Friday, 27 February 2015

Old Pictures: Angkor Wat

In 1860, as is often popularly recorded, the French explorer Henri Mouhot discovered Angkor Wat lost in the jungle. Fortunately for the world he didn't keep this to himself. He produced a series of pictures.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Country Review: Fiji

Dates there: 2nd to 6th March 2014: 5 days

Fiji's Wonders: None

On the Longlist: None

You don't go to Fiji for the architecture. You go there for the islands, the beaches, or in my case because I've got a friend there. It's a lovely place and feels a little like an alternative universe, where the relics of British colonialism hang out on a remote island in the middle of nowhere. Danielle and I spent a couple of days in the capital, Suva, with my friend Maebh and her partner Tom, then moved onto an awfully pleasant beachside hotel for a couple of days.

Fiji's archaeological history goes back as far as 900 BC, but they weren't inclined towards Easter Island giant heads, it seems. Fijians preferred just to hang about and enjoy the sun. And why wouldn't you? There are no grand ancient mysterious monuments anywhere, just some humble mounds and boulders which would have had some kind of ceremonial function a long time ago. Mostly, Fijians built stuff like this:

That's a traditional house, reconstructed on the university grounds. Attractive, but not exactly durable over centuries.

Perhaps Fiji's most notable building today is the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva. This is a proper no-nonsense colonial hotel, and people like the Queen - yes, ER2 herself, the all-time classic Queen (tied first with Victoria and ER1) - have stayed here. In the 1990s, it fell into hard times, but when we visited it was being done up and almost ready to reopen, which later it did in May. You can stay there for about £150 a night, which seems a pretty good deal.

But maybe you'd prefer to stay at one of Fiji's beach or island hotels. That's what most people prefer to do. And that's fair enough, because you don't go to Fiji for the architecture.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Model Wonders 7: The Lost Edition

In the last couple of weeks the art world has been stunned by the potential discovery of two bronze statuettes thought to have been made by Michelangelo. Well, art world, prepare to be stunned again. My recent editions of Model Wonders, my widely-acclaimed series on small souvenir models of prospective World Wonders, featured gems from the Americas and from Europe, as well as a small cache of other models. It appeared that we'd seen everything - but no! When Danielle and I were in Turkey, Burness joined us for a couple of weeks. Very kindly, when he went home and as we continued travelling, he took a box from me to lighten my backpack. Last month that box was returned. The contents would rock not only the world of art, but the world of everything!

Here they are:


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Longlist: Umayyad Mosque aka The Great Mosque of Damascus

What's the Longlist? It's the list for all the other great man-made spectacles in the world that haven't quite made my shortlist. I don't feel the need to research them or visit them, but as long as this blog is about the world's best man-made structures, they deserve some kind of mention. Today, Umayyad Mosque aka The Great Mosque of Damascus.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Old Pictures: The Bodhi Tataung Standing Buddha

Well, this could be a quick one. The The Bodhi Tataung Standing Buddha is the second tallest statue in the world, at 129 metres tall, but it's a new kid on the block and was only completed in 2008. Here's a bunch of photos of it in construction.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Country Review: Brazil

Dates there: 14th to 20th February 2014: 7 days

Brazil's Wonders: The Christ the Redeemer statue.

Also visited: Metropolitan Cathedral, the Maracana Stadium

On the Longlist: National Congress in Brasilia, Itaipu Dam

I'll let you into a little secret: I'm not really that keen on Brazil. I'm not sure it's wholly rational, or perhaps I'm just not able to fully explain it, but I can't find the enthusiasm that other people have, or actual Brazilians have in flowing abundance. Perhaps that last point is key: the Brazilians have an awful lot of enthusiasm for their own country. Too much enthusiasm. I know it's very natural for people around the world to believe that "their" country is the best, and there's nothing wrong with a little patriotism, but when it goes overboard and it seems like everybody is ramming it down your throat about how extra-specially great their country is, then I get a little sick of it. I know that it puts a lot of people off America when Americans go on about being number 1, but in my view Brazil is worst of all. Let's have some quiet confidence please, chaps, not noisy bombast about your own excellence.

Friday, 6 February 2015


For the last few months, you might have noticed this little thing on the sidebar.

You also have noticed that although we've rolled into 2015, it hasn't yet changed. With 39 Wonders still to visit before I can declare myself complete, we'd hope to at least begin planning a few visits for this year. Well, here's what's happening.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Longlist: Milan Cathedral

What's the Longlist? It's the list for all the other great man-made spectacles in the world that haven't quite made my shortlist. I don't feel the need to research them or visit them, but as long as this blog is about the world's best man-made structures, they deserve some kind of mention. Today, Milan Cathedral.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Old Pictures: Bagan

Plonked in the middle of Burma is the ruined city of Bagan. Once the capital of a kingdom, peaking in around the 12th Century, it went to ruin until all that remained were stone temples. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, some big, some small. It's a simply splendid place to visit.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Country Review: Uruguay

Dates there: 10th to 13th February 2014: 4 days

Uruguay's Wonders: none

On the Longlist: Palacio Salvo, as I'm in a generous mood.

