There are few cities that have the energy of Tokyo. It’s one place where you can feel the past and future collide, with traditional teahouses and 1950s-throwback salarymen mixing with girls in cutting-edge fashion and boys with the latest technology. The intensity is dialed up to the maximum at Shibuya Crossing, where Flickr user m24instudio shot today’s Photo Of The Day. There you can have a seat at a cafe or grab some kind of odd beverage from a vending machine and sit on a bench (Japanese manners dictate that you should never drink and walk), and watch the world go by.
As a rule, people generally prefer to live above ground. Whether it’s claustrophobia, prohibitive construction costs, or just enjoyment of the sun, people have generally stuck with above-ground structures across the globe. In instances where above-ground cities have subterranean components, they are often public transit systems, municipal works, or just plain old sewers.
Yet every once in a while, some far-fetched city planner or wealthy tycoon will decide that the cheapest real estate is just one floor down. This gallery collects some of the most eye-popping examples of underground zoning – whether it’s ancient catacombs repurposed for modern use, a billionaire’s dream, or just an organic growth of cities with imposing population density, these underground creations make the Morlocks look downright shabby.
John William Burgon’s “rose-red city half as old as time” is one of Jordan’s great treasures. While it gained a small amount of fame through association with the popular 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia, the city’s stunning architecture and unique water management methods made it a marvel far before the film. The city was carvedinto the slope of Mount Hor sometime in 6th century BCE, and was fought over by the Romans, King Herod, and even Cleopatra. With a grand theater, their own coinage, and a nearly unassailable fortress, the capitol city of the Nabatean empire was a feat well before it’s time. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and listed by the BBC as one of “40 places to see before you die”.
Just a stone’s throw from the Hagia Sofia (and a couple stories down) lies one of the most impressive wonders of Istanbul.Built sometime around 6th century CE, the structure was a large basilica involved in commerce and the arts. It was later converted to a cistern during Emperor Justinian’s reign to store water for the palace – capable of holding almost 21 million gallons of water. Scholars still haven’t figured out all of the repurposed temple’s secrets: a pair of odd Medusa heads (one upside down, the other on it’s side) grace the bottom of two pillars. Is their positioning to ward against evil spirits, or just to allow the pillars to fit correctly? James Bond also made a brief rowboat trip through the cistern in From Russia With Love.
The Australian Outback has some brutal living conditions, and much of the country is uninhabitable by humans. In Coober Pedy, the scorching heat would scare off almost any settler – except for the presence of a huge lode of opal in the area. Residents avoid the over-100F temperatures by living in “dugouts” carved into the hillsides, which allow for more reasonable temperatures. Above ground, the near-wasteland has been used in such films as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Pitch Black. The residents have a good sense of humor about their situation – artist Claus Wirris created the town’s only “tree” out of scrap metal atop a hill in the town.
The Moscow Metro is not the highest-volume underground tranportation system – that honor goes to Tokyo. However, the pre-WWII system is one of the most stunning underground structures of any kind. Stalin himself pushed for a “radiant” style, including high ceilings, marble walls, gold anodized lamps, and iconic chandeliers of copper, blue ceramic, and milk glass. 2.3 billion passengers take the Metro each year, and while many other countries are used to exposed cement and grimy ceilings, the Muscovites are still riding in style.
The most famous of four major underground cities, Derinkuyu is one of the wonders of ancient Cappadocia. One of the oldest and largest underground structures, Derinkuyu’s massive depths (reaching eleven seperate levels) could hold some 40,000 people with their livestock and belongings included. Likely created as a means for Christians to hide from persecution, the city included a chapel among its many amenities, as well as massive stone doors to secure each level. The cave-dwellers even went so far as to establish travel options – a tunnel connects the massive underground complex to Kaymaklli, another underground city.
Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel
There is little glamorous about the function of this Kasukabe overflow control channel – it simply functions to prevent floods in Tokyo. But given the presence of tsunamis and other hazardous water possibilities, this structure is one of the largest in the world, and can pump out 200 tons of water per second. The main attraction for visitors is the “Underground Temple” – the main water tank’s stunning pillars easily dwarf the viewer. A Range Rover commercial featured the car driving inside the massive structure.
The Salt Cathedral of Wieliczka, Poland is fairly literal in its etymology. A former rock salt mine, the cathedral carved out by the miners for daily prayers was ultimately expanded and turned into a tourist attraction, continuing on after salt production ceased in 1996. Counting Goerthe, Chopin, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton among its visitors, the site has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978. In addition to a stunning underground lake, the cathedral prominently showcases its namesake material – several of its statues and even the chandeliers are made of raw or reconstituted rock salt.
Another ancient aquaduct, the underground city on the island of Kish showcases their Kariz – underground water storage facilities essentially similar to the cisterns of Europe. The small waterways of the Kariz can be traversed by boat tour, and the masonry is supplanted by stunning coral in several areas. The island is also a free trade zone, and several investors have planned future renovations and commercial expansions to the 1,000-year-old site.
