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Kuril Islands: 101 Fabulous volcanoes in Russia's Easternmost territory

There’s almost no tourism here. The brutal beauty of many of these frontier islands is reserved to sporadic military patrols, local fisherman and to the fearless wildlife. This is the extreme east, we're right on the edge of the rim of the Eurasian plate. On the line where this plate is slowly engulfing the Pacific one. A small lost world, where the most remote islands are almost left at the mercy of the elements.

Kuril Islands are about 100 volcanoes (40 still smoking) on 56 islands, which only 7 are inhabited with no more than 20,000 souls. They belong to Russia and you need a special permission to enter each island. Independent travel to some of the beautiful deserted islands is almost impossible, unless you've got a boat or an helicopter (and a large budget).

As many of this incredible landscapes are out of reach for most of us, we took the opportunity to show some images courtesy of Eugene Kaspersky, who organized a private expedition, touring the islands on a boat. You can find more information, photos and entertaining stories here, on his personal blog.

Kuril Volcanoes
Located in the center of the chain of islands, uninhabited and therefore considerably inaccessible, Ushishir has this fabulous look.

Kuril Islands
The archipelago forms an arc of volcanoes of more than 800 miles, from Kamchatka to Hokkaido in Japan.

Kuril islands Tourism
Tempted to roll down croquette style. The old crater has become a photogenic bay ornamented with two small cones, the Pacific Ocean at one side and the Sea of Okhotsk at the other.

Kuril Islands dispute
The islands have been changing hands in the last centuries. Japan is still claiming some of the southern islands in what is known as the Kuril Islands dispute. The years in red mark the old boundaries between Russia and Japan. Modified infographic from an original of Demis, and the satellite view of Ushishir from Nasa Johnson Space Center

Kuril Islands Russia
Going south, this is one of the volcanic calderas in the island of Simushir.

Secret Soviet Base
Simushir consists of several volcanoes interconnected, and houses the remains of a secret submarine base inside the northern bay. Image by Nasa Johnson Space Center

Abandoned Submarine Base
Mosaic (hiding a secret door?) in the old Soviet Naval Base of Kraternyy.
Image Austronesian Expeditions

A Giant's Causeway at the other side of the world

Basalt columns Kurils
North Ireland is home to the famous basalt columns that look like an artificial paved trails, near the coast. Something like Cape Stolbchaty (Column Cape) in Kunashir island.

But why this phenomenon occur? Do you really want to know? Then follow this Wikipedia link.

Kurile Islands
Yes, today I'm lazy... do you know that afterwards it has to be all manually translated into Spanish and Russian? Are you apart of looking at the pics, also reading the captions? Right now I could be explaining jokes about Russians, instead of giving you details about how many sheep are living in Kunashir.

Kuril islands earthquake
Kunashir is very close to Japan and is one of the most accessible Kurils if you want to travel there.

These white strips in the land, like if huge Wolverine claws had tear it apart, is a field of fumaroles (gases and vapors) viewed from the top of Mendeleyeva volcano. It's something like a ventilation grid of the Center of the Earth.

Kunashir island
The lake in the crater of Golovnin volcano, also in Kunashir.

Tyatya volcano
Still in Kunashir, this is Tyatya volcano. In this cone that looks like a freshly baked cake, are hanging the remnants of an Helicopter crashed in 1983. No survivors.

Krenitsyn volcano
In Onekotan we find an island inside another island, Krenitsyn volcano.

Are you reading? Here is one Russian joke: - Hello dear, what do we have for dinner today? - Nothing - Ah, the same as yesterday? - It's because I made it for two days! Image courtesy from NASA Earth Observatory

Shikotan, also very close to Japan, is known as the Kuril New Zealand, but it has no sheeps. Baaaaaa!

Atsonupuri Volcano
Iturup is another gorgeous island, containing the magnificent Atsonupuri Volcano.

Here goes a fresher (and unfair) joke, harvested in 2014:
A Russian is crossing the border with a neighboring country. The officer asks: - Name? - Vladimr. - Occupation? - No, just visiting.

Kuril Islands Tour
Seriously, I wish I had (also) a Russian passport. Do you know how expensive and difficult is to get a visa, also to travel to all the -Stan republics in Central Asia? And do you know other Russian themed jokes? I do :]

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Kayaköy, an abandoned Greek town in Turkey

Thanks to another traveler, I got to know about the existence of a ghost town perched in the mountains in Turkey, near the Lycian coast. I immediately added this promised land to my route, imagining myself cutting weeds with a machete before I could pass through.

