Saturday, 28 December 2013

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Puerto Inca Hotel, a beach resort next to ancient Inca ruins, many of which appear to be burial sites with the bones still very clearly visible.




These aren't my photos (I've just stolen them from the internet) and we don't actually have internet access (this is posted a day in advance from the nearby town of Chala) but you can see that Puerto Inca is very lovely, and just a little creepy. Adding to the creepiness - we are the only guests in the entire resort.

We're back to civilisation on the 27th, when we go to Arequipa for New Year. If the ancestral spirits of the Inca warriors haven't carried us off by then...

Monday, 23 December 2013

Days 273 to 276: Nazca Days

We arrived in Nazca at around eight in the morning, after a long but tolerable 15-hour bus journey. On a map, the distance between Cusco and Nazca doesn't seem so great, but Cusco is at 3400 metres altitude and Nazca is about 600 metres, with the terrain shifting from the Andes to the desert. Perhaps one day a dead-straight superhighway will be installed, but for now there is simply 15 hours of tortuously winding road. It wasn't designed for a deep and restful sleep.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Days 269 to 272: Fallen Angel

I suppose it was somewhat ironic that, after days of trekking up the steep slopes and precipitous peaks of the Andes on the Inca Trail, Danielle tripped over minutes after getting off the return bus to Cusco. To add to the irony, it was on a disabled ramp on the pavement. She went flying, and it might have been quite funny had she not emitted a genuinely pained squawk as she hit the ground. She'd hurt her foot, and the next morning it was in real pain.

We spent some time Googling foot injuries, but to Danielle's seeming disappointment it was neither broken or sprained, just very sore. As we've got travel insurance, we considered visiting a doctor, but Danielle thought she'd wait and see how it was the next day before opting for this.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Days 264 to 267: The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

There is more than one way to visit Machu Picchu. The simplest is to simply get the tourist train to the nearby tourist town, Aguas Calienties, then get the tourist bus up to the site. Walk through the gate and there you are - the lost city of the Incas, readily accessible. Alternatively, you can take the hard route, a four-day trek along mountains and through forests, at altitudes up to 4200 metres, through fog and heavy rain, sleeping in tents and with a choice of nature or some utterly rancid toilets for your bathroom stops. This is the Classic Inca Trail, and this is the approach Danielle and I opted for. For better and for worse.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Day 263: Inca Ruins

Today was a busy day. Danielle and I took a local bus to some old ruins called Tambomachay, and then walked back into Cusco, visiting various other ruins on the way, the most notable being Saqsayhuaman. Then it rained a lot.

But you'll have to Google them for pictures because we're getting up at 3.30am tomorrow and still have to pack for the next four days. Which are going to involve a lot more Inca ruins, as we make our way along the Inca Trail and see one of the strongest candidates for a top Seven places in my Wonders, Machu Picchu.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Days 259 to 262: Wandering Around Cusco

We arrived in Cusco on Friday morning after a considerable amount of flying and waiting. Madrid to Atlanta at ten hours went surprisingly smoothly, aided in no small way by Delta Airline's excellent selection of films. I watched three: Pacific Rim (giant robots vs giant monsters: excellent, 4.5 stars), 500 Days of Summer (two annoying people kind of have a relationship: 3 stars), and The Campaign (Will Ferrell on form, punches a baby: 4 stars). Danielle also watched three, but I think they were all chick-flicks rated about 2 stars.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Day 257: Part 2 Begins

I won't pretend that the last couple of days haven't been very rushed - but we're off.


Friday, 29 November 2013

The Return Of The Mullet Hunter: A Review

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Varwell/e/B004G6YXIO

There's more than one way to travel. One way, and probably the most popular, is to have a start and finish time and place, and just see what happens in between. It allows freedom, total flexibility, and a lot of fun. If you visit somewhere you like - great, stay a while. Likewise, if it's a dump, move on the next day. There is no commitment, except for following your nose.