Wedged between Argentina and Brazil, just like a bogey between the nose and lips, is the little blob that is Uruguay. Oh dear, what a horrible introduction to poor Uruguay. It's a really nice country, I promise!

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Longlist: Cloud Gate aka The Bean

What's the Longlist? It's the list for all the other great man-made spectacles in the world that haven't quite made my shortlist. I don't feel the need to research them or visit them, but as long as this blog is about the world's best man-made structures, they deserve some kind of mention. Today, Chicago's Cloud Gate, aka The Bean.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Old Pictures: Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda has been around for over 2500 years, making it around the same age as the Parthenon. That's if you believe the founding myth, which involves a peculiar story involving merchants bumping into the Buddha and receiving eight of his magic hairs in exchange for some cakes. Things then begin to get strange. Trim away the myth, and it appears the pagoda, in some form, was around from the 13th Century. But the form it's in today doesn't emerge until the 18th Century. An earthquake in 1768 caused heavy damage to the former, 40-metre-high version, so the King of Burma, Hsinbyushin, built it bigger and better and into the 99-metre pagoda we see today.

And that was what Lieutenant Joseph Moore of Her Majesty’s 89th Regiment also saw in 1824, which as far as I can tell is as far back as images of Shwedagon Pagoda go. The British were kind of being dicks back then, and had got all shirty because the Burmese had the temerity to try and take back some of their own land. The first Anglo-Burmese war kicked off, including the 1824 Battle of Rangoon. During this battle, Lieutenant Moore made a series of drawings and paintings that were later to be made into a book, some of which included Shwedagon Pagoda. Here they are:

Friday, 16 January 2015

Country Review: Argentina

Dates there: 1st February to 9th February 2014: 9 days

Argentina's Wonders: none

Also visited: La Recoleta Cemetery

On the Longlist:  Palace of the Argentine National Congress

Nine days isn't very much for Argentina. It's a country with a lot to offer - wine, steak... I could stop there and we'd already have a winner, but it's also got grand colonial cities, the tango (if you like that sort of thing), and astonishing natural features such as otherworldly mountain ranges, glaciers, and one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. There's a lot here to take up a lot of your time - the country is over ten times larger than the UK. But there's one thing it doesn't have, and that's a World Wonder (oh, it doesn't have the Falkland Islands either, but they don't need reminding of that as it's a non-stop constant reminder when you're there. Come on Argentina, you must have something better to do? Oh, it distracts the public from government ineptitude in handling the economy? Fair enough).

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Longlist: The Megalithic Temples of Malta

What's the Longlist? It's the list for all the other great man-made spectacles in the world that haven't quite made my shortlist. I don't feel the need to research them or visit them, but as long as this blog is about the world's best man-made structures, they deserve some kind of mention. Today, the Megalithic Temples of Malta.

When you think of ancient civilisation, you probably don't tend to think of Malta. Well, you'd be wrong. Predating the Egyptian pyramids by over a thousand years, and almost the oldest man-made constructions on Earth, are the Megalithic Temples of Malta.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Country Review: Chile

Dates there: 8th January to 31st January 2014: 24 days

Chile's Wonders: Easter Island

Also Visited: Humberstone, Gran Torre Santiago

Some countries look like things. Italy looks like a boot, North and South Korea unified looks like a rabbit (though they manfully insist it's a tiger), and as if you ever doubted it, the UK of course looks like a witch riding a pig. So what does Chile look like? It reminds me of the fat from a pork chop.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Christmas 2014 and Review of the Year

It was a lovely Christmas.

It is traditional at this time of year to reflect upon the year past. The achievements, the tribulations, the highlights and lowlights. 2014, eh? Perhaps I might muse upon what 2015 holds. Or perhaps I might not.

Hmm. I think I won't.

Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas too, and I hope 2014 was good, and 2015 will be equally as good for too.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Buster Bros

Balloons are terrorising the world's landmarks. Who do you call? The Buster Brothers, of course.

This was a game released in the early 1990s (it was called Pang for the Spectrum, which was what I had back then). It featured bubbles floating around, that caused instant death if touched. Naturally, in such a scenario, you would fire harpoons at the bubbles, causing them to divide in two. Arguably, two smaller balloons is as even more dangerous scenario, but shoot them a few more times and they would disappear. The world's landmark would be safe!

I'd love to pretend that at a young age - I would have been about 11 or 12 - Buster Bros aka Pang made a big impression on me, stirring my desire to visit all the exotic places on the list. But I don't think I ever owned it. I recall its existence, and possibly even played it, but other games made a far bigger impression on me, such as Football Manager 2, the wizard arena combat of Chaos, and the space trading game, Elite 2. I do not appear to have become either a football manager, a wizard, or an interstellar wanderer, making me wonder if my youth was slightly squandered.

Anyway, I took a look online and have found screenshots of many of the landmarks featured in Buster Bros. Most of them happen to be on my list, indicating that Japanese software developers of the late 80s/early 90s were right on the nose with their research. Here, across a selection of different computers, are the ones we agree on - the Hagia Sophia, Borobudur, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Himeji Castle, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Neuschwanstein Castle, the Acropolis, Sacre-Coeur, Sagrada Familia, Tower Bridge, Easter Island, and the Pyramids.