This Flower Park Is Home to the Oldest Wisteria Plant in Japan

Hiroaki Kaneko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Hiroaki Kaneko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi, Japan, is home to more than 350 wisterias and other flowering plants covering 23 acres. At the center of the park is its main attraction: a 140-year-old tree believed to be the oldest living wisteria in Japan. The plant, named the "Great Miracle Wisteria," was recently highlighted in a video from Great Big Story. This particular tree features curtains of purple wisteria, but the park is also a great place to see white wisteria and the rarer yellow wisteria.

Wisteria gardens can be found around the country. Some of the most impressive examples are on display at Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu—there visitors can walk through flower tunnels spanning 330 feet. You can view pictures here for a virtual tour of the site.

A Golden Girls-Themed Cruise Will Set Sail in 2020

Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

If you've ever fantasized of taking a vacation that would make the cast of characters from The Golden Girls proud, you'll soon have the chance to make your dreams come true. In early 2020, Flip Phone Events and the cruise line Celebrity Infinity are launching a Golden Girls-themed cruise that brings the classic 1980s sitcom to the western Caribbean.

As CNN reports, the new cruise, called Golden Girls at Sea, leaves from Miami, Florida—the home of Rose, Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia. For five days, the ship will take cruisers on a relaxing trip through the Gulf, stopping in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico. While onboard the ship, guests will have the opportunity to take part in several Golden Girls-inspired activities, including a Shady Pines craft corner, Dorothy's bingo, Golden Girls trivia, and karaoke at Blanche's favorite pickup spot, The Rusty Anchor. And, yes, there will be cheesecake.

The Golden Girls premiered over 30 years ago, but the fabulous foursome hasn't lost its popularity. Even though the show has ended, the ladies can still be spotted on apparel, candles, board games, and even their own cereal box. Their new themed cruise may be the most luxurious Golden Girls-branded experience yet.

Golden Girls at Sea sets sail from Miami on February 24, 2020 and returns on February 29. Rooms start around $987 per person for a standard cabin and go up to $7657 for the top suites. Unlimited drinks are included with every ticket.

Book your tickets here.

[h/t CNN]

Belgium's Blue Forest is One of the Most Beautiful Natural Areas on Earth

iStock.com/antonyspencer
iStock.com/antonyspencer

Imagine if the poppy fields in The Wizard of Oz were all blue—and real. That's how Belgium's Hallerbos forest looks for a short time each spring. For roughly 10 days in April or May, innumerable bluebells blossom, covering the forest's floor in a lovely violet.

Dutch for "Halle's forest," Hallerbos is located about 30 minutes outside of Brussels. But while the forest is currently part of the Belgian state, its ownership has varied, starting with its first known owner in the 7th century. Records list it as having been part of the expansive land of the Abbey of St. Waltrudis, in Mons (about an hour south of the forest). A few centuries later, it became part of the duchy of Arenberg before passing to the French Republic after their troops invaded in 1794, then to the Netherlands in 1815, and eventually returning to the Duke of Arenberg in 1831.

Unfortunately, when World War I hit Europe, the German army felled much of the forest for wood, diminishing its original size of 1125 hectares down to 569 hectares (or roughly 1400 acres). Belgium regained control of the Hallerbos forest in 1929 and spent the next 20 years actively reforesting the land. This extensive history is what, in part, makes the forest look the way it is today—because though the trees are relatively new, the bluebells are ancient.

In fact, an abundance of bluebells is an indicator of the age of a forest. Certain types of flowers, including the small, white wood anemones and pale yellow native primroses, are very often markers of ancient woodlands—this flora grows deep underground and doesn't spread through trafficked or harvested land, meaning that that larger groves of them tend to only be found in secluded areas. And for bluebells (also called wood hyacinth or wild hyacinth), their life cycle is dependent on brisk weather and sunshine, so they sprout and bloom before the trees above them have fully budded. Then, as quickly as they came, they turn to seed and continue growing their roots deeper to survive another year.

And thus, the extraordinary sight of a blanket of bluebells scattered through the forest is best observed during the early spring. Of course, this effect makes for some absolutely gorgeous photographs, so it's no wonder that visitors flock to the woods each year. Hallerbos provides directions to the forest by both car and public transportation, as well as two different maps for walks through the growth and a bloom tracker to plan for the prettiest possible visit.

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