million visitors annually.

9. Yellowstone National Park

Covering an area of almost 3,500 square miles, mostly in Wyoming,Yellowstone National Park is one of the most stunning and unique national parks in the world. It’s home to a wide variety of wildlife (many of them endangered), vast natural forests, numerous waterfalls, roughly half of the world’s geothermal features, and two thirds of the planet’s geysers (more than 300, the most famous being Old Faithful). The park is also one of the largest intact ecosystems in the northern temperate regions of the Earth. When it was first discovered back in 1869, explorers David E. Folsom and Charles W. Cook described Yellowstone Lake as “a scene of transcendental beauty.” The two later wrote an account about their expedition, but had trouble in selling it since most magazine editors found the stories to be too far-fetched. Nevertheless, Yellowstone became the first ever national park in the world in 1872, even before the states it’s in were… well, States.

Another interesting fact about Yellowstone, and the reason why it is home to so many geological features, is because it sits right on top of one of the largest active supervolcanoes in the world. In fact, much of the park itself is the actual caldera of this huge volcano. There is so much magma below the surface that it’s estimated it could fill up the Grand Canyon to the brim 11 times over. Last time Yellowstone erupted was roughly 640,000 years ago, with a force 2,500 times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Luckily, however, an eruption isn’t believed to be happening anytime soon, even though the ground has bulged up by about 10 inches over a seven-year time frame. In 2016, the park drew in roughly 4.2 million visitors, making it among the most visited natural attractions in the country.

8. Niagara Falls

Now, even though they aren’t the tallest waterfalls, Niagara Falls is definitely a sight worth seeing. Located at the border between Canada (Ontario) and the United States (New York), Niagara Falls is the largest waterfall in terms of volume in the US. Over 3,160 tons of water flow over the falls every second, at a speed of 32 feet per second. There are three waterfalls in total here. The American and Bridal Veil Falls are located on the American side of the border, and are separated by Luna Island. Some 75,750 gallons of water flow through these two waterfalls every second. The larger Horseshoe Falls is shared by both Canada and the US, and with the length of the brink at 2,600 feet, this waterfall sees over 600,000 gallons of water falling every second from a height of 167 feet. Some 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, the falls extended some seven miles down the river. But over time, the brink has steadily eroded away, bringing it to its current location.

Four of the five Great Lakes drain their waters through Niagara Falls before emptying into Lake Ontario. There are two hydroelectric plants that draw water into their reservoirs prior to the falls. Depending on the time of day and the season, the volume of water varies considerably. The best time to visit is during the day, in summertime, when the volume is greatest. People can admire the falls from both sides of the border, by making use of the many observation decks, walkways, towers, as well as a boat tour that takes you to the heavy mists of the falls themselves. Estimates point to roughly 8 or 9 million people visiting Niagara Falls every year, but local business aren’t convinced and believe the real number to be closer to 3 million.

7. The Las Vegas Strip

Sometimes called Sin City, Las Vegas is a must-see for every tourist visiting the US. The city saw its beginning with a group of Mormons that established a fort there in 1855. The settlement eventually failed, but the fort was taken over Octavius D. Gass, an American businessman and politician. Later, in 1905, Las Vegas was connected to the Union Pacific Railroad, and in 1931 the construction on Hoover Dam began. To help draw in workers for the construction project, as well as to help them pass the time, casinos and showgirl venues opened up in Las Vegas’ only paved road, Fremont Street. In 1941, the first official casino was built just outside of the city’s limits, the El Rancho Vegas resort – and the famed Las Vegas Strip began to take shape. Notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo in 1946 and during the 1950s and ’60s, other mob-backed casinos began to appear, like the Sahara, the Riviera, the Sands, and the New Frontier.

What many don’t know is that the Strip is not inside Las Vegas proper. It stretches for 4.2 miles south of the city and passes through the unincorporated towns of Paradise and Winchester. The famed Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign was built back in 1959, exactly 4.5 miles south the actual city limits. Over 39 million people visited the Las Vegas Strip in 2017. Surveys also show that most US travelers marked Vegas as their desired destination for 2018. The Strip has also been designated as an American Scenic Byway, and the only one that’s enjoyable at night. It has one of the highest concentrations of neon lights in the world, and is packed with over 75 years of extravagance, history, and charm.

6. Independence National Historical Park

When it comes to history, Philadelphia is the city every tourist needs to see. Known as the birthplace of American democracy, the Independence National Historical Park, located in Philadelphia’s historic center, is said to be “America’s most historic square mile.”  The park is home to the Liberty Bell Center, Congress Hall, the New Hall Military Museum, the Bishop White House, the Graff House, the Franklin Court, the First Bank of the United States, and Independence Hall, among other historically-important buildings. The centerpiece of the park is Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is where both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution of the United States (1787) were debated and signed.

Among the many other buildings in the park, there is also the City Tavern. John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States, called it the most genteel tavern in America” after he was taken there by the citizens of the city when he arrived to Philadelphia to attend the First Continental Congress in August 1774. This history-packed hot spot draws in roughly 5 million visitors every year, and is a perfect place to immerse yourself in America’s Revolution against the British and the founding of the nation itself.

5. Hawaii’s Volcanoes

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park draws in roughly 1.5 million visitors every year. Located on the island of Hawaii, this national park holds two of the world’s most active and easily accessible volcanoes – Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth in terms of volume and area covered – 19,999 cubic miles. The summit stands at 13,680 feet above sea level, and roughly 56,000 feet from the depressed sea floor. This makes it more than 27,000 feet higher than Mount Everest, and the second largest sea mountain in the world after Mauna Kea, which is on the same island and only 110 feet higher.

But despite these record-breaking figures, Kilauea is the more impressive, and rightfully so. As the youngest volcano on the island, Kilauea has not stopped erupting since 1983, continuously spewing out lava over the landscape and creating numerous fountains and rivers of molten rock. Unlike continental volcanoes, which usually erupt in a devastating explosion, these island volcanoes are far less gaseous and more fluid, thus making them much safer to admire from a safe distance. And besides the volcanoes themselves, the park also offers a glimpse into the native flora and fauna of the isolated island, as well as the cultural heritage of the people who’ve called it home for hundreds (and hundreds) of years.

4. The Redwood Forests of Northern California

For the many interesting things California has to offer, almost nothing is more humbling and awe-inspiring than the redwood forests located in the northern parts of the state. But unlike many of the other entries on this list, these forests and the four national and state parks they encapsulate receive a relatively small number of annual visitors – almost 1.5 million in total. Nevertheless, these huge trees have been standing since before the Roman Empire. The Redwood National Park is also home to Hyperion, the world’s largest living tree that we currently know about. Discovered only in 2006, this humongous coast redwood is 379.7 feet tall, or 74 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Hyperion is also a relatively young tree – roughly 600 years old (or about 20 in human years). This means that it’s still growing. And it’s not the only one to reach this gargantuan size. Other similarly-tall coast redwoods have been discovered in the area in recent years.

Thanks to their close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, these forests have a relatively stable and pleasant climate all year round. Nevertheless, peak tourist season is during the summer and early fall months, from June to September. Now, besides the redwood forests themselves, the region has other natural wonders to offer. Over 40 mammal species call this area their home, like bobcats, coyotes, black-tailed deer, mountain lions, and black bears, as well as over 400 bird species. There are also several points that overlook the ocean and which are prime locations for spotting migrating gray whales, especially between the months of December and April.

3. Mesa Verde National Park

Another great place to experience American history is to look into the heritage of the Native Americans. The Mesa Verde National Park, located in the state of Colorado, has a total area of 52,485 acres and houses over 5,000 sites, as well as over 600 cliff dwellings. The whole area was inhabited at least as early as 7500 BC by a group of nomadic people known as the Foothill-mountain paleoindian complex. Then, in around 1000 BC, a new culture emerged in the region, the Basket makers. They were then followed by the Pueblo Culture in around 750 AD, and flourished in the region up until the end of the 13th century when they were finally driven out by social and environmental instability. It was during their last 150 or so years in the area that they built the many cliff dwellings that the park is most famous for.

One of the largest and best preserved sites here is the Cliff Palace – which is also the largest cave dwelling in the whole of North America. This settlement once contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas (special rooms used for religious rituals and political meetings). At its height, Cliff Palace was able to house over 100 people – something which doesn’t sound like much, but given its location and the fact that most other cliff dwellings contain only one to five rooms, that’s definitely a lot. Based on its size, the Cliff Palace is believed to have held an important social and administrative significance for the Puebloans before they were forced out of the area altogether. Every year, over half a million people visit the park and admire these unique structural marvels of pre-Colombian America.

2. The Grand Canyon

No list of this kind could ever be complete without the Grand Canyon. It’s nearly impossible for someone to visit this incredible geological feature and not stand in awe at its sheer size. Anyone with any sense of wonder about the world cannot help but feel a little overwhelmed by the power of nature presented here. For over 6 million years, the Colorado River and its tributaries have carved their way through the rock, deepening and widening the canyon to its current proportions. Today, the Grand Canyon measures some 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep, exposing nearly 2 billion years of geological history in its sides.

Native Americans have been living in the area for thousands of years, even building settlements within it and in its many caves. The first Europeans to see it were the Spanish during the 1540s. The first pioneers here were prospectors looking to mine copper during the 1880s, but they soon realized that tourism was a better alternative. In its first year after becoming a national park in 1919, the Grand Canyon received roughly 44,000 visitors. In 2016, than number was closer to 6 million people.    

1. Route 66

Established back in 1926, US Route 66 was the Main Street of America. Also known as the Will Rogers Highway or the Mother Road, Route 66 used to connect Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California. Covering a total of 2,448 miles, this road passed through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, as well as the two other states mentioned, and was the main path used by the people who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Route 66 also supported a thriving economy for the communities it passed through, and harbored much of the country’s distinct style. Among these we have the iconic American gas stations, motels, bars, diners, entertainment venues, and much more.