In 2001, that's what myself and a good friend, Simon, did. We started in Frankfurt in August and finished in Cairo in December. In between we packed in eleven Eastern European countries, as well as Turkey and Israel. It was, to quietly understate it, great.

Yet ever since then, we've chosen an entirely different means of travelling: travelling on a mission.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Few More Mind-Blowing Things You Won't Believe Were Built by Nature

Probably my last Cracked article for at least a year was published today - 5 Mind-Blowing Things You Won't Believe Were Built by Nature. The premise is incredible archaeological discoveries that turned out to be natural phenomenon, but that fooled supposedly reputable scientists and got widespread and inaccurate media attention. A strong undercurrent of the article was the perpetuation of pseudoscience, that is self-serving amateur historians and archaeologists misrepresenting the actual evidence to create sensational stories that, by happenstance, sell loads of their own books.

Mankind, the world, and their shared history is sensational enough without having to create mystical ancient civilisations or grand conspiracy theories, and so it's fair to say that I'm not a fan of pseudoscience. I was a little worried that Cracked might edit out the anti-pseudoscience element of the article, focussing instead on the natural phenomena that looked a little like man-made relics. Happily, they kept it in, and I'm very happy with the final article, which is a more succinct, funnier, and directly on-point version of mine.

I submitted seven entries and they used five. Here are the two they cut.


The Peruvian City of Gold

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Got Married

Almost four years ago, I met a girl here:

                                                                                    St Andrew's in the Square                                                             Ben Allison

Thursday, 31 October 2013

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

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

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

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Travel Plans: December 2013 to December 2014

So.

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

Monday, 21 October 2013

Preview: Chichen Itza

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


Friday, 18 October 2013

Preview: CN Tower

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


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

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


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

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


Monday, 14 October 2013

Another Mysterious Structure With A Creepy Unknown Origin

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

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

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

Preview: Easter Island

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


Friday, 11 October 2013

Preview: The Nazca Lines

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


Monday, 7 October 2013

Preview: Machu Picchu

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


Friday, 4 October 2013

Preview: Tikal

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


Monday, 30 September 2013

Preview: Palenque

In 1822, a catchily-titled volume was published. "Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City Discovered near Palenque in the Kingdom of Guatemala, in Spanish America" might be a name that publishers today would baulk at, but back in the 19th Century it was a big hit. Translated from Spanish and Italian sources, as the name succinctly suggests it contained reports on a ruined city in the then-Guatemalan (now modern-day Mexican) jungle. Significantly, it had pictures, depictions of the art and sculpture found there. Although investigations had been done into the site before - the Spanish had first chanced upon it fifty years earlier - this was the first time it had received popular attention. Initially, people thought it must be ancient Roman settlements, or the descendents of a lost tribe of Israel; they couldn't get their heads round that it was an entirely different, unknown, civilisation. But as interest continued, further investigation and exploration made, and more books published, it became apparent that this was very much part of a native civilisation - the Maya. And the city of Palenque was just one of many that had flourished about a thousand years earlier.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Preview: Teotihuacan

When you think of an early American metropolis, built to a grid plan with some showpiece buildings, you probably think New York, perhaps Washington D.C. or Philadelphia. But they're just newbies. Down in Mexico are the ruins of a grid-planned city that are much older, pre-dating the Aztecs and the Maya, and with some of the biggest pyramids ever built by man. And we don't even know its name.


Monday, 23 September 2013

Preview: The Golden Gate Bridge


On the west coast of America, two peninsular strips of land almost meet. But they don't, and that gap between them links the Pacific Ocean with the large bay and natural harbour within. It is, in a sense, a gateway, and in 1846 a US army captain called John C. Fremont named it thus. He called it the Golden Gate, in reference to the harbour of Byzantium, which was called the Golden Horn. The name was prophetic - two years later gold was discovered in the area, and the small town on the bay called San Francisco exploded in just a couple from years from around 500 people to 35,000. This number continued to rise. Until eventually people thought that, to speed things up a little, it might be handy to have a bridge linking one peninsula to the other. So they built one.


