Lonely Planet names top 10 “weird” cities

Top 10 lists are the lifeblood of blogging. How else, dear reader, can we quickly inform you of all you need to know about a topic in a format that is quick to read and simultaneously entertaining? The end of the year is fertile ground for top 10 lists, providing an opportunity to take a look at the previous 365 days and gaze at the marvelous things that have come to pass.

With this in mind, travel publication extraordinaire Lonely Planet has published their 2008 list of the “world’s top 10 weirdest cities” as part of their book, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009. Here’s a few of their picks:

  • Tokyo, Japan – I don’t think anyone is going to argue with this one
  • Las Vegas, Nevada – true only if you find $5 all-you-can-eat lobster tails to be eccentric
  • Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – a country with flaming holes and an eccentric dictator definitely qualifies in our book
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands – whoa, cannabis and sex shows. So weird!
  • Guanajuato, Mexico – I had always thought of Guanajuato as a charming Mexican colonial city, but that’s wrong. Apparently they have mummies. Mummies!

Anyone interested in checking out the full list can find it here. You have to wonder who was in charge of compiling these cities, but considering that Gadling might some day want to publish their own book of top 10’s, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

What do you think of this list of top 10 weird cities? Think it’s a load of crap? Have any cities you think they left out? Leave us a comment below and tell us about your favorite weird city.

Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell”

We’ve previously reported here at Gadling on the intriguing, surreal and downright bizarre tourist attractions of the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan. Now today comes further “fuel” for the country’s already odd reputation. Website English Russia is reporting on what local residents have dubbed the “Door to Hell” – a cavernous, flaming pit outside the small town of Darvaza which has been continuously burning for more than 35 years.

While Biblical alarmists might point to the “Door of Hell” as yet another sign of a coming apocalypse, the phenomenon apparently has a scientific explanation. According local residents, geologists were digging in the area for gas deposits and stumbled upon a huge underground cavern. The geologists apparently concluded the cavern was filled with poisonous gas, and decided (as any sane rational scientist might do) that they should light the cavern on fire to burn off the excess. The hole has been burning for more than 35 years since. Though there’s some debate on English Russia about whether this flaming pit is actually located in Uzbekistan, some further investigation confirms it is indeed in Turkmenistan.

Perhaps the “Door to Hell” won’t help put Turkmenistan back on your list of 1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die, but if you’re a Satanist, energy company executive or just plain curious, maybe it’s worth the long trek out to Central Asia.

Ranking the world’s best and worst flags

Gambia‘s great, Senegal plagiarized, and Libya didn’t even try. So says a fun new evaluation of the flags of every nation in the world. In an admittedly unscientific ranking of the world’s flags, high marks are given for good color schemes and originality, while grades are lowered for the presence of weapons, writing, and “too many stars.”

Here’s the unflattering commentary on Saint Lucia’s flag: “Best corporate logo. Makes me want to invest money there.”

The flag of Turkmenistan is described as vomit inducing, while the lowest-ranking flag, that of the Northern Marianas Islands, “appears to have been constructed from clip art.”

I’ve always been partial to the flag of South Africa, while I find the flag of Guam to be hideous beyond comprehension. In my book, Bhutan’s flag (seen above) wins the award for most bad-ass, barely edging out Mozambique’s, which features an AK-47.

Check out the highly entertaining rankings here, in order from best to worst. The ranking methodology is described here.

Keeping the ‘Stans Straight, part 3: Turkmenistan


Capital: Ashgabat

Location: North of Iran and Afghanistan, it shares a Western border with the Caspian Sea.

In a nutshell: Under President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan became one of the most bizarre, isolated countries in the world. The authoritarian Niyazov, who was surrounded by an enormous cult of personality, had a propensity for naming things after himself: months, mountains, cities, and even a meteorite. His death in 2006 cleared the way for new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow, who has since enacted some modest reforms.

How you know it: You once chipped a tooth while trying to pronounce the name of the country’s president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow.

Interesting factoid: In 2004, Niyazov prohibited the men in his country from having long hair or beards. In a rare moment of good judgment, he also outlawed ballet and opera performances, saying they were “not a part of Turkmen culture.”

Make sure to check out: The Neutrality Arch (pictured above), located in Ashgabat, features a golden statue of Niyazov which rotates in a slow circle so that it always faces the sun. Oh-kay.

See also: Part 1 of this series, Kyrgyzstan, and Part 2, Kazakhstan.

Seven (screwed up) wonders of the totalitarian world

There is something terribly crazy about totalitarian governments and their sense of architecture: monumental, gaudy, pompous, and, more often than not, in extraordinarily poor taste.

That’s whey the fine folks over at Esquire Magazine have compiled a list of what they feel are the world’s most “colossal monument[s] to narcissism.”

The Seven Wonders of the Totalitarian World, as you might imagine, is a rather bizarre assortment of architectural toy things by those drunk with power and devoid of taste. I can’t say I agree with all of them–there are certainly others that should make the list such as Kim Il Sung’s massive bronze statue in Pyongyang (above). But the ones that are included are still worth checking out nonetheless. And remember, when dictators fall, as Esquire points out, their statues soon follow–so be sure to visit soon.

Fist Crushing U.S. Fighter Plane, Libya
Monument to President Laurent Kabila, Congo
Lenin’s Mausoleum, Russia
Monument to President Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan
Mao Leading the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, China
The Hands of Victory, Iraq
Monument to the Founding of the North Korean Worker’s Party, North Korea