But as all good things inevitably come to an end, so did Route 66. With the arrival of the new Interstate Highway System, much of the historic route was being bypassed. By 1985, the entire route was replaced. Nevertheless, conservation efforts since then have revived certain portions of the route. Parts of it have also been included in America’s Scenic Byways project, and considered to be an All-American Road. In more recent years, a preservation program has been initiated, aiming to salvage and restore much of the route and its landmarks to their former glory. In more ways than one, Route 66 is a better alternative to capturing real America than taking a stroll through Manhattan or down Hollywood Boulevard.


Guidebook to America Must-Sees

– WIF Travel

 

Cheap Sleeps – Money Stretching Places to Live

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Cheapest Countries

to Live In

We’ve all been there. Sat at work on a spectacularly boring day, gazing out the window and dreaming about moving somewhere less resolutely meh. But it’s one thing dreaming about moving to London, or Paris, or Tokyo, and quite another turning up there, looking at the square feet of space your meager savings will buy and realizing that you haven’t thought this through at all.

 The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. While there are plenty of countries it will likely bankrupt you to move to, there are plenty more where even the most middle-of-the-road foreign income will see you living like a king. Here are 10 countries, gleaned from the annual Cost of Living Indexes published by Numbeo and Expatistan, where it’s cheapest to live in 2017:

10. Mexico

America’s southern neighbor is mainly famous in the north for sombreros, Tex-Mex, and drug violence. But as we revealed in a recent article, there’s so, so much more to the ancient home of the Aztecs than that. Aside from the long history and vibrant culture of Mexico City, there’s some 60-odd indigenous groups speaking a mix of languages, crumbling Aztec ruins, unique traditions from each Mexican state, and coastline galore. Oh, and did we mention it’s very, very cheap?

Numbeo estimates the cost of living in Mexico to be nearly 60% lower than living in the US. Outside the capital, you can rent a 3 bedroom apartment near the center of a city for an average of $480 a month. You can get a meal for two in a decent restaurant for twenty bucks. A transport ticket costs under 40 cents. Someone, get us to Tijuana.

Of course, this is all assuming you’re moving abroad with a US salary or pension. In terms of local purchasing power, Mexico sits somewhere in the middle of the list, meaning a local on the average wage can buy maybe half the stuff a local on the average wage in the US can.

9. Tunisia

It would probably be stretching the limits of acceptable writing to describe Tunisia as the jewel in North Africa’s crown, but we’re gonna do it anyway. The tiny desert nation is home to 10 million, all crammed into a handful of ancient cities that are staggeringly beautiful. This is the place where all the Tatooine scenes were filmed for the first Star Wars, which should give you some idea of how visually-arresting the country is. Then there’s the crazy affordability. The cost of renting a 1 bed apartment in a bustling city center? $160 per month.

On the other hand, Tunisia suffers a downside Mexico doesn’t: it borders Libya. Since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, Libya has been a haven for ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and about a bazillion other crazy rebel groups, all itching to kill Western tourists. In 2015, an armed gunman trained in Libya attacked a five star hotel in Sousse, killing 38, including 30 Brits; making it the deadliest day for UK citizens since the 7/7 London bombings a decade earlier. As a result, the UK Foreign Office now advises against all but essential travel to Tunisia. The US government likewise advises extreme caution when visiting.

8. Moldova

Hands up: who can point to Moldova on a map? Eastern Europe’s least-visited country is a tiny sliver of land sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, and locked in a perpetual war with its pro-Russian population. We don’t mean that metaphorically. Moldova’s eastern flank has been occupied since the early 1990s by an insurgent army who set up their own, autonomous republic known as Transnistria. Although the conflict is “frozen” (no one has been killed in ages), it is still a potential flash point in Europe’s poorest nation.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind Soviet architecture, cold winters, and the possibility of Putin annexing your living room, Moldova has a lot going for it. Aside from being crazy cheap – the cost of living is 62% lower than in the US – it’s one of the biggest wine producing nations on Earth, with over 200 km of tunnels filled with wine buried beneath one monastery. Plus, Chisinau is getting a reputation as one of Europe’s party capitals. Double plus, you get to say you’ve lived in Moldova. How many of your friends can say that? None.

7. Nepal

It’s the country where Everest lives. That’s all you really need to know about Nepal, a fascinating mountain nation that has been wowing travelers ever since they first set eyes on it. Sagarmatha, as the locals call it, is just the biggest of the world class peaks dotting this frozen, high-altitude land, each sheerer and scarier than the last. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also ancient Buddhist temples, mysterious mountain villages, and wild elephants you can ethically ride and oh our God yes, that’s actually a real thing. Shut up and take our money!

Speaking of the $$$, Nepal’s actually kind of an odd one. Numbeo ranks it as a hair more expensive than Mexico, but Expatistan ranks Kathmandu as cheaper than any city in Moldova. So we’re adding it here just to be on the safe side.

However, before you leap on that plane, we should warn you that things aren’t all peachy. In 2015, Kathmandu suffered a horrifying earthquake that killed 10,000 and nearly leveled the city. The damage costs were equivalent to 50% of Nepal’s GDP, and reconstruction is still barely underway. Although locals would doubtless appreciate you adding your tourist dollars to the local economy, it’s perhaps still a bit soon to think about moving permanently.

6. Syria

Yeah. Syria.

We’re not exaggerating when we say Syria was once one of the most beautiful places on Earth. If you don’t believe us, check out these pictures. It was a land of mountains and winding rivers and valleys and ancient castles and cities that have been standing since the dawn of time. As the Syrian Tourist Board is currently at pains to point out, a stretch of coast about 120 miles long that has miraculously avoided the fighting remains wonderful. And it’s about 63% cheaper than living in the US, too.

 Of course, even the relatively safe coastline isn’t somewhere you should be heading anytime soon. Since 2011, Syria has been caught up in the deadliest civil war of the century, with an estimated 250,000 being killed and around 4 million being left homeless. ISIS, AL-Qaeda and other groups are fighting Kurdish paramilitaries, Assad’s regime forces, and about 100 other rebel factions as Russian jets scream overhead, dropping bombs. It ain’t a safe place. But even a war as awful as this can’t last forever. Perhaps in another decade or so outsiders will be able to go back in and witness the beauty of the Middle East’s most tragic country.

5. Azerbaijan

You didn’t expect a wealthy petro-state to be on this list, did you? Situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is an oil rich collision of east and west, a place where gigantic glass towers dominate the money-soaked capital, and emerging dictator Ilham Aliyev has made a hobby out of jailing democracy activists. About the size of South Carolina (or Scotland), the ‘Land of Fire’ is both a hyper-expensive Dubai of the Caucasus Region, and a place where you can rent an apartment for less than $150 per month.

So, what’s with this great contrast? Well, you know how New York and California seem to suck in all the money and energy, and London is like Britain’s NYC plus Britain’s Silicon Valley? Baku is like London plus every single other city that isn’t in terminal decline. The rest of the country is basically a rural world of farming sheep and kicking back and eking out an existence on the average wage of $260 a month, an amount that makes $150 for an apartment suddenly look like daylight robbery. Still, at least you get to live in a country that has a place called ‘fire mountain’ that really is a mountain that’s literally on fire.

4. Georgia

If you want all the excitement of living in the Caucasus region, but for some inexplicable reason don’t dig the idea of residing within driving distance of a flaming fire mountain, you could always opt for Georgia. The Christian flipside to Azerbaijan’s Muslim culture, the two neighbors are historic allies, largely due to a mutual dislike of nearby Armenia. The big difference comes with their neighbors to the north. While Azerbaijan and Russia have a cold yet cordial relationship, Georgia got invaded by Putin in 2008.

Since then, the tiny South Ossetia region has been under de-facto Russian control, in a situation kinda like that of Moldova and Transnistria. Only Georgia has the additional headache of another area like that. The unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia declared independence years ago, with Moscow guaranteeing its territorial integrity; meaning Tbilisi actually has control of far less of its 69,000 square kilometer territory than most similarly-sized nations.

On the plus side, Georgia is perfect if you like untouched wilderness, craggy peaks, and little mountain villages lost to time. And if you like your beer to cost 70 cents, which is really the important thing.

3. Pakistan

If you want a (potentially short) life of non-stop excitement, you could do worse than moving to Pakistan. India’s long-term rival, Pakistan is home to Karachi, the world’s most violent megacity, an unrecognized republic controlled by insurgents known as Balochistan, deadly terror groups, armed kidnappers, and the occasional mega-earthquake. It’s also a nuclear state that frequently tries to start wars with another nuclear state (India).

In fact, Pakistan is so fundamentally wild that its government recently issued a decree that all foreigners must stay within a single city unless they hire a security detail and inform the government of their travel plans, in case they wind up with a severe case of death. With advice like that, hearing that an apartment can go for as little as $77 per month likely comes as cold comfort.

Still, if you go happen to go out there, at least you’ll be in one of the prettiest, most historic countries on Earth. Aside from the mountains, there are forts built by the Mughals, old colonial relics from the British days, and some of the grandest Islamic monuments ever built.

2. Ukraine

According to Numbeo, Ukraine is home to the cheapest McDonald’s combo meal in the whole of Europe. You can get a Big Mac, fries and a drink for under $2.50. We’re not gonna say this is a good reason for you to pack your bags and head to Ukraine, but it’s certainly a reason… another being that life in general in Ukraine is 65% cheaper than life in America.

Not that this is much use to the locals. The average salary across the whole nation is under $200 a month. As a result, Ukraine only just misses the bottom 10 countries for local purchasing power, ranking under Zimbabwe, Moldova and El Salvador, and only just higher than Nigeria and Nepal. An average Ukrainian salary will buy you 26% of what an average American salary will buy you. Then there’s the not-quite-frozen conflict in the country’s east, which has killed about 10,000 in nearly three years (once again, as with so many on this list, Russia is involved).