Friday, 20 September 2013

Preview: The Hoover Dam

I'll be honest, so far I've not been blown away by any dams. Years ago I saw the Aswan Dam, and after having seen all kinds of ancient monumental Egyptian structures, my only impression of the Aswan Dam was "What? Is this it?" It looked like a wall and a pond. And then, last year, as part of the Wonder quest, I visited China's mighty Three Gorges Dam. To date, it's bottom of my list. Big, yes, but not majestic, and certainly not attractive. It ably demonstrated that astounding feats of engineering might push the boundaries of technical excellence and be theoretically inspirational, but they don't necessarily excite the senses or capture the imagination. So why, after having already seen two bigger and technically better dams, do I think this one will be any different?


Monday, 16 September 2013

Preview: The Empire State Building

Until recently, if ever you needed to remind yourself what the original Seven Wonders of the World were - and it's easy to forget a couple - all you had to do was take a stroll into the lobby of the Empire State Building . There, on the walls, all seven were depicted. But wait, there was an eighth! I think you can probably guess what it was.


Friday, 13 September 2013

Preview: The Gateway Arch

In 1803 Napoleon needed money for more war, and for a planned invasion of Britain. Over on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean the French colony of Louisiana provided the answer. Formerly part of the New France colony, which had been broken up the century before, it was a vast swathe of land in the centre of North America that had little interest for Napoleon. The French before him likewise had never had the time or effort to do much with it, and in fact it was at risk from the British seizing it. And so just as we might sell a car or a bunch of CDs we don't listen to for a quick sale, Napoleon sold 800,000 square miles of land west of Mississippi. Although the native Indian population who actually lived there had little say, the buyer was the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who had been strongly involved in the independence movement from the British just 27 years earlier, helping to write the Declaration of Independence. "Yours for a bargain $15 million," Napoleon said, except in French ("Votres pour un bargain quinze milles dollars." Or something like that). He then proceeded to blow the money on a series of wars, never managed to invade Britain, killed millions, and bankrupted the country, all while putting the US on its first steps to being a superpower. Nice work there, Napoleon.

Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, with this one handy purchase managed to double the size of his new nation, and open the door to westward expansion. St Louis in Missouri was part of the sale, and soon expanded to become the regional capital, and the starting point for numerous expeditions to the West Coast. In a sense, it was a gateway to a new world, in which pioneers of a new country settled and built upon land stretching for 2000 miles to the Pacific Ocean. And so in the 20th Century, residents of St Louis decided to commemorate this, with a grand monument. They built this:


Monday, 9 September 2013

Preview: Mount Rushmore

In 1885, Charles Rushmore, an attorney from New York, was taking a look round the Black Hills mountain range of South Dakota to handle the acquisition of some tin mining claims. Mining had been big business since the discovery of gold in 1874, displacing the native American population while the rush for gold and all kinds of other metal took place. Remarking on a distinctive-looking mountain, Charles Rushmore asked its name. Perhaps apocryphally, his mining companion replied, “Hell, it never had a name, but from now on we'll call the damn thing Rushmore”.


Friday, 6 September 2013

Preview: The Statue of Liberty

Over the years, I've been to or have hosted a few dinner parties, and so know that the key to making them work isn't really the decent food, or even the company, it's just tons and tons of booze. Invariably, the best dinner parties descend into a raucous drunkenness so that the best of the night becomes a haze and for which the next morning causes a lot of piecing together of what happened. Actual conversational details are long lost. Which is probably why at my dinner parties, things like this are never conceived:


Monday, 2 September 2013

Preview: Florence Cathedral

Back in the 14th Century, it was boomtime for Florence. The northern Italian city is still flourishing today, with tourism its dominant industry, but back in the late Middle Ages it was a major power. It was more than a city - it was a republic, made wealthy through trade, and influential throughout Italy and Europe as a major cultural force. The Florentine dialect is regarded as the origin of the modern Italian language, and the Renaissance began in Florence. Their most powerful family, the Medicis, produced four popes, and one Queen of France - Catherine de Medici - who was the mother of three French kings and a large factor in shaping one of my Wonders, the Chateau de Chenonceau. Florence was, in modern parlance, the "dog's bollocks".

