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19 Places You Won't Believe Exist

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You don't have to be a world traveler to lose yourself in the fantastic places that dot our planet. Here are 19 of the most unbelievable wonders around the globe. 

1. NEW ZEALAND'S GLOWWORM CAVES

In 1887, Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace made an astonishing discovery in New Zealand: a complex of caves illuminated by an otherworldly blue-green glow. For generations, the Maori had whispered about the caverns, but presumably no one had ventured deep inside until this pair went exploring by raft and candlelight. What they found was remarkable. The limestone ceilings of the cave system were strung with thousands of glowing creatures, the larvae of a carnivorous fungus gnat called Arachnocampa luminosa. These “glowworms” use blue bioluminescence to attract prey, which they then ensnare by dangling a gooey string of mucus. These glittering critters don’t live the high life for long—adults don’t have a digestive system and survive only a few days. Today, thousands of tourists flock to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to catch a glimpse of their brief but stunning show.

2. CHILE'S MOST VIBRANT CITY

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Hugging the Pacific coast, Valparaíso was South America’s greatest international waterway until the Panama Canal stole the spotlight. The city is home to Latin America’s first stock exchange, Chile’s first public library, and the world’s oldest continuously running Spanish-language newspaper. Colorful homes dominate, mostly perched on hillsides in a maze of cobblestone alleys. In 2003, its historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3. WYOMING'S PSYCHEDELIC HOT SPRINGS

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Photosynthetic cyanobacteria really know how to dress up a place. Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring gets its signature look as different bacteria produce color-altering carotenoids, which help the microbes survive the heat and protect themselves from sunlight. (Since it’s cooler as you move near the edges, the carotenoid colors change.) The result is a vivid prism of color surrounding the 189°F blue center.

4. INDIA'S FLORAL WONDERLAND

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Trek to the Valley of Flowers, part of a national park in the west Himalayas, and you’ll understand why yogis have long meditated here and why, according to Hindu myth, it’s a place of healing. For most of the year, the site is covered in snow. But in summer, more than 600 types of flora make their entrance: Orchids, poppies, and daisies of all shades blanket emerald meadows. Situated at the core of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, it is recognized by UNESCO for having “outstanding universal value.”

5. ETHIOPIA'S VOLCANIC VENTS

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With sulfur hills, boiling hot springs, and bubbling pools of green acid, the Dallol Hydrothermal Field, in the Danakil Desert, looks like something out of a Seussian nightmare. A constant flow of super-salty hydrothermal water—heated by magma and mixed with mud, iron, and algae—gives the area its fantastic colors. At nearly 400 feet below sea level, it’s the world’s lowest terrestrial volcanic vent. It’s also one of the hottest places on earth, averaging 94°F year-round.

6. A CZECH REPUBLIC BONE EMPORIUM

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The Sedlec Ossuary is one of the most macabre sites in Europe, second perhaps only to the Paris Catacombs. Here, tens of thousands of bones cling to every nook and cranny—strung into garlands, piled onto pillars, and stacked into pyramids lurking in the corners. There’s even a coat of arms made entirely of bones, created for a noble family, as well as an 8-foot chandelier said to contain every bone in the human body. All told, the remains of approximately 40,000 people decorate the ossuary, which is sunk below the Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic.

Legend has it that in the 13th century, Sedlec’s abbot, sent by the king of Bohemia on a diplomatic mission to Jerusalem, brought back dirt from the purported site of Golgotha (location of Jesus’s crucifixion) to sanctify the monastery’s cemetery. Soon everybody wanted to be buried there, and over centuries it expanded to hold the victims of the plague and the Hussite wars. The ossuary was constructed in the 14th century to hold extra bones; the first decorative touches may have been added in the 15th century, when a half-blind monk allegedly arranged the bones into pyramids around the room. But a Czech carpenter named František Rint made the ossuary’s real standouts—the coat of arms and bone chandelier—in the 1870s. He even left his signature, constructed from arm and hand bones, near a staircase. Just imagine the skeletons he left in the closet.

7. BRAZIL'S SKYSCRAPER CEMETERY 

“Six feet under” may soon be an outdated phrase as cemeteries like Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica climb to the heavens. The 32-story building is the tallest cemetery in the world. It will eventually hold 180,000 bodies.

8. MANILA'S SLEEPY HOLLOW

Manila North Cemetery in the Philippines may be the only place outside of fiction where the dead and living coexist. Some 10,000 people live among the graves, running businesses and making homes in family crypts where ancestors are never far away.

9. ROMANIA'S BONEYARD OF POEMS

At Romania’s Merry Cemetery, blue crosses are adorned with paintings and funny poems. Here’s one for a mother-in-law: “You, who here are passing by / Not to wake her up please try / Cause if she comes back home / She’ll criticize me more.”