On the other hand, if you can stomach the screaming inequality, unbelievably cold winters and territorial crisis, then Ukraine is almost breathtakingly beautiful. There’s its snatch of haunting mountains in the West, its two great, ancient cities of Lviv and Kiev, and, finally, its ridiculously good-looking citizens. If you need us, we’ll be booking our flights to Kiev.

1. India

This is it, possibly the cheapest country on planet Earth. India has mid-range restaurants where two people can eat world-beating food for under $10. It has taxis that will wait for you for an hour and charge less than a dollar. It has apartments for slightly over $100 per month. In the southern city of Thiruvananthapuram, utilities can cost only twenty bucks a month. With an income of under $1,000 a month, you can live like a freakin’ king.

It’s also, y’know, famously one of the most picturesque nations on Earth. There’s the Taj Mahal, the ancient city of Varanasi, the Himalayas, Raj-era hill towns, creaking old railway lines, the lush, tropical south, and the venerated, epic, eternal Ganges. You’ve got Bollywood, curry, tigers, ancient history, epic gorges, friendly people and a floating temple that is literally made of gold. Plus, Octopussy was set here. Man, we must’ve seen that movie… twice.

 Of course, it ain’t all fun and highly-choreographed dance numbers. There’s shocking inequality, extreme poverty, deadly diseases, sporadic ethnic violence, and the eternal possibility of nuclear war with Pakistan. But is it worth it? You check these pictures and decide for yourself. (The correct answer is ‘yes’.)

Cost of Living Havens

– WIF Economics

The NULL Solution = Episode 156

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The NULL Solution = Episode 156

…Every time Sampson McKinney leaves Epsilon Eridani, the bungee cord gets longer and longer…

Fortunately for the traveling trio, this is not supposed to be a military production. Many burdens are being set aside along the way…: Sampson’s confinement, Chasonn’s wanderlust, Skaldic’s constituency.

A relief valve has been supplied in the form of Sampson’s homemade concoction. The funny thing about altered states, they have that singular ability to make one forget about those burdens of the mind.

“Back off the throttle Chase, we’ll get there soon enough,” Sam wants to savor the inexplicable satisfaction of open space, not to mention the escapist qualities provided by the alcohol that he has distilled from native Eridanian root vegetation. The new brew enhances mental acuity, with an added generous dash of delight.

Pent-up issues need to be dealt with or it will eventually deal with you; Sampson has not devolved into a frivolous souse, but he has long since lost the structure that NASA provided him. He is certainly bound by Eridanian custom, however loose that may be.

However, compliance and resignation differ from command and control. Every time Sam leaves Epsilon Eridani, the bungee cord gets longer and longer. Naturally he plans to return to his family. This time out features deep breathing and big gulps for those who care.

Skaldic is a sport. After a twenty ounce jug lubricates his inhibitions, especially concerning Sampson’s daughter, he takes exception to Chasonn inquiring of Sammy Mac, about the lady’s current suitors… ‘How dare he’ beat Skaldic to the punch.

One thing leads to another and before you know it, the Seljuk cruiser is set on autopilot and Sampson feels the need to place himself smack-dab in the middle of a robust contest for the hand of the maiden fairest Deimostra.

Boys will be boys, whatever the size or flavor.

This matter of the heart will need to wait for another day, as does the matter of Harmonia.

Tall Tales are made of these.


The NULL Solution =

Episode 156


page 153 (end Ch. 14)

Japanese Silly Shopping Spree – WIF Around the World

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Frivolous

Ways to Spend

Money in Japan

Got some money burning a hole in your pocket? Then you should definitely visit Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun offers more bang for your buck than any other country on the planet. Whether you’re looking for something unique to eat or want a crazy way to spend the day, if you’ve got enough money, Japan has got you covered.

10. Hang Out In A Cat Cafe

cafe-of-cats

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who hate cats and those who love them. Fortunately for felines, Japan is one of the most cat-friendly nations on Earth. Japanese citizens love spending time with the four-legged fur-balls, but there’s one major problem: unless they’re married, have kids, and live in a condo, most folks can’t own pets. Japanese landlords are pretty darn strict and won’t allow cats in their apartments. So what’s a young animal lover to do?

Visit a cat café, of course! While the first café appeared in Taiwan in the late ‘90s, these kitten clubs have taken Japan by storm. Today, there are close to 150 cafés across the country, and they’re the perfect places for stressed-out office workers hoping to relax with their favorite animals. Cat cafés keep anywhere from twelve to twenty-four felines on staff, and while there are a few purebreds here and there, most are mixed breeds. Customers spend their time sipping coffee (which usually costs about $1.97 per cup), relaxing at tables or on sofas, and waiting for the kittens to come visit. Some people even sketch or take pictures of the cats, but flash photography is strictly forbidden (as is waking a sleeping cat, which sounds pretty wise).

Cat cafés attract people from all walks of life. Tourists, office workers, and businessmen all stop by to chill with the kitties. While most spend about an hour and a half, some spend up to six hours while others take off whole days from work to visit the cafés, hoping to escape the rigors of everyday life. Obviously, this can get pretty pricey. The Neko no mise café charges $1.50 for every ten minutes, and at the Calico, customers pay $9 for the first hour and about two dollars for every fifteen minutes after that. Still, if you yearn for feline affection and can’t own a pet, the cat cafés might be worth every penny.

9. Buy A Clone

clones

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish there was a Mini-Me?”  Well, if you visit Tokyo’s Clone Factory, your Dr. Evil dreams just might come true. Of course, this new-you might be a little, well, inanimate. Unfortunately, the Factory hasn’t discovered the secret of creating an actual clone, but they’ve come up with the next best thing. If you’re willing to part with $1,300-1,750, these techno-wizards can conjure up a doll that bears your exact likeness.

The process involves a lot of digital cameras and a 3D printer. After a client sits in a chair, she has her picture taken with multiple cameras, each one positioned at a different angle. When the photo shoot is finished, the technicians whip up a digital map of the customer’s head and print it onto the plaster that soon transforms into the head of a smiling (and much too lifelike) doll. The Clone Factory’s creations are extremely popular with brides hoping to memorialize their wedding day in 3D form. Of course, if you want to release your inner geek, you can deck out your doll in anime attire or Storm Trooper armor. Afterwards, you can take your doll home and creep out your friends with the 20-inch version of you sitting up on your mantle and smiling for all eternity.

8. Send Your Stuffed Animal On Vacation

Unagi-Travel

In the 2001 French hit Amelie, the eponymous heroine swipes her father’s garden gnome and sends it on a trip around the world, having a flight attendant photograph the little guy in front of famous landmarks. In Japan, Sonoe Azuma will do the exact same thing, only she charges a small fee and works with stuffed animals.

Azuma manages the crazy-yet-cute travel agency known as Unagi Travel. For $45, she’ll escort teddy bears, plush sheep and cotton-filled dogs around Tokyo, taking their snapshots in front of places like the Tokyo Tower and the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa. For $55, she’ll give toys a VIP tour of Japanese hot springs though chances are pretty good the dolls don’t spend much time in the water. And Azuma even offers her services to folks outside of Japan. She runs an English language website for clients in America and Europe where clients can consider purchasing tours of Kyoto ($95), Kumano Kodo ($55) and an enigmatic mystery tour ($35, no Beatles involved). During the trip, she keeps her clients up to date on their animals’ whereabouts via Facebook, and when the trip is over, she mails the toys and photos back home, free of charge.

While Azuma’s business sounds a bit, well, bizarre, it’s actually a source of comfort for many people. For example, her tours have helped people struggling with the loss of family members. Seeing their dolls traveling around Japan has actually lifted their spirits and helped them deal with their grief. Even more impressively, Azuma has inspired people to seize the day and make their lives extraordinary. She tells one story about a woman who suffered an illness that affected her ability to walk. At first, she was too depressed to go to therapy, but after she saw pictures of her toys traveling across Tokyo, she decided she’d visit those places herself and regained the use of her limbs. Ultimately, Unagi Travel is innocent fun and an inspiration for people who’ve given up hope of traveling themselves.

7. Hire A Friend For A Day

Hagemashi-Tai

Feeling lonely? Quite a few people in Japan have the blues too. In fact, over a million citizens suffer from hikikomori, an extreme form of loneliness where people lock themselves in their bedrooms and cut off all communication with friends and family. While most Japanese aren’t that lonely, many have trouble meeting new people. And that’s where rent-a-friend agencies come in handy.

Businesses like Hagemashi Tai (I Want to Cheer You Up) hire out actors who’ll take on most any role, from boyfriend to best man. For example, fake friends will show up at weddings and pretend to be buddies with the bride or groom. One single mom hired a guy to attend sports day at her children’s school, posing as their uncle, and one envious woman rented a phony admirer to make her lover jealous.

Similarly, Ossan Rental fills a very specific niche. The company’s name translates as “Old Guy Rental” and hires out a grand total of two men: founder and fashion expert Takanobu Nishimoto (46) and retired baseball player Mikio Sendou (65). For $10 an hour, these older gents will escort clients to shops, play games, and spend the day talking and offering advice. While Ossan Rental might sound a bit strange, their services are purely platonic (you can visit the site here) and, if nothing else, they help lonely people get and about and make actual human connections.

6. Bathe In A Wine-Filled Spa

Hakone-Kowakien-Yunessun

The Hakone Kowakien Yunessun isn’t your average onsen (hot spring). Located outside Tokyo, the Yunessun Spa Resort is only open twelve days a year, but it certainly draws a crowd. In addition to themed spas like the Ancient Roman Baths, the resort offers unusual pools filled with liquids that most of us usually think of as beverages.