As such, it was flourishing and great buildings were popping up all over the place. Today the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful in the world. Much of that dates from this early Renaissance era: churches, monasteries, palaces, grand homes, a town hall, and circling the city were walls 20 feet high and five miles long. Its population matched that of London's. But one crucial thing was missing - no great city was complete without a great cathedral, and the basilica in the centre of the city was old and insufficient. Florence wanted something special, a cathedral to match its prestige and ambition. And to do this, the city leaders decided, meant the biggest dome all of time.


Friday, 30 August 2013

Preview: The City of Arts and Sciences

My Wonders can take the form of ancient, ruined cities, or feature as part of thriving modern cities. So, how about a city of the future?


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

More Landmarks That Are Secretly Awesome Transformers

I've just returned from a week offshore Mozambique, on a boat without any internet. I return to find that I've had another article published on Cracked - 6 Landmarks That Are Secretly Awesome Transformers.

As ever, the editors made various alterations to the article I submitted, trimming it for length, making it funnier and snappier, and adapting it a little more to the Cracked voice. The editors also spun my original premise around a little, which had been "Hidden Functions of Famous Landmarks". I think their version was a little jazzier, although it did elicit one message, sent privately via the Cracked mail system, which stated simply "that's not what a transformer is". My apologies if I've outraged any other fans of the TV/film series.

I submitted seven entries to the article, and they used six of them. They didn't use the following:


Big Ben has a prison cell

Monday, 26 August 2013

Preview: Baalbek

The largest Roman temples ever built were not in Rome, but in a small town in Lebanon.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Preview: The Blue Mosque

Living between around 1490 and 1588 was an architect called Mimar Sinan. This was the genius that effectively defined the grand domed Ottoman style of religious architecture, using the Hagia Sophia as inspiration. Istanbul was completely transformed, with almost a hundred large mosques, over 50 smaller ones, and countless other buildings being credited to him. It could be said that Sinan effectively built Istanbul. But one thing he did not build was this:


Monday, 19 August 2013

Preview: Cologne Cathedral

What was the tallest structure in Cologne and one of the tallest structures in Europe for almost 400 years? It was a wooden crane. A fixture in just about every image of the city made between the 15th and 19th Centuries, the crane stood prominently on top of the unfinished Cologne Cathedral, a vivid reminder of economic decline. The cathedral had been conceived during the Gothic revolution that had produced masterpieces such as Chartres and Amiens, but these were inescapably finished, Cologne was inescapably not. Begun in the mid-13th Century and only finished in the late-19th Century, it puts other delayed projects to shame. Was 600 years of waiting worth it?


Friday, 16 August 2013

Preview: Neuschwanstein Castle

Hereditary rule: it's not for everyone. Take Ludwig II of Bavaria, for example. He lived between 1845 and 1886, and was king from the age of 18. He wasn't very good at it. In a different world, one without the expectations of a nation but the freedom to express himself, Ludwig would probably have been happy as a camp theatre set-designer, lip-synching to Cher songs in his spare time, but in the straitjacketed world of a 19th Century German monarch this wasn't possible. Instead, Ludwig II built wildly expensive, flamboyant, impractical castles. Neuschwanstein was his greatest.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Fort Metal Cross

I'm in Ghana for a couple of weeks, for work. Most of that time is on a boat (where, as I write, I currently am) moving around various spots in the ocean and gathering data. There isn't much to see out here - the ocean scenery is great but somewhat repetitive. You've seen one vast expanse of water, you've seen them all. I've been in Ghana a number of times now, but due either to work or lack of transport, I've seen little more than the dim bars and very dirty streets of the oil city, Takoradi. Takoradi is likeable, but it is not remotely noteworthy historically or architecturally.