Too fast too furious. The place has become already a tourist attraction, and you even have to pay an entrance fee to access to the ruins. But as you can check on the pictures below, definitely worth getting lost in what is left of Kayaköy, since it was finally abandoned more than ninety years ago.

The history behind is a fascinating drama, so 20th century: Once upon a time, it was a mainly Greek village in Western Anatolia called Livissi, living in peace with their Turkish neighbours, that called the same village Kayaköy. But following the Greco-Turkish War, it was decided to separate these communities forever to stop the bloodshed. After the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey in 1923, the remaining Greek inhabitants from the town that survived, were evacuated to Attica region, near Athens.

The Turkish population from Greece that were assigned to repopulate the area were farmers. They didn't like the houses in the hills without stables, that were designed for traders and craftsmen. So they decided to left the town, abandoned for a second time.

Kayakoy Turkey
Livissi was built in the 18th century, by Greeks fleeing from the pirates that used to ravage the settlements in the coast.

Kayakoy villas
Kayaköy is very close to the coastal town and pricey villas of Ölüdeniz, a popular tourist destination, where streets are filled with hotels and bars. The main attraction is a famous secluded sandy bay of alluring turquoise colors, known as the Blue Lagoon, that once was a sanctuary of hippies.

Kayakoy abandoned
Kaya village is a small bunch of houses scattered at the foot of the ruins of Kayaköy, where you can find some homestays, campings, and bars, that have the flair to cater to independent travellers or backpackers. Also in high season, you can walk around the ruins not bumping into another tourist for a while.

Kaya village
The Blue Lagoon was lost to mass tourism long ago. However, the ambiance in Kaya village is completely different to its neighbours Fethiye or Ölüdeniz. Kaya village seems somehow the last bastion, like if the old hippie spirit had found refuge in the top of the hills, like the original Greeks escaping from pirates some centuries ago.

Kayakoy ghost town
Today Kayaköy is also in the news. The Turkish government announced plans to develop the village into a tourist hub. The idea is to rent a third of the ruins to an investment group for 49 years.

Kayakoy Abandoned Village
Visit Kayaköy before is too late: This project has been criticised as this could spoil the genuine atmosphere of the place to make room to another fancy shop hotel.

Kayakoy Ghost Village
In summer 2014, the two churches of the village were closed to visitors, waiting for restoration works.
Image by Arlen Tees

Turkish abandoned town
The ghost town has been protected since in 1988, when a campaign was launched by the Turkish-Greek Friendship Association and architects from Istanbul to register the place as archaeological conservation area.

Turkey ghost town
The houses began to fall apart very quick when, after the attempts to inhabit the village with Turks deported from Greece failed, in the 1950s the government decided to make a profit, selling the tiles from the roofs.

Turkey abandoned village
The book Birds Without Wings from the British writer Louis de Bernières (famous for his novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin), inspired in the story of Kayaköy.

Butterfly Valley Turkey
This is the superb view from the top of the mountains surrounding Kayaköy. The entrance to Ölüdeniz bay is at the top left, and a bit more far away, the Butterfly Valley.

Gemile Beach
Also you can follow a trail down to the beach near the small Gemile island. Just be careful with the modern pirates!


By car if you have one :] Also the road is very good to rent a moped.
There are frequent and cheap minibuses from Fethiye, and also from Ölüdeniz at least during high season.
Also there's a section of the famous Lycian way that goes for 8-9km from Fethiye to Kayaköy. In the other direcction, from Kayaköy you can go down until the Blue Lagoon following the coast, or there's another trail heading the hills until Ovacık (Ölüdeniz).

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Where was Grand Budapest Hotel filmed?

The cities of Görlitz and Dresden in Germany, along with some other spots in Saxony, are the main filming locations where The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place. Also, the film director Wes Anderson, took inspiration from a cocktail between Vienna, Prague and Budapest to create the city of Lutz, in the invented Republic of Zubrowka. The plot occurs in a background with clear references to the history of Central Europe, during the interwar period of the 20th century.

The production team did a magnificent job recreating a fictional universe, that is at the same time familiar to the public. Also the shooting locations are not very difficult to recognize for those who have been there. Many films try to mask or hide the real film locations. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, on many occasions the camera was pointing at the same perspective as postcards do:

Grand Budapest Hotel film locations

Yazd, the desert city that caught the wind

Yazd, the metropolis in Iran that grew in the middle of the desert, is a very special place in an incredibly interesting and welcoming country. Centuries of improvements and adaptation to survive extreme climatic conditions, led the builders of the city to provide shapes and structures that look, to the eyes of an alien like me, out of this world.

Tall walls to project more shadow in narrow alleys, windows and