For example, one emerald-colored pool is full of green tea which is supposedly good for your skin. Visitors who want something a bit stronger might slip into the coffee spa and relax in the biggest cup of Joe on the planet. (Employees actually brew the coffee in pots and roll it out to the pool in barrels.)  Of course, if you want an adult drink, there’s the sake spa which allegedly gets rid of wrinkles. Strangely, there’s a ramen bath which has plenty of pepper and pork broth, but no actual noodles. However, the most popular pool is the red wine spa, all of which flows from a giant Merlot bottle. And if you ever decide to visit Yunnessun, drop by on Valentine’s Day when the resort offers a sticky chocolate bath. Sweet!

5. Hire A Fake Priest

gaijin-priest

Christianity isn’t all that popular in Japan. While 77% of Americans and nearly 60% of Britons identify with the faith, only a measly 1% of Japanese believe in Jesus Christ. And that’s what makes Japanese weddings so incredibly weird. Nearly 90% of nuptials are done in traditional Christian fashion, complete with white dresses, Ave Maria and, most importantly, fake priests.

The fascination with Western weddings got started in the ‘80s, when millions of Japanese citizens watched celebrities like Princess Diana and singer Momoe Yamaguchi take their vows on TV. Since then, the number of Christian weddings has skyrocketed, only most of the priests officiating are white guys from the US and Europe. Of course, there are actual Japanese priests, but there are three reasons they don’t preside over most ceremonies. Firstly, there simply aren’t enough pastors to show up at every event. Secondly, most native priests aren’t crazy about this trend because most of these weddings don’t actually involve Christianity — couples are more concerned with image than Scripture, so religious themes are glossed over. Thirdly, most people don’t want Japanese priests, as many feel they aren’t “authentic.”  After all, if you’re going to have a Western wedding, you want a Westerner to run the show, right?

Sensing a golden opportunity to make quick cash, bridal companies started hiring out native-English speakers to work as priests, none of whom have religious training. In fact, many aren’t even Christians. All that matters is that they know Japanese, can read a few token verses and wrap things up in twenty minutes or less. For less than half an hour of acting, fake priests can make us much as $120 (according to a 2006 article). Of course, Japanese couples aren’t just paying the preachers. They’re paying for the churches as well. Quite a few hotels in Japan have Christian style chapels, and you can even find sanctuaries in strange spots like supermarkets. Without a doubt, it’s a bizarre trend, but hey, the couple gets their dream wedding, and the “priest” makes a couple of bucks. Everybody goes home happy.

4. Buy A Fake Finger (If You’re A Criminal)

yakuza-fingers

The fake finger industry caters to a very unique clientele: members of the Japanese Mafia, also known as the Yakuza. Why would gangsters need fake fingers, you ask? It has to do with a bloody underworld ritual known as yubitsume. If a mobster offends his superior, there’s only way to atone: he has to chop off the last joint of his pinkie, usually the left one. If he screws up again, he’ll cut the finger off at the next joint. Hopefully the gangster will get his act together, but if not, he has to move on down the hand, lopping off appendages for every offense. It’s believed this tradition stems back to the days of the samurai, when an amputated finger meant a warrior couldn’t wield his sword properly and had to rely on his master for protection. Today, it’s a sign of criminal activity, and if a gangster leaves the mob, he’ll have a really hard time getting an honest job thanks to his stubby nubs.

That’s where people like Shintaro Hayashi and Yukako Fukushima come in. Both Hayashi and Fukushima make prosthetic body parts, usually for accident victims or breast cancer patients. However, as the government cracks down on the gangs, people like Hayashi and Fukushima are getting more and more business from Japan’s criminals. Some prosthetic makers (like Fukushima) only provide fake fingers for retired gangsters hoping to start over. Others, like Hayashi, are less choosy and will produce duplicate digits for mobsters who want to keep their identities a secret while at public events.

Fake fingers can run anywhere from $1,400 to $3,000. Sure, they might be pricey, but there’s a lot of craftsmanship involved. Made out of silicone, the fingers look one hundred percent realistic. They’re custom made, each finger specially crafted to appear as a natural extension of the hand. They also curve in such a way that the wearer can grasp items without actually moving his mock appendages. Some gangsters even buy multiple fingers to match the seasons (lighter tan for winter, dark for summer) and often come back to have their prosthesis repainted, especially when the color starts fading. It’s a lucrative business, and it’s the only time gangsters don’t mind getting the finger.

3. Dine On Dirt

Ne-Quittez-Pas

Japan is home to quite a few freaky restaurants like Alcatraz ER (a hellish prison hospital) and Alice of Magic World (care to guess the theme?). However, Ne Quittez Paz stands apart from its gimmicky cousins thanks to its boxer-turned-chef Toshiro Tanabe. A Gallic gastronomist, Tanabe runs a really classy joint and has a flair for French food. Not only that, he’s constantly searching for ways to transform food into art, and that’s what inspired his craziest creation yet.

For $110 per person, Ne Quittez Paz serves a full course meal with a special ingredient: dirt. The idea of consuming soil might not sound appetizing, but rest assured — Tanabe uses only the best. It comes from a company called Protoleaf, an organization that goes to countries like Sri Lanka and India and digs ten meters below the ground to find the real primo soil. Afterwards, they heat it up, killing all the bacteria, and then ship it to Japan where Tanabe uses it to make miracles happen in his kitchen.

If you order Tanabe’s dirt special, you’ll start off with potato starch and soil soup and a side salad sprinkled with dirt dressing. Your main meal would consist of an earthy risotto and sea bass, and to end it all, you’d dine on dirt ice cream and dirt gratin. (Try not to “soil” your clothes.)  To be sure, Ne Quittez Pas is a unique restaurant and probably the only place in the world that takes “surf and turf” literally.

2. Visit An Ear Cleaning Parlor

Professional-ear-cleaning

If your ears feel a bit greasy, chances are good you’ll reach for a Q-Tip. However, things are a bit different in Japan. For a small fee, young ladies will clean your ears for you. Ear care is very important in Japanese society. In addition aiding the auditory canal, it’s believed ear cleanings improve skin health and help weight loss. In fact, clean ears are so important that some consider it a mother’s duty to keep her kids and husband wax-free. But when those kids grow up, many frequent the ear cleaning parlors that have popped up all over Japan. Since there aren’t any government regulations, anyone can start their own wax removal business, and professional ear cleaners only need seven to ten days worth of training before they can start poking around in ear canals.

If you visited an ear cleaning parlor, you’d first enter a room decorated in traditional Japanese fashion. A young woman wearing a kimono would make you a cup of tea and chat a bit before sitting on the floor. After putting your head on her lap, she’d lay a napkin over your face and whip out her mimikaki. Essentially a pick made out of bamboo, metal or plastic, the mimikaki comes equipped with a special scoop for scraping out stubborn chunks of ear wax. Services generally last for thirty to seventy minutes and can cost from $32 to $100. In addition to the cleaning, some parlors offer ear massages and even ear divinations. By examining all the folds and flaps of an ear, workers claim they can actually predict your future.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that most ear salon clients are men. Many claim they’re seeking out these peculiar parlors because having their ears cleaned reminds them of their childhoods. However, there’s often a sexual element involved, and workers are allowed to walk away if they feel threatened by the customers. Sadly, sometimes things get out of hand, like the 2009 case when a woman was stabbed to death for rejecting a client’s advances. Fortunately, these incidents are few and far between, and ear cleaning parlors continue to exist on the bizarre border of nostalgia and sex.

1. Buy Crooked Teeth

tsuke-yaeba

Any single ladies in the audience with crooked teeth? If so, you should buy a plane ticket and fly to Japan. Overcrowded mouths are all the rage in the Land of the Rising Sun, where snaggletoothed girls are considered super cute. In fact, they’re considered so attractive that many are intentionally wrecking their smiles in the name of beauty.

This toothy style (known as tsuke-yaeba) became fashionable thanks to celebrities like pop singer Tomomi Itano, whose naturally twisted teeth made guys go nuts. Inspired by their idol, trendy teens (and even women in their 20’s) started visiting special clinics where dental beauticians built some truly bizarre bridgework. For $400, dentists will glue fake ivories onto real teeth, giving the impression that the molars are shoving the canines forward. And if a girl is unsure about this new look, she can just buy temporary teeth. However, lots of ladies decide to go with permanent caps.

Evidently, this fanged fashion is so popular that there’s even a girl band where the members all sport tsuke-yaeba. But what is it about crooked teeth that make them so appealing? According to the guys, these multi-layered grins make girls more approachable. Their imperfections make it easier for dudes to strike up a conversation. On top of that, crooked teeth are often described as “impish” and give girls a childlike quality that some guys go for. (They must love Kirsten Dunst movies.)  While tsuke-yaeba might sound strange to Westerners, is it really any weirder than Botox injections and fake tans? Remember, beauty is in the eye in the beholder — or in this case, the mouth.


Japanese Silly Shopping Spree –

WIF Around the World

Newfangled Transportation – WIF into the Future

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Transportation Methods

of the Future

It is somewhat safe to say that, without transportation, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. The discovery of fire, speech, writing, and all the other man-made inventions, have definitely brought us a long way. But without the ability to transport these inventions to other parts of the world, many of them would have simply faded back into obscurity. And many of them have, by the way. Nevertheless, transportation freed us up to become the dominant species on the planet, moving from one place to the other with relative ease, colonizing new places and meeting new cultures – sometimes with bad consequences.

We went from simply walking, to riding horses, to inventing the wheel, to crossing vast oceans, to flying over them entirely, and finally, to going into outer space. But even with how much transportation has evolved over the centuries, especially during the past several decades, innovation is only picking up steam. Who knows how people will be moving around in 20 years? Well, these examples might offer us a glimpse of what is to come.

10. Gliding Taxis

Up until the invention of flying, water was the fastest means of transportation. But even to this day, traveling by water is still the cheapest. In any case, by combining the benefits of both air and sea travel, two men, Alain Thébault and Anders Bringdal, have designed a water taxi that seems to be gliding right above the water surface. Known as Sea Bubbles, these transportation vehicles are perfect for overly-congested cities that also have a major river, or another body of water, passing through. Not only are they able to take you to, or close to, your destination in a fraction of the time, but they will do it in a completely clean way.