However, drive along west for a couple of hours, and this changes.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Preview: Abu Simbel

Imagine I got into a fight down the pub with a hard guy. Fair enough, I didn't actually win the fight, but I didn't lose either - well, that's a win in my book. Ever since, I've been marching around telling everybody about how great I am and what a tremendous fight I put up. All my Facebook updates mention it, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. To celebrate my famous victory against my muscle-bound opponent, I go and build a shed in my garden. Outside it, I put four big statues of me looking godlike; inside I fill it with paintings of me winning the fight and lots of stories about how great I am. What would you think? At best, you'd take me aside for a quiet word, and tell me I was being a knob. But then, I suppose, I'm not one of the greatest kings of all time. Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty of ancient Egypt was - and if he wanted to go on and on and on about a draw, then he damn well could. And if he wanted to build something to celebrate this famous draw, well, he was able to conjure something up that was a little better than a garden shed. It's called Abu Simbel.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Preview: The Valley of the Kings

Famously, the Egyptian pyramids were the tombs of kings. Stupendous feats of man-management and technical prowess, they were packed full of riches to glorify the god-kings entombed for eternity. But they came with one small hitch: come the revolution, the pyramids became the biggest adverts in the world. "Lots of gold and wealth here!" they screamed, and the raiders and thieves and pillagers duly came and did their shopping. Revolution, or at least the general breakdown of society, happened on more than one occasion. By the time the 18th Dynasty and the beginning of the New Kingdom came around, there had been a Middle Kingdom and two chaotic Intermediate Periods, and it's safe to say that the mummified pharaohs of the pyramids had not exactly been allowed to rest in peace. Pyramids were clearly out of vogue, but the pharaohs of the New Kingdom still wanted to be buried in a lavish and prestigious manner, fitting of their exalted position. The solution - secret burial underground in a valley beneath a pyramid-like hill: the Valley of the Kings.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Preview: Karnak

In the ancient world, Thebes was one of the great cities. It was the political capital of Egypt for most of the New Kingdom, the period between around 1570BC to 1070BC when Egypt was at its greatest. The pyramids belong to an even earlier era, the appropriately named Old Kingdom, but most of the other great and famous stuff belongs to the New Kingdom. Among the greatest of all the Egyptian "stuff", and certainly the biggest, was Karnak Temple.


Monday, 5 August 2013

30. Wonder: St Paul's Cathedral

(For the St Paul's Cathedral preview, please click here.)


Some Other Unintentionally Hilarious Buildings

I've had another article published by Cracked - The 6 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Buildings Ever Proposed. Not dissimilar to my last one about alternative visions of well-known cities, this one takes a look at buildings that never were. These are seriously proposed, seriously considered, and sometimes almost or partly built constructions that were, simply put, mental.


As with every Cracked article, there was plenty of revision along the way. The six entries used in the final article were arrived at after quite a bit of culling of other suggestions. The following was written out fully as my example entry early on (and was used, in amended form, for my Listverse article on pyramids).

Pyramids of Death

Friday, 2 August 2013

Preview: Cairo Citadel

Egypt does strange things to your perception of age. It makes everything else seem young. After looking round or just reading about a temple that's 3 or 4000 years old, a Roman temple of just 2000 years seems less of a big deal. A 500-year-old mosque seems like a spritely young pup. And so right in the middle of Cairo are a series of constructions originating way back to the early 13th Century - older than Ayutthaya, Machu Picchu, or St Paul's Cathedral. Constantly changing over the centuries, these fortifications have been a hugely significant part in the development of the Egypt we see today, the critical core of Egypt's political, religious, and military history. Together, these walls, buildings, palaces, and mosques make up Cairo Citadel. And while it may not exactly be the pyramids, it arguably has had a lot more to do with the city we see today than a massive pile of stones on the outskirts of town.


