Once again we are looking back over the strange and wonderful places that made the top of our charts in the past twelve months, and once again, we are not disappointed: from urine-soaked snack eggs to remote island monasteries, we feel like this list would make a lovely multi-stop family vacation.
Happy New Year!
ALNWICK POISON GARDENS - Alnwick, England
The sign at the garden gate reads "Warning, these plants can kill you"
Inspired by the legendary botanical gardens in Padua where the Medicis plotted the untimely, frothing ends of their enemies, an English duchess created this garden, dedicating it entirely to flora which are deadly and/or narcotic. Behind big black gates, the carefully curated garden contains about 100 legendary killers like Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Strychnos nux-vomica (strychnine), and Conium maculatum (hemlock). Guides explain their deadly properties while keeping ne'er-do-wells and curious children away from the plants, warning them: "Do not touch any of the plants, don't even smell them. There are plants here that can kill you."
KOLA SUPERDEEP BOREHOLE - Murmansk, Russia
The deepest hole drilled in the name of science, where evidence of Precambrian life was found
It has been said that the human race knows more about certain distant galaxies than it does about the ground that lies beneath its very feet. In fact, while it took the famous Voyager 1 satellite twenty-six years to exit our Solar System (relaying measurements to Earth from 16.5 billion km away), it took about the same amount of time for humanity to penetrate a mere 12 km into the Earth's surface.
FORT ZVEREV - Kronstadt, Russia
Nightmarish example of the unintended consequences of weapons testing
Built by engineer Konstantin Zverev in the 1870s, Fort Zverev now lies in ruins, with machine gun mounts, bunkers, and water tubes slowly rusting away.
SKELLIG MICHAEL - Ireland
Perfectly preserved ancient monastery in an impossibly dramatic location on a rocky island in the Atlantic
"An incredible, impossible, mad place. I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world." -- George Bernard Shaw
Skellig Michael is a remote, precipitous, rocky island situated eight miles from the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. It is the larger of two jagged islands that jut out from the swell of the Atlantic Ocean and thrust 230 meters straight up.
TONGZI DAN BOY EGGS - Chanyuan, China
Urine-soaked Chinese eggs
Tongzi Dan or "Boy Eggs", are urine-soaked hard-boiled eggs that straddle a line somewhere between local tradition and modern medicine. Although the concept is off-putting at first, the eggs have been standard street fare in Dongyang in Zhejiang Province for hundreds of years.
AOKIGAHARA SUICIDE FOREST - Yamanasi, Japan
Resting in Mount Fuji's shadow lies a forest shrouded by death, the world's second most popular suicide location
Called "the perfect place to die," the Aokigahara forest has the unfortunate distinction as the world's second most popular place to take one's life. (The first is the Golden Gate Bridge.) Since the 1950s, Japanese businessmen have wandered in, and at least 500 of them haven't wandered out, at an increasing rate of between 10 and 30 per year. Recently these numbers have increased even more, with a record 78 suicides in 2002.
ROOT BRIDGES OF CHERRAPUNJI - India
Centuries-old bridges, grown from tangled roots
In the depths of northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built—they're grown.
The southern Khasi and Jaintia hills are humid and warm, crisscrossed by swift-flowing rivers and mountain streams. On the slopes of these hills, a species of Indian rubber tree with an incredibly strong root system thrives and flourishes.
CACTUS DOME - Marshall Islands
An enormous concrete structure built over a nuclear crater
Between 1946 and 1962, the US military conducted 105 atmospheric nuclear tests over the "Pacific Proving Grounds," a euphemism for the Marshall Islands and several other nearby South Pacific atolls.
LOS FELIZ MURDER MANSION - Los Angeles, California
Left untouched since a double murder-suicide in the 1960s
On the night of December 6, 1959, in a mansion that sits on a Los Feliz hilltop, Dr. Harold Perelson struck his wife to death with a hammer, severely beat his 18-year-old daughter, and then ended his own life by drinking a glass of acid. For the next fifty years, the mansion would remain completely untouched and uninhabited by anyone.
MIRNY DIAMOND MINE - Mirny, Russia
The world's second largest hole
The second largest man-made hole in the world (surpassed only by the Bingham Copper Mine in Utah) is a diamond mine located on the outskirts of Mirny, a small town in eastern Siberia.
Goodbye 2011, heey-lo there 2012. We are relying on you to help us find the curious and strange places we'll be adding in the new year. What have you got for us now?