Each individual Sea Bubble can hold up to five people, and can be accessed via special docks along the river. They are battery-powered, and have a 50-62 mile range at speeds of up to 20 mph. What’s particularly interesting about these vehicles is their ability to glide over the water surface, thus reducing friction with the water, and improving both its speed and range in the process. They do this by making use of two wings submerged below the water surface. When in motion, the Sea Bubble lifts up from the water, with only its two wings making contact. Because of this, the ride will be less bumpy as compared to ordinary boats, and there will be little to no waves generated. And because it is battery-powered, the Bubble is completely silent.

They made their debut on Paris’ River Seine in the summer of 2017. Anne Hidalgo, the city’s mayor, said in a statement, “I really believe in the development of river transport. Most of the world’s big cities were built on riverbanks, an advantage we have to use to reduce our reliance on polluting cars.”

9. Hoverbikes

How long have we’ve been waiting for hoverbikes? Probably ever since we first saw them being used in Star Wars, at least. Well, they are finally here and they work. Looking more like a commercial drone on steroids, the Hoversurf Scorpion-3 is the brainchild of a Russian drone start-up. These hoverbikes are programmed to fly at altitudes of 16.4 feet for 25 minutes, and at maximum speeds of up to 44 mph. They are capable of going much higher than that, setting a record of 93.5 feet, but for safety reasons they are limited to only 16.4 feet. It weighs only 229 pounds, which luckily is below the 250-pound threshold – the maximum weight allowed before you would need a registration or a pilot’s license in most countries.

According to their website, these hoverbikes are made for extreme sports enthusiasts who don’t shy away from heights and high speeds. But someone else has shown interest in acquiring an entire fleet of them – the Dubai Police. With them, the officers could zip over traffic, or reach inaccessible areas, in a moment’s notice. But before they will unleash them onto the city streets, the Dubai Police will conduct further testing to explore what other possible uses these hoverbikes might have.

8. Flying Cars

If there are hoverbikes around, then flying cars shouldn’t be too far behind. Now, even though the project is still under development and has some way to go before it will become available to the general public, Uber and NASA have come together in order to make flying cars a reality. Known as Uber Elevate, this project involves the development of a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, which will most likely have a fixed-wing design. Mobile propellers at each end of the wings will be able to rotate up and down, thus allowing the VTOL to land and takeoff on the spot, without the need of a runway.

The aim of this project will be to bring an airborne version of present-day Uber taxis to large, congested cities all around the world. Uber is also aiming to make their vehicles autonomous, so as to eliminate the human error element. The hope is to have these flying cars take people from one place to another over the city and land on specifically-designed helipads or on the rooftops of certain buildings.

But in order to do that, a special system needs to be developed that will manage the airspace above the city. NASA has been working on a project called Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System(UAS in the NAS) which aims to achieve just that. In a statement, Uber’s Chief Product Officer said that “Uber Elevate will be performing far more flights over cities on a daily basis than has ever been done before. Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace-management technologies.”

They hope that by 2020, some of these flying cars will be operational. The company has also announced that LA, Dallas, and Dubai will be the cities where this technology will be implemented first. Uber is not the only one with such grand plans in mind. Airbus is also developing its own City Airbus program, which will work, more or less, on the same principles as Uber Elevate.

7. Personal Submarines

In recent years, Aston Martin, the British luxury car manufacturer best known as James Bond’s car-maker of choice, has entered the seafaring market with a 1,000-horsepower motorboat. More recently, however, they’ve designed and created a submarine. Together with Florida-based Triton Submarines LLC, Aston Martin has developed a high-end, luxury submersible, codenamed Project Neptuneand worth $4 million. Built around a platform specifically designed for super yachts, Neptune will only be 5.9 feet in height and with a total weight of about 8,800 pounds. It will be able to carry three people to a depth of 1,650 feet and at speeds of up to 3 knots, or about 3.5 miles per hour. Oh, and it’s also air conditioned.

Now, based primarily on its price, this submarine will not be for everyone. Like their cars, Aston Martin is providing for the higher-ups in society. With those super rich people in mind, Marek Reichman, the company’s chief creative officer, said in a statement that “what they want to experience is changing. It’s no longer about just having a launch or having your tender. It’s about having some other way of entertaining your guests.”

6. City-to-City Rockets

“If you build a ship that’s capable of going to Mars, what if you take that same ship and go from one place to another on Earth? We looked at that and the results are quite interesting,” said Elon Musk in an interview not that long ago. Over the past several years, Musk’s SpaceX has been experimenting with reusable rockets in an attempt at lowering the cost of going to Mars. If the cost of sending people and cargo into space was at around $10,000 per pound, after Musk’s many test flights and experimentation with reusable rockets, that price has dropped to around $1,000 per pound. This price reduction has ignited some debate about a possible intercontinental transportation system involving rockets.

Now, the plan is pretty out there and it may take some time before it could become a reality and available to the general public. Nevertheless, if it’s ever put into practice, it could connect any two cities anywhere on the face of the Earth. One such rocket would be able to transport 100 people from New York to Shanghai at speeds of 17,000 miles per hour and in just 39 minutes. It would, thus, take most people more time commuting to work every day than it would to travel half-way around the world.

5. The Self-Driving Monorail

Back in 2015, a company by the name of SkyTran opened a 900-foot test station near Tel Aviv, Israel. This station is used as a testing ground for a self-driving monorail system capable of transporting people 20 feet above the ground, and at speeds of 155 mph. The system involves a series of 300-pound pods traveling on a network of rails suspended above the ground. Together with NASA, SkyTran designed differently-sized pods that can accommodate two or four people, one for the disabled, and another, larger one used for transporting cargo. Somewhat similar to a Maglev train, these pods glide on the suspended rail by making use of electricity, gravity, and magnetism. Using the same amount of electricity as two hairdryers, each pod reaches a speed of 10 mph, after which it accelerates on its own, without any additional power.

Due to their small design, these pods can even go through buildings, with stations being located within the buildings’ lobbies themselves. Unlike normal public transport, SkyTran pods do not have a precise schedule. Passengers will get on the first pod that shows up and will input their destination of choice. They will then be taken there automatically in only a fraction of the time it would take traveling on the ground. The first such suspended rail system will be implemented in Lagos, Nigeria by 2020. There are also plans of building one in Abu Dhabi.

4. Self-Balancing Wheelchairs

An obvious sign of a developed society is how well it treats its weakest members. When we look at disabled people, for instance, that progress presents itself in the form of integrated infrastructure such as ramps, special platforms, toilets, and so on. But this infrastructure, especially if not built right from the start, can cost well into the billions nationwide. One other way to address this issue, while still providing for the disabled, is to redesign wheelchairs so as to get around without the need of this costly infrastructure. This is what four university students have managed to achieve by independently funding, designing, and creating the scewo wheelchair.

By making use of state of the art technology, this wheelchair uses two large wheels to drive on flat terrain, while two sturdy rubber tracks allow it to climb and descend stairs with ease. Thanks to its wide base, the wheelchair is also able to go up and down spiral staircases. Its design is also compact enough so as to maneuver easily indoors and fit through standard doors. It can also rotate on the spot, drive on slippery terrain such as snow or loose gravel, and can raise itself so as to bring the user at eye-level, as well as to reach overhead objects.

3. The Float

With the tremendous potential the Maglev system has when it comes to fast transportation, it is no wonder that more and more companies are looking to implement it in the coming decades. But while this system is still restricted to rail networks for the time being, some have envisioned it being used on our roads and highways. Short for magnetic levitation, the Maglev system makes use of two magnets – one that lifts the train off the tracks, and another that pushes it forward. The train is, thus, able to accelerate without actually making contact with the rails themselves. This way, it can reach speeds of up to 375 mph – making a trip from NYC to LA last only around 7 hours. Anyway, the Float is a car concept designed by student Yunchen Cai which makes use of the Maglev system.

The design makes the Float look like a bubble floating just above the street. Each individual pod is able to seat one or two passengers, but several of these pods can clamp up together (like bubbles in a bubble bath), allowing for more people to travel together. The Float also has bucket seats and sliding doors, making it easy for people of all ages to get in or out. And like several other entries on this list, the Float will not necessarily be private property, owned by individuals, but rather, they could be better seen as taxis which one could call upon anywhere, by using an app.

2. Windowless Planes

At first glance, windowless planes (and definitely not windowless in the way you’re probably thinking) do not sound like a particularly good idea. But after seeing this new design, some may just change their minds. Conceptualized by Technicon Design, an international agency, this proposed idea was designed to make use of already existing technology, or one that will be available in the very near future. Instead of the standard plane windows, these private jets will have no windows whatsoever. Instead, they will make use of high-resolution, low-voltage screens located on the sides and ceiling of the plane. Cameras mounted on the outside will capture the surrounding views and will display them in real-time in the inside of the plane.

These screens will be powered by solar panels mounted on the roof of the plane. Now, besides making the flight a more pleasurable experience, this technology will make these private jets sturdier and less cumbersome. By removing the windows altogether, the overall weight of the plane will drop significantly, thus making it much more fuel efficient. And with a simplified fuselage, there is much more flexibility for the interior design, as well. These displays can also project other images, besides the outside view – changing the mood inside the jet, depending on preference. If desired, they can also display a traditional plane interior.

1. The Space Train

With so many proposed plans of colonizing the solar system these days, it would only be fair to address at least one means of future space travel. Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, humans will begin forming a colony on Mars. If this ends up being the case, we will need to develop a means of transportation that is fast and reliable enough to get us to and from there in only a fraction of the time. Today, a manned mission to the Red Planet is expected to last somewhere around six months, or even more. During this prolonged period of time, astronauts and colonists will be exposed to microgravity which has a long series of negative effects on the human body. One proposed transport system is a hypothetical space train, known as the Solar Express.