Monday, 29 July 2013

Preview: The Pyramids of Giza

Come the end of days, when the last remnants of mankind have to stand before a panel of gods or galactic aliens or futuristic dolphin overlords, and we are asked, "Justify your existence", these are what we will point to: three large pyramids at the edge of Cairo. They've stood for 4500 years and no doubt come the day of judgement, be it 100 or 100,000 years away, they'll still be standing. Three huge enigmatic statements to the mad glory of mankind, built with supreme effort in a world without the wheel, the concept of zero, or even perspective in art, a world just seeing the first blooms of civilisation. Without precedence, something deep inside the human psyche decided to just go for it, to build something preposterously massive, and ended up overachieving on a colossal scale. Sure, as the panel of judges bears down upon us, we might remind them of all the great cures we discovered or the global level of communication and cooperation we aspired to, but are these the true reflection of the human state? I don't think so. We have to be honest with ourselves, we've got a pretty chequered history. Mankind is mixed and muddled, with its priorities all wrong and harnessing the energies of a society to construct an unimaginably huge tomb for a single king is a truly ridiculous thing to do. But by god, your honours, it looks good. The case for the defence rests.


Friday, 26 July 2013

Preview: The Dome Of The Rock

Like many old towns and cities, the Old City of Jerusalem is not an optimal design, by modern standards, of space and order. There are no wide tree-lined boulevards and no rigid grid plan; likewise, no vast underground air-conditioned shopping malls or multi-level parking. In fact, the Old City of Jerusalem entirely does away with modern notions of urban design by having a full sixth of the city taken up by a huge vaguely-rectangular raised platform (six times the size of Red Square) without very much on it - no houses, shops, cafes, or even a trendy skatepark. Nope, there are just some shrubs, and then somewhat off-centre is another irregular raised platform. And on this second platform, again somewhat off-centre, is a perfectly symmetrical and attractive building in two sections. The lower section is an octagonal ring decorated in coloured tiles and on top of that, reaching a total height of over 35 metres, is a golden dome. And to be totally honest, nobody really knows what it's for. But inside this building is a big rock, poking through the ground, that over the years has acquired a variety of mystical tales around it. The domed building above a rock is therefore called, sensibly enough, the Dome of the Rock.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Preview: Petra

Around 20 million years ago, the tectonic plate beneath Arabia did a little shimmy and moved away from Africa. A gigantic rift formed, a rift we now call the Jordan Rift Valley. Within the Jordan Rift Valley appeared a "desolate and dry area", or in Arabic the Wadi Araba, and in here something special has formed.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Preview: The Hagia Sophia

There are some places that simply shouldn't be around, buildings that should have collapsed or been torn down many times over. They are like old grizzled war veterans that have survived disease and gunfire and untold hardship to become ageless. Sitting at the heart of Istanbul, surviving centuries of war, earthquakes, pillage, and religious upheaval is one such building - the Hagia Sophia.


Friday, 12 July 2013

Preview: Meteora

When you think of Greek history, you think of men in sandals debating philosophy and creating democracy. A minotaur or two might be hanging around. Rarely however do you think of the 15th Century, and a bunch of monks sitting on rocks.


Monday, 8 July 2013

Cracked: 6 Insanely Reckless Media Accusations That Ruined Lives

Pretty much entirely unrelated to the rest of this site in that it doesn't involve great buildings or World Wonders, I've had another article published by Cracked - 6 Insanely Reckless Media Accusations That Ruined Lives. This one was a co-write - my entry was the first one, about Chris Jefferies' treatment by the media.

In fact, there is just a little relevance to World Wonders - the final photo, of the real murderer, has Stonehenge in the background (a serendipitous inclusion by the Cracked editors, as it happens).


The rest of the article is worth reading, and I can't take any credit for the article's concept, which was by Eric Yosomono.