10. SIBERIA'S SECRET GALAPAGOS

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Lake Baikal might just be the biggest ecological record-setter you’ve never heard of. Nestled in the Siberian mountains north of Mongolia, Baikal is the largest freshwater reservoir in the world by volume, containing 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen surface freshwater. That’s more than all the Great Lakes combined. It’s also believed to be the oldest lake in the world (a spry 25 million years) and the deepest, surpassing 5000 feet in some spots. The water is among the world’s clearest, so transparent you can see 130 feet down.

Siberia doesn’t have a reputation for being a nurturing environment, but Baikal bucks the stereotype. It’s home to around 2000 species of plants and animals, and two-thirds of those species can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The Baikal seal (or nerpa) is the only freshwater seal on the planet. The golomyanka (or Baikal oil fish) is partly translucent, has no scales, and can handle vast changes in pressure thanks to special porous bones and loads of lipids. No wonder the lake has been called the “Galapagos of Russia.”

And it’s bound to break more records. Lake Baikal sits in an active continental rift valley, created as Asia slowly tears apart. As the rift grows at nearly an inch a year, the land below will continue to sink, increasing Baikal’s depth. Right now, the basin is about 400 miles long and 50 miles wide. In millions of years, it will stake its claim as Earth’s sixth ocean. 

11. THE PHILIPPINE META ISLANDS

Here’s a mind puzzle: On the island of Luzon, Taal Lake rests in a volcanic caldera. It contains an island that, at its center, has a crater lake—which also has an island. In other words, an island on a lake on an island on a lake on an island. Got it?

12. DOMINICA'S SCALDING POND

Dominica’s Boiling Lake is technically a large hot spring. It sits at a scalding 200°F but it boils in the center—it’s so hot a cloud of vapor floats above the surface. The lake may be 200 feet deep, though no one is adventurous enough to dive in and check.

13. AN ANTARCTIC SALT LAKE

Don Juan Pond in Antarctica is so salty it could almost be classified as brine. Because of all that salt, Don Juan is impervious to the elements: The pool, about a foot at its deepest, never freezes, even in temperatures as low as -40°F.

14. A FORGOTTEN FOREST IN WALES

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In January 2014, violent winter storms along Wales’s coast revealed the petrified remains of a prehistoric forest near the town of Borth. To some, the jagged stumps of oak and pine, buried around 4,500 years ago, were proof of the nation’s Atlantis: According to Welsh legend, the mythical kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod was drowned below the waves when a distracted maiden allowed a well to overflow.

15. AN ATLANTIC SHIPWRECK

During the Civil War, a steamship named the Mary Celestia sank off the coast of Bermuda. Over the years, hurricanes swept tons of sand to and from the shipwreck, revealing new nooks and crannies for archaeologists and divers to explore. In 2015 a bottle of wine discovered with the wreck was uncorked at a South Carolina wine festival. Somehow, its heady bouquet of sulfur, saltwater, and gasoline failed to win the blue ribbon.

16. BRITAIN'S HIDDEN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

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Relics buried underground can cause the grass above to grow differently, causing strange lines in the grass—called cropmarks—that become especially obvious during dry spells. In 2010, a heat wave in Britain revealed 60 new archaeological sites— including Roman forts and prehistoric villages. Then, in 2013, maintenance workers failed to water parts of Stonehenge, and suddenly the parched grass revealed where ancient stones once stood, proving it was once a complete circle.

17. PERU'S FLOATING ISLANDS

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For centuries, the land around Lake Titicaca belonged to the Uros people. But when the Incans forced the Uros off their territory hundreds of years ago, they adapted in an astounding and unparalleled way: by abandoning land itself. Using totora reed, the Uros constructed their own islands. It was a handy defense strategy—if they ever felt threatened, they could just move their home.

Today, the floating village comprises about 60 islands. The larger islands hold up to 10 families, or about 50 people, while others can only accommodate a couple. (Along with waterproof thatched reed homes, residents share an outhouse island!) With continual maintenance, each island can last up to 30 years. But since the reeds decompose in the water, producing gases that help keep the islands buoyant, new reeds must be added regularly. That means the base of each island can be up to 8 feet thick.

For years, the Uros lived in seclusion, about 9 miles into the lake, but a nasty storm in 1986 convinced them to move closer to land. When they dropped anchor near Puno, Peru, they discovered a surprising byproduct: tourism. Today, visitors to the the village might feel like they’ve left the modern world, but in fact the Uros don’t shy from modern technology: They use motorboats and solar-powered televisions, and even have their own radio station. 

18. A PALEOLITHIC PRESERVE IN THE NETHERLANDS

Flevoland is a Dutch province that was once underwater—an inlet of the North Sea—until it was drained in the 1950s. Today, it’s home to some 400,000 people and a modern Jurassic Park: A nature preserve stocked with paleolithic-era animals.

19. MIRRORED MOUNTAINS

For six months a year, the Norwegian town of Rjukan is cast in perpetual shadow by the surrounding mountains. To fix the problem, an artist in 2013 installed mirrors on the mountainside, which bathe the town square in sunlight.

Amanda Green, Bess Lovejoy, Caitlin Schneider


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10 Facts About Aspirin
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Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

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Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.

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