When it comes to space travel, the most expensive and time-consuming portions are the acceleration and deceleration phases. This proposed space train would, thus, never stop, going back and forth between Earth and Mars indefinitely. The Solar Express will first begin to accelerate by making use of rocket boosters. It will then use the planets’ gravity to continuously slingshot itself back and forth between the two. This way, the train would be able to reach 1% of the speed of light, or about 1,864 miles per second. This speed would reduce an Earth-to-Mars trip to just 2 days. Geez, Matt Damon would be pissed. 

Unmanned probes would mine for water or other resources from asteroids and would rendezvous back with the train on its return journey. Boarding the train from the planets would be done in somewhat the same fashion, without it ever needing to stop. We are still a long way away from developing one such space train – with much of the technology required not even existing at this point. Nevertheless, the entire concept is intriguing, to say the least.


Newfangled Transportation

– WIF into the Future

The Name Game – United States Style

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How Did These

States Get

Their Names?

The study of place names and their origins, known as toponymy, can reveal a lot about human society as a whole. Did you know that almost every country in the world can place the origin of its name in one of only four categories? These are either a directional description of the country, a feature of the land, a tribe or ethnic group that lived there, or after an important person. Now, let’s see if the same thing applies to some of the United States.

10. Arizona

There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding the name of Arizona, with two versions of the story circulating out there. One says that Arizona comes from the Basque aritz onak, which translates to ‘good oak’. The name is said to have been given due to the many oak trees in the area, which reminded the Basque settlers of their home country. The other version says that the word actually comes from the Spanish, who called the region Arizonac, which itself was a corruption from a word in the native Tohono O’odham language, spoken in the area.  Ali-shonak loosely translates to ‘small spring’ and is in reference to the 1736 discovery of some rich silver veins located near some clear springs in the area. That silver didn’t last for long, but it made people aware of the existence of a place called Arizona.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, when the boundary between the US and Mexico was drawn at the Rio Grande and the Gila River, Arizona was part of New Mexico. But soon after its annexation, people living in what is now Arizona wanted a separate status from New Mexico. Several names were suggested for the new state, among which was also “Gadsonia.” It was proposed as a means to honor James Gadsden, the man who negotiated the purchase of land south of the Gila River. Nevertheless, in 1863, the name Arizona won out, and the rest is history.

9. Maine

Did you know that Maine is the sole state whose name contains just one syllable, and it’s the only one in the lower 48 to border only one other (New Hampshire)? Anyway, people aren’t entirely sure where its name comes from. The first time it appeared in writing was in 1622 when it was mentioned in a charter of the Council of New England as a province. The region was to be given to two English Royal Navy veterans, Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason. Captain Mason called his portion of the province New Hampshire, while Gorges proposed New Somerset for his. New Somerset was strongly disliked by King Charles I, who in 1639 issued another charter saying that it “shall forever hereafter be called and named the Province or County of Mayne and not by any other name or names whatsoever.” Nevertheless, some other names were being proposed in 1819, such as Yorkshire, Lygonia and Columbus, which were to be some other potential candidates for when the province became a proper state one year later as part of the Missouri Compromise.

As of 2001, the state legislature officially adopted the version in which the state draws its name from the no-longer-existing French province of Maine. Up until 1845, historians believed that the connection between the American and French regions was through King Charles’ wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. It was believed that the queen had once owned the French province, but subsequently discovered evidence shows that there was no connection. Furthermore, the king and queen married three years after the name Maineappeared in that previously mentioned charter. Another possible origin story says that Gorges proposed the name himself as a means to honor the village where his ancestors once lived in England. That village is now called Broadmayne, but in a 1086 manuscript, it appears under the name Maine – which in primitive Welsh or Brythonic meant ‘rock’. The most generally accepted version, however, is that the state name was based on a practical nautical term. As its coast is littered with many islands, sailors call the mainland simply “the main” or sometimes “Meyne” – so as to easily distinguish between it and the islands. This practice is still in use today within the Navy.

8. Oregon

Of all the states, Oregon’s name may be the most hotly debated in regard to its origins. There are several theories out there, each of which has its own share of plausible arguments. The most probable among them, however, is that it originated with the Spanish. In fact, the first mention of the term orejón in relation with the region comes from a historical chronicle dated in 1598, written by Spanish explorers who made their way into the area at the time. The term translates to “big-eared” and may be in reference to the natives they encountered there. Another possible Spanish root is that the name comes from oregano, which grows in the southern regions of the state.

Others believe that it comes from oolighan – the Chinook word for the eulachon, a smelt fish found on the Pacific coast and a valuable food source for the native tribes that lived there. Another possible Native American connection would be with the Sioux tribe, who referred to the Columbia River as the “River of the West.” The Sioux may have borrowed some words from the Shoshone, another tribe living in what is now Nevada, among other places, and whose words for river and west are Ogwa and Pe-On respectively.

A different theory talks about the French and their word for hurricane – which is ouragan. It’s believed that French explorers in the area called the Columbia River ‘le fleuve aux ouragans’ or “Hurricane River” because of the strong winds blowing through its gorges. The first use of the word Ouragon appeared in a 1765 petition by Major Robert Rogers to the Kingdom of Great Britain where heasked for an overland expedition as part of the search for the so-called Northern Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Back then, people believed that the Columbia River began somewhere in Minnesota and flowed all the way to the Pacific. In an 18th century French map, the Ouisiconsink(Wisconsin) River was misspelled as “Ouaricon-sint” and broken into two lines, with the “-sint” written below. This incomplete map gave the impression that a river called Ouaricon was flowing westward – and could have possibly been the “River of the West” that spilled into the Pacific.

7. Pennsylvania

If you’ve ever felt that there’s a connection between Pennsylvania and Transylvania, then you’d be right. But the connection has nothing to do with vampires or the two lands themselves, but through the way they were named in the first place. The word Transylvania can be broken down into three parts as follows: trans (which is Latin for over or beyond), sylva (Latin for woods), and nia (which is a common suffix used for nouns and countries). In other words, Transylvania translates to ‘Lands beyond the forest’. Now, when it comes to Pennsylvania, the difference is with the word Penn. Pennsylvania was named in honor of British Admiral William Penn, father to William Penn, the founder of the state. William Penn (senior) actually loaned some money to King Charles II of England, and in return, the king gave his son a tract of land for him to found a Quaker settlement in America.

The younger Penn proposed the name Sylvania, but King Charles II wanted Penn’s name to be included – thus the name Pennsylvania (which translates to Penn’s Woodland). The story goes that William Penn felt embarrassed about it, fearing that people would think that he named it after himself, and petitioned the name be changed to New Wales. But the King’s secretary, who was a devout Christian from Wales, was completely against it – not wanting any connection between his homeland and the Quakers whatsoever.

6. Texas

Texas also goes by the name of The Lone Star State. This is as a way to represent and signify its former status as an independent republic, as well as its struggle for independence from Mexico. That lone star can still be found on the state flag, as well as its seal. But when it comes to its actual name of Texas, its origins can still be linked to the Spanish and by extension, Mexico. The name actually comes from the Caddo – a sedentary tribe of Native Americans who lived in the area around the time when the Spanish made it there.

The Caddo, as well as other tribes that lived in the region, all had the same word, or a similar variation of it, to refer to “friends” and “allies.” That word was teysha, which the Caddo also used as a greeting in the form of “hello, friend.” This greeting was similarly used on the Spanish, who later named the Natives after it. Over the years, that word went through several changes including Tejas, finally settling on Texas. Interestingly enough, Texas’ official motto is “Friendship.”

5. Rhode Island

Back in 1524, an Italian explorer by the name of Giovanni da Verrazzano, working in service for the French crown, was heading towards Florida as part of an expedition to find a way to the Pacific Ocean and establish a trade route with Asia. On his way there, he had to make a stop in North Carolina for some ship repairs. But once he was back on the move, he no longer stuck to the original plan and began heading north instead of south. He went past the Hudson River and Long Island, ending up in Narragansett Bay, which opens up in what is now the Rhode Island Sound. As he was exploring the many islands within and around the bay, he kept a record of his discoveries. In a letter he wrote back to France in July of that same year, he said that he “discovered an Ilande in the form of a triangle, distant from the maine lande 3 leagues, about the bignesse of the Ilande of the Rodes.” Now, Verrazzano originally named that particular island Luisa, in honor of the Queen Mother of France, but in his letter he described the island as being reminiscent of the Island of Rhodes in Greece.

For almost 100 years, his letter was the only description people had about that part of the New World. Over the following decades, his letter was translated and printed into Italian and English, further distributing the idea of a Greek-looking island in North America. Now, there has been some debate about which of the many islands Verrazzano was actually referring to in his letter, and for a time it was believed that it was Aquidneck Island – the largest in Narragansett Bay. Modern-day scholars believe that there’s a better chance that he was actually talking about Block Island, which is also part of the state of Rhode Island today, and better fits Verrazzano’s description. In 1637, Roger Williams, a political and religious leader who also founded the state of Rhode Island, established a settlement on Aquidneck Island. The name was officially given to the island in a 1644 declaration saying: “Aquethneck shall be henceforth called the Isle of Rodes or Rhode-Island.”

4. Idaho

When it comes to state names, Idaho does seem like the kind that sounds Native American, doesn’t it? That’s the main reason why the name was chosen in the first place. Now, Idaho was originally given to the Colorado Territory at the suggestion of George M. Willing, an eccentric lobbyist and industrialist. He claimed that the word comes from the Shoshone language and meant something along the lines of “gem of the mountains” or “light on the line of the mountains.” And it seemed appropriate, given the fact that the name was to be chosen for a new territory around the Pikes Peak region, close to present-day Colorado Springs – a mountainous area. During the debate in the Senate, several other names were proposed, among which were Colorado, as well as Jefferson. But most senators seemed to favor Idaho instead. Luckily, Sen. Joseph Lane, from Oregon, brought to light the fact that no Indian tribe in the area has that word, or something resembling it. As it turned out, and what Willing himself reportedly confirmed some years later, is that he actually invented the word, as well as the meaning he gave for it. The name Colorado was then given instead.

