Zalipie, Poland’s Prettiest Painted Village

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The best part about Zalipie isn’t that all the houses are covered in painted flowers. It’s that the town is engaged in an ongoing painted-flower-house contest.

About an hour and a half by car from Poland’s second-largest city, Krakow, you can follow the ornate floral-arrow signs to the vivid little village of Zalipie, where just about every home is festooned in flowers. The practice isn’t relegated to just private homes, though: You’ll also find barns, bridges, chicken coops, garbage cans, and even dog houses garnished with garlands. The town’s school and church are embellished with blooms as well.

Simon Astor

The story goes that the trend started over a century ago, as part of the preparations for religious festivals. Village women would commonly whitewash the area around their chimneys and wood-burning stoves to hide soot marks and make their homes look beautiful for the holiday, but even after the whitewash, dark soot was sometimes still visible. Eventually, thanks to some unknown genius, it became fashionable to paint flowers on the fresh whitewash to disguise the soot even further. And the flowers began to travel, from the insides of the houses to the outside, and across town. As the designs sprawled and spread across the houses, they became increasingly elaborate.

Even though Zalipie’s old-timey furnaces have long since been updated and concealing soot marks is no longer necessary, the flower-painting tradition has endured. It’s even become a friendly town-wide competition. Every year following Corpus Christi, in late May or early June, the town’s women—men only occasionally participate—face off in a house-flower-painting contest. (The time of year is said to have been chosen because it’s when the farm work lets up a little.) The Zalipians also touch up the flowers painted the year before, another holdover from olden times, when their paint was made with cooking fat and needed to be repainted almost from scratch annually. Although the painting tradition started informally, the contest itself was introduced by the Polish government to cheer up its citizenry after World War II. Known as Malowana Chata (Painted Cottage) competition, it became an annual event in 1965.

Simon Astor

Felicja Curyłowa is largely credited for taking the flower fad to its current height. Although she didn’t come up with the idea originally, the Zalipie resident was such an enthusiastic posy-painter that she adorned almost every surface of her three-bedroom cottage with flowers. After she died in 1974, her home was turned into a museum, where her designs can be seen today. Curyłowa pretty much went all out with it, painting everything from her spoons to her light bulbs, and her house is perhaps the most charming among the impressive contenders—if not, then certainly the most thoroughly saturated with blossoms.

Zalipie museum. Image credit: mksfca, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It should be said that Zalipie is a bit of a chore to get to on the bus, and the homes themselves are somewhat scattered apart, so it’s no good for travelers on foot, but it’s worth it to drive out there if you have a car. Fortunately, you’ve probably got some time, as the delightful folk-art tradition is still in full swing and shows no sign of stopping. With any luck, this florescent little Polish community will stick around intact for many more years to come.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Art

Meet the Exclusive Travel Club for People Who Have Been to 100 or More Countries

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

There are about 195 countries in the world—depending on how you define “country”—and most people have only visited a handful of them. However, for those with the means to travel far and wide, there’s one club that unites these wanderlust-stricken souls.

According to Lonely Planet, an exclusive organization called the Travelers’ Century Club only accepts members who have been to 100 or more countries and territories. The non-profit social club is headquartered in Los Angeles but has more than 20 chapters in the U.S., Canada, UK, Mediterranean, and Central Europe.

A few avid travelers founded the club back in 1954, and within six years it had attracted 43 members. Now, the club boasts about 1500 members, whose collective travels would put most casual vacationers to shame.

The club’s slogan is “World travel: the passport to peace through understanding,” and its mission falls in line with this ethos. Travelers’ Century Club board member Gloria McCoy tells Lonely Planet their members “seek to truly experience and appreciate the people and cultures around the world.”

By holding regular social events, inviting guest speakers, and offering presentations about different destinations, the club gives members the chance to learn about other parts of the world they might not have considered visiting. Members also have access to files containing “exclusive info” about far-flung and hard-to-visit destinations, all of which were written by club members who have personally been there and done that. Lastly, the club is a way for members to connect with like-minded people and perhaps even find new travel buddies.

The club’s official list of countries and territories visited totals 327. This is partly because it includes territories that aren’t always considered countries by the international community, such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Palestine. To join, members must fill out an application form and select the countries they’ve been to—even if they were just short trips or layovers. There's a $100 initiation fee, plus yearly dues.

If you aren't quite there yet, travelers who have been to 50 countries and territories can qualify as provisional members. This gives them access to meetings and some of the “bragging rights” that Travelers’ Century Club members get to enjoy.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

Inside the Coldest City in the World, Where It Snows 270 Days a Year

iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets
iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets

In much of the Northern Hemisphere right now, it’s getting colder and darker and the winter blues are setting in. But few places get it quite as bad as Norilsk, Russia, where residents won’t see a sunrise until mid-January. Worse yet, it's arguably the coldest city in the world.

One of two Siberian cities built in the continuous permafrost zone, during the winter, the city of more than 175,000 people can see cold snaps as brutally low as -78°F. Overall, Norilsk boasts a yearlong average temperature of just 14°F. (Some will argue that the Siberian city of Yakutsk is colder, but that depends on how you want to slice it: Yakutsk is indisputably chillier in the winter—an average temperature of -42°F in January!—but it has much hotter summers and so, when measured by its yearly average, is warmer overall.)

Then there's the snow. Norilsk “is covered with snow for about 270 days a year,” Vincze Miklós writes for io9, “and the inhabitants must deal with snowstorms one day out of every three.”

It's also incredibly isolated. Of all the cities in the world with populations of 100,000 people or more, Norilsk is the farthest north. Despite its relatively large size, no roads lead to it. The city, located 1800 miles from Moscow, sits 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and can only be reached by plane or boat. Surrounded by thousands of miles of untouched wilderness, Norilsk is so cut off from the rest of the world that residents often refer to the rest of Russia as “the mainland.”

The city, we should stress, is on the mainland.

Despite it all, Norilsk is a relatively buzzing place. The city has public transportation, bars, cafes, churches, art galleries, a large theater, and plenty of modern amenities. And new people keep moving in.

The reason? Money.

Norilsk sits on one of the world’s biggest nickel, platinum, and palladium deposits, making it, according to the New York Times, Russia's richest city.

For much of the 20th century, those precious metals were mined by more than 600,000 prisoners detained in a nearby gulag. Today, the gulag is gone, and the people who work for the mines are paid rather handsomely for their work. With palladium selling for over $1000 an ounce, the metals extracted and smelted in the area—largely by one company, Norilsk Nickel—account for a whopping 2 percent of Russia’s entire GDP.

But there is a price to pay to live in Norilsk, and it has nothing to do with the cold. Mining has also made the city one of the most polluted places on the planet. According to National Geographic, “The amount of sulfur dioxide in the air is so high that vegetation in an almost 20-mile radius has died, and residents are forbidden from gathering berries or mushrooms due to high toxicity.” (That's a big deal, given that mushroom-hunting is one of Russia’s most beloved national pastimes.) Recently, mining activity caused the nearby Daldykan river to turn blood red. According to the Times, “At one point, the company belched more sulfur dioxide a year than all of France.”

Most residents are aware of the possible health consequences but don’t raise much of a fuss. "Norilsk Nickel feels like it owns the whole territory here," a citizen tells Victoria Fiore in her short documentary My Deadly Beautiful City, "so [people] are afraid to speak out against it." Their livelihood, after all, depends on the mine's success.

And besides, many people in Norilsk—a significant number of whom are descended from the prison laborers who helped build everything in this city—feel deeply connected to the isolated landscape they call home.

"It's beautiful and eternal," one man tells Fiore. "This is where I like to be."

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