Think of sustainability, and San Francisco is probably the first city to come to mind. But a new crop of green urban centers is emerging, and they’re not where you might think.
Leon Kaye, editor of GreenGoPost.com, recently published a list of his picks for emerging sustainable cities to watch in 2012. Some spots were to be expected, like Detroit, with its preponderance of urban renewal projects, and Accra, which recently topped Siemens’ and Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of Africa’s greenest cities.
But there were also a few wild cards. Mexico City made the list for its 10-point Climate Action Program, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 million metric tones between 2008 and 2012. The plan included massive improvements to the public transportation system, including the construction of Latin America’s largest rail system and investments in green roofing, water conservation, and waste management.
Also on the list was Naples, Italy, whose trash crisis has made headlines since 2008. Once city residents started realizing that the government wasn’t going to take action, they started taking matters into their own hands. Through grassroots activist movements, like guerrilla gardening and flash mobs, Neapolitans are slowly beautifying their city, and this year will host the UN’s World Urban Forum.
[Flickr image of Mexico City via Alfredo Gayou]
There are countless statues in New York City, each one put into place for a different reason. Many of these statues have been there for decades, often gifts and peace offerings from other countries. The Statue of Liberty, for example, was a peace offering from France, officially dedicated in the year 1886. Lady Liberty represents the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. While the word ‘creepy’ typically does not pop into anyone’s head when they think of this important statue, there are plenty of other monuments in good ol’ New York which can make the most fearless person’s skin crawl.
Listed here are the top creepiest statues in New York City. Understand that while some of these statues may seem like odd choices, there is always a rhyme and reason behind picking them. Fasten your safety belts and get ready for an interesting journey into the weirdest monuments the Big Apple has to offer.
1. Miguel de Cervantes (right) First on the list is the statue of famed Spanish writer and painter, Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes was born on Sep. 29, 1547 and died April 23, 1616. He lived in Madrid for a large portion of his life and is most popularly known for writing the epic novel “Don Quixote.” A statue of him currently rests on the NYU campus near Fifth Avenue and has been in place since 1986. This particular statue is known for giving the viewer a solemn, lonely feeling. Plus, it does sort of look like he is watching everyone as they walk past him. At any rate, whether some people agree or not, the statue of Miguel de Cervates is pretty creepy.
2. Lin Ze Xu This is probably an odd choice, considering Lin Ze Xu was a widely respected Chinese scholar and member of the Qing Dynasty, advocating peace and moral high-ground during his tenure–but the selection stands. Xu was born Aug. 30, 1785 and died Nov. 22, 1850. A statue was erected by an unknown sculptor in 1999 and is now sitting on the busy intersection of East Broadway St. and Chatham Square. Xu was chosen to be on this list of creepy statues because of his grim expression and stature. Xu’s memorial has him dressed in ancient Chinese garb, looking as if he is lording over the many passerby of Broadway St.
3. Dolly Dimples Now it’s time to kick it into high gear. Dolly Dimples is an extremely odd example of New York statues, currently owned by a local candy shop called Valvo’s Candy. She is a giant 1950’s style little girl and can be seen in the distance waving at passersby, sporting a rather unscrupulous smile. She was originally part of a drive-in restaurant in the 1970s called Pat’s Diner. While Dolly Dimples is probably modeled after the idea of a sweet, innocent school-girl, she at least appears to have ulterior motives hidden somewhere behind that creepy grin of hers.
4.Big Leather Guy This statue resides off of Route 30 and used to belong to Alvord’s House of Leather. Alvord’s closed in late 1998 and now the statue has found a new home. He looks quite a lot like the fabled character Paul Bunyon and is totally retro, sporting his 1970s suede jacket and high-legged boots. Big Leather Guy is now positioned outside of the entry way at Adirondack Leather Shop, greeting customers with his all-too-warm smile.
5.The Long Island Sphinx Near the beaches of Long Island resides a strange, small-scale ‘replica’ of the mighty Sphinx. This one more than makes the list of creepy New York City statues, not only because of it’s decidedly lecherous expression, but because of an odd inscription carved into his midsection, which reads: “She Who Climbs To The Sphinx’s Head, A Millionaire Will Surely Wed.”
6.The Stoned Shores of Staten Island Finally, the time comes to mention the stone structures of Staten Island’s beaches. These strange monuments litter the shores, taking the viewer on a wild journey to what appears to be a very creepy alien landscape, full of towers, rooms and Stonehenge-like structures. These oddities were in fact built by Douglas Schwartz, who claims that his creations, spanning over a half-mile, are the product of an ecological art experiment. Regardless of their purpose, Schwartz gets awarded the official crown for ‘King of Creepiness.’
Nearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.
So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:
- Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
- Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
- Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
- LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
- Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
- Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
- Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
- Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.
- Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
- National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
- Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
- Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
- USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.
All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?
*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!