This could have simply been the end of that story, but as it turns out, the word Idaho didn’t fade into obscurity. In fact, it gathered great momentum and vitality among the people living in those parts of North America. In 1861, the same year the Colorado Territory was created, Idaho County was also being established in the Washington Territory. It was christened after a steamship with the same name, which was launched on the Columbia River one year prior. With the whole affair seemingly forgotten, Idaho Territory was nevertheless created in 1863, which also included the previously mentioned Idaho County and other parts of the Washington Territory. Funnily enough, even well into the 20th century, many school books gave Willing’s version for the word Idaho as fact. In any case, there’s another theory circulating out there in regards with the name. Some people attribute it to the Plains Apache whose word for enemy is “ídaahe.”

3. Florida

Juan Ponce de León is a name that should sound at least somewhat familiar, even if you don’t really know what he was famous for – it just has that ring to it, right? Anyway, Ponce de León was a possible crew member in Christopher Columbus’ 1493 voyage to the New Word – though nobody is really sure. A decade later, he served as governor of the eastern part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic). During his time as governor in Hispaniola, he also explored the nearby island of Puerto Rico and became governor of that too. Following some rumors of other possible islands to the northwest of Hispaniola, Ponce de León received exclusive rights from the King of Spain to become governor for life on whatever lands he might discover in that region. In return, he was expected to finance the voyage and future settlements himself. On April 2, 1513, the three ships part of the expedition came across an island, or what they thought to be an island, and named it La Florida.

The name was chosen because of the incredibly verdant and flowering landscape, and because it was the Easter season, which the Spanish called Pascua Florida or Festival of Flowers. Nobody is really certain where they made their first landing in La Florida, but they stayed there for five days before they left. A second voyage took place in 1521 with the intention of colonizing the newly discovered lands. But before the colonists could establish the settlement, they were attacked by the native Calusa warriors. Ponce de León was severely wounded in the skirmish and the colonizing attempt was abandoned. Historians believe that he was hit by a poison-tipped arrow, and died in Cuba. Now, legends have it that he was actually looking for a rumored Fountain of Youth when he discovered Florida, and this is probably why his name is so familiar. Unfortunately, however, there was no mention of any such fountain in any documents at the time, and the story was only attached to him after his death. Furthermore, it’s also believed that he wasn’t the first European to set foot in Florida either. Spanish slavers looking for new prisoners may have made it there in the years prior.

2. Delaware

The state of Delaware is named after the Delaware River. That’s it – that’s the whole story! Well fine, we’ll expand on this a little further. The river itself was first discovered by the Dutch in their attempt to find an alternative route to China in 1609. The leader of that expedition was Henry Hudson, an English navigator under the service of the Dutch East India Company. His discoveries along the East Coast ignited instead the Dutch colonization of North America, and not a new trade route to China. Both Dutch and Swedish settlers established themselves on the lower sections of the river.

Prior to the English expelling the Dutch from their New Netherland colony in 1664, the Delaware and Hudson Rivers were generally known as the South and North Rivers, respectively. After this, however, the North River was officially named after its discoverer, Henry Hudson, while the South River was named after the first governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas West 3rd Baron De La Warr. The South River may have been known to the locals as Delaware prior to the Dutch expulsion, though.

Nevertheless, this De La Warr title is pronounced the same as Delaware, but with a different spelling. Located in Sussex, England, the barony’s name has an Anglo-Norman origin. Now, there are several possibilities as to where this title actually draws it roots from. One possible connection would be with the French La Guerre, which translates to The War. It could also come from the Latin word ager which means field or land. Or from the Breton Gwern – which was a figure in Welsh tradition. The most plausible of these, however, is the French La Guerre – which would make the state of Delaware mean something along the lines of “Of the war.”

1. California

Did you know that some people are naming their kids after popular Game of Thrones characters? Well, naming people and places after fiction isn’t something new. In fact, California was named in the exact same manner. Its name was given by two Spanish sailors, Diego de Becerra and Fortun Ximenez, who landed on the southernmost tip of Baja California in 1533. The two were sent there by Hernán Cortés to claim that land on his behalf. The name was chosen based on a fictional island called California that appeared in a romantic novel at the time, written by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo in the early 16th century. Known as Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), the novel mentions a mythical island located east of Asia and “very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.

In the book, this island was ruled over by Calafia, a warrior queen who once led an army of women and a flock of mythical griffins from the island of California to aid a Muslim army battle against the Christians, who were defending Constantinople. Her name, and by extension the name of the fictional island, are based on the Arabic word Khalifa which is a religious state leader, and known as Caliph in English. The two Spanish navigators named the place California, thinking that the Baja California peninsula they landed on was an island. To be fair, we should also mention that some people believe that California actually comes from an indigenous phrase, kali forno, which means ‘high mountains.’ But equally as important is the fact that many other places and settlements around the world, including in South America, Europe, Australia, and the Philippines, are named California – something which makes the indigenous phrase being the actual origin seem highly unlikely.


The Name Game

– United States Style

China 5*Star Tours – WIF Travel

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Must-See

Tourist Attractions

in China

The most populous nation on Earth, the world’s second largest country in terms of land area, and a land of incredible cultural, historical and archaeological riches, China is one of the world’s leading tourism destinations. With diverse geography and the legacies of historic civilization coupled with modern innovation, China’s must-see sites should be on any outdoor travel, archaeology, or ancient architecture enthusiast’s list.

In this account, we discover sites ranging from the ancient Terracotta Warriors unearthed in Xi’an Province to the unbelievable feat of modern innovation that is the glass walkway clinging to the side of Tianmen Mountain, take a closer look at the Great Wall, and the Tomb of a leading female emperor.

10. The Terracotta Warriors

Standing in rank with an assortment of weapons and horses, the Terracotta Warriors form a spectacular mausoleum of international renown that attracts over 1 million visitors each year. Named the 8th Wonder of the World by French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac in 1978, the artifact site was discovered buried under a field in Linton District, Xi’an, in the centrally located Shaanxi province in 1974 by a farmer and his workers who were in the process of digging a water well.

Created late in the third century BCE at the order of the first emperor of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, to guard him in the afterlife, the Terracotta Warriors consist of a magnificent array of earthen likenesses of men, chariots and horses, complete with weapons and detailed uniforms standing below the surface of the surrounding land. The sculptures are a little larger than life-sized and, incredibly, are individualized, showing different soldiers with distinct expressions, postures, and clothing and adornment details.

Perhaps eerily, the degree of individualization suggests that real soldiers were replicated, one by one. Hundreds of Terracotta soldiers have been meticulously unearthed and preserved or restored to high standards. Currently, teams of archaeologists are working to unearth large new sections of standing ranks. Four distinct pits are known, three of which have been excavated to a significant degree, while the fourth has not yet been unearthed. It is thought that an entire replica of the ancient City of Xi’an may exist in the emperor’s tomb located near the warrior pits.

 9. The Forbidden City (Beijing)

A prime destination for visitors despite its name, the Forbidden City is now open for public viewing of ancient, intricate and colorful imperial buildings that bring the ancient world to life in China’s capital, Beijing. Upon arrival, one will be faced with building after building amongst expansive squares, defined by traditional Chinese architecture constructed with fine south China jungle wood and Beijing marble. The Phoebe zhennan wood came from a tree sufficiently rare as to be outside the price range of all except ancient Chinese royalty.

Considered the definitive Chinese architectural accomplishment, this largest of palatial complexes on the planet originated in the years 1406 to 1420, serving as the ancient seat of Chinese government from the Ming up to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Built with the labor of over 1 million workers, the Forbidden City was so named due to the requirement for the Emperor’s permission to be given for anyone coming into or out of the city. Now, the preserved and extensively restored splendor of the Forbidden City attracts a whopping 14 plus million visitors per year, prompting concerns over the level of use of the site. The Forbidden City represents that greatest set of preserved ancient wooden buildings in the world, now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

8. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

Rising from the grounds of the Da Ci’en Temple complex grounds in Southern Xi’an, Shaanxi province, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda dates back to 652 at the time of the Tang Dynasty. Accessible for a modest fee, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is a marvel of Chinese architecture with an iconic and commanding appearance. A World Heritage Site, the tower offers spectacular views of the city of Xi’an from the top, a panorama mixing ancient Buddhist architecture with modern buildings. The pagoda was erected to contain Buddhist artifacts brought from India to China by the highly regarded Chinese Buddhist translator and traveler, Xuanzang. According to legend, the name comes from the story of a wild goose falling from the sky at the spot to provide food for monks who had prayed for a meal.

Originally built from rammed earth, a construction method not generally known for being earthquake resistant, the structure collapsed in a 1556 earthquake before being rebuilt taller and stronger at the direction of China’s only female Emperor, Empress Wu Zetian. The rebuilt Giant Wild Goose Pagoda incorporated 5 additional stories, for a total of 10 stories.Yet, this tall structure was too high in relation to its stability and 3 stories simply toppled off, leaving the present day 7-story building that reaches a height of 210 feet. Reachable by a short walk from Da Yan Ta station on line three of the Xi’an Metro, the tower is built of brick with an interior winding staircase that matches the square shape of the building, fashioned from wood.

7. The Temple of Heaven (Beijing)

 A mysterious looking circular building, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing was constructed in the year 1420 AD by Emperor Zhu Di of the Ming Dynasty, which spanned 1368-1644, and subsequently used into the Qing Dynasty of the years 1644-1911. The location of temple construction, the Royal Garden, had been used for Heaven worship from the beginning of the Ming dynasty. The largest sacrificial building constructed in Chinese history, the Temple of Heaven and its grounds cover an area even larger than the already enormous Forbidden City. Designed to represent mystical laws and principles of cosmology, the temple was a place where Heaven itself was worshiped during the Winter Solstice, when prayers for a bountiful harvest were offered.

The Temple complex consists of an area of 3,529,412 square yards and was deliberately made larger than the Forbidden City due to a prohibition on Chinese emperors living in a dwelling place of greater size than the construction dedicated to Heaven. The Emperor was regarded as the Son of Heaven, according to ancient Chinese culture, and a representative. Two times per year, the Emperor and his imperial accompany-ers would camp in the complex to appeal to Heaven in hopes of successful harvests. The spectacular and iconic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is built upon a three-tiered marble base and spans 118 feet in diameter with a height of just over 125 feet. The other main elements of the site include the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a circle shaped building with one gable, while the Circular Mound Altar is an enormous set of concentric circles, the largest spanning just over 229 feet. The 360 balustrades symbolize the 360 degrees of heaven, which was seen representing the roundness of heaven as viewed in traditional Chinese culture.

6. Qianling Mausoleum (Resting Place of China’s Female Emperor)

Originally just a concubine in the harem of Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong, Wu Zeitan (624-705) took a spectacular rise to power that interrupted the Tang Dynasty once she declared her own Dynasty, a reign that would span from 690 to 705. Upon the death of Emperor Taizong om 649, Wu became an increasingly high ranking and influential concubine of his son, born Li Zhi, later becoming Emperor Gaozong. Having gained the favor of the Emperor, she became Empress Consort and through a serious of largely disputed but clearly brutal purges of rivals, established herself as Empress Regent, equivalent to the male title Emperor. In this role, she was to become the only recognized female Emperor of China in history. Her strict and aggressive but effective reign constituted the Zhou Dynasty, spanning from 690-705, interrupting the Tang Dynasty that began in 618 and ended in 907.

After a serious of aggressive military campaigns and spectacular construction projects completed at her direction, Wu Zetian weakened and died in December 705 at age 80 or 81. Wu Zetian is buried in a shared tomb in the spectacular Qianling Mausoleum, which is seen as the number one Chinese royal tomb and known as the only tomb containing the bodies of multiple emperors in China. Just 53 miles northwest of Xi’an, the Tang dynasty tomb complex was completed in 684. Subjected to numerous attempts at robbery over 1,200 years, the mausoleum is a guarded artifact that must be kept shut under Chinese law. The site is dramatic with vast gardens, walkways, and statues amongst panoramic mountain views, with two huge stone steles commissioned by Wu herself. One offers a rich tribute to her deceased husband, Emperor Gaozong (Li Zhi), but mysteriously, the other stele, commissioned for herself, is completely blank.

5. The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China steadily extends across mountains and valleys, crawling up seemingly impossible grades while maintaining its grand structural integrity and a consistent appearance. A wonder of the world of paramount significance and iconic status, the Great Wall of China as it currently stands is primarily a Ming Dynasty relic of impressive defensive architecture. Attracting 10 million visitors per year, the wall is unfortunately facing significant impact pressures, yet conservation measures are challenging given the wall’s inter-jurisdictional span. Readily accessible from Beijing by a short bus ride, the wall spans multiple cities and provinces across China, with a length of 13,170 miles and numerous access points. To put that size in perspective, it is approximately half of the length of the equator in its extent. The most visited point of the wall, the Badaling section, received 63,000,000 million visitors in 2001, with visitor flow reaching 70,000 per day at peak times.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the Great Wall is the fact that there is no single Great Wall from any particular time. Instead, the Great Wall is a combination of construction efforts from different dynasties and in different places. The 7th century BC saw the start of construction efforts intended to keep out raids from nomadic tribes from the steppes of Eurasia, while the famous first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang constructed massive sections of wall from 220 to 206 BC. While famous, that wall is mostly gone, with the largest portion of the current wall dating from the Ming Dynasty of 1368 to 1644, constructed to resist Mongolian and Jurchen invasions. With massive wall bodies, flanking towards and battlements, the Great Wall looks like a cross between a castle and a wall, and it is also the project with the greatest ever cost to human life and effort.

4. The Coiling Dragon Path (Hunan Province)

Located on the bizarre looking Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park within Hunan province, the Coiling Dragon Path is defined by an eerie glass-bottomed walkway attached to the side of the mountain as it extends in a curving pattern for 330 feet, 4,600 feet above sea level. Opened in the summer of 2016, a fully sheer drop lies below as the path is stuck to the side of the cliffs of the thumb-shaped peak, plunging hundreds of feet to the base sections of the mountain below. In replacing the more rudimentary and also terrifying wooden path, the glass-bottomed path allows tourists to look directly beneath their feet at the ground far below as they advance along the side of the mountain on the impossibly curving glass walkway, brushing against the vegetation of the vertical mountainside.

Just 5 feet in width, the Coiling Dragon Path is accompanied by additional dizzying attractions, including a spectacular record breaker in the form of the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, which is the world’s highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge. This bridge has been subjected to bizarre safety tests including being cracked with a sledgehammer, after which a car was driven across. The glass-bottomed bridge spans 1,410 feet, with a height of 984 feet above the floor of the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon that it spans. Adding to the bizarre and stunning visuals of the site is a 431-foot high hole in Tianmen Mountain known as Tianmen Cave, accessible by a crazily winding road with 99 sharp bends that inches its way up the slopes.

3. The Bund (Shanghai)

A complex of enormous colonial European buildings that are seemingly out of place, the Bund in Shanghai is comprised of 52 colonial buildings that include Baroque, Gothic, Neo-Classical, and Renaissance architectural styles, and the most extensive set of Art-Deco construction on the planet. Despite their foreign origin and appearance, the buildings of the Bund are seen as forming the definitive landmark of Shanghai, extending along the waterfront to include spectacular churches, hotels, and former government buildings. The buildings include trading and colonial posts of countries including the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and the consulates of Russia and Britain.

Understood to be invaders by China, European colonists and soldiers engaged in conflicts that led to significant destruction of Chinese heritage property and cultural artifacts and imposition of trade and territorial concessions, most notoriously through the Opium Wars, where England declared war against China in 1839 in the First Opium War. As part of colonial settlement, the Bund served as a headquarters for enforcing trade and territorial concessions up the end of China’s final imperial dynasty, the Qing Dynasty (CE 1644-1911).

Viewed by China as unreasonable and labeled the “Unequal Treaties,” the concessions fell apart during and subsequent to the events of WWII. Closed down in 1949 as a result of Chinese displeasure with what was seen as a symbol of Western colonialism, the site is now viewed as a prime tourist destination and economic engine. Attracting scores of visitors each year, the buildings have been subject to extensive historical restoration efforts by the Chinese government and form one of the most visited tourism sites in China. Now, uses for the buildings include hosting museums, hotels and corporate centers.

2. Mount Huashan

The 7,067-foot Mount Huashan, Shaanxi Province, offers a heart-stopping and unusual hike consisting of boardwalk sections strapped to the sides of the rising peaks and secured to each other with giant “staples.” A potentially dangerous “geotourism” site, the mountain rises dramatically above the surrounding foothills and farmlands. Stunning panoramic perspectives and firsthand views of sheer drops of unimaginable heights can be seen from the shockingly precarious chain hold and rickety wooden plank pathway called the “Plank Road” on the South peak of the mountain, which is known as “The Monarch of Huashan.” The plank road appears awkwardly rigged to the sides of the mountain and sometimes tilted towards it on an angle. At the end of the plank road, the “path” transforms to mere foot pegs jutting out of the mountain and footholds carved into the rock.

In fact, the sky walkways onsite are more akin to an assisted rock climbing experience where you had better hang on for your life with the help of the required harness than an actual developed “path.” Considered one of China’s five great mountains and a holy site dating back to the construction of a second century Daoist temple, the Monarch of Huashan has many sheer cliffs and a stout shape that may recall a giant peg or even a barnacle as it protrudes far above the surrounding peaks, reaching a staggering height of 7,070 feet. Mount Huashan has been labelled “The most dangerous hike in the world,” with widely disputed claims of high death tolls but an undeniably real risk of danger. Due to the popularity of Mount Huashan as an extreme hiking destination, concerns of crowding have become a significant problem, leading to numerous visitors choosing to climb at night.

1. Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

Not truly a bear, the Giant Panda is an icon not only of Chinese wildlife and biological diversity but a symbol of nature conservation globally and the logo of the World Wildlife Fund.

Considered vulnerable with a population of only 1,864 pandas remaining in the wild, the Giant Panda is restricted in range to mountainous regions of western China where they naturally live, breed, and forage in bamboo forests, subsisting almost 100 percent upon this gigantic grass species. Home to 83 pandas, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is located at the north end of Chengdu, the sub-provincial capital of Sichuan, a province known for spicy food, mountains, and bamboo forests on which the critically endangered Giant Panda depends. The majority of the Giant Panda range is in Sichuan province, with smaller populations in Shaanxi province and Gansu province.

The birthplace of 124 new pandas as of 2008, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding started through the rescue of six pandas in the 1980s and aspires to be recognized as a world class destination for research, education, and international tourism. The site is readily accessible from downtown Chengdu by bus or vehicle but enjoys a wilderness setting. Awarded the categorization of “Class 4a National Tourist Attraction,” the center attracts an incredible 3.5 million tourists per year intent on viewing the pandas and seeing the breeding facilities, handler interactions, and surrounding lush forested hills. The site also has facilities to enable the gradual release of pandas into the wild, and conducts crucial fieldwork projects to research the ecology, conservation, and life history of pandas in the wild as well as pioneering panda conservation breeding techniques.


China Sightseeing Highlights –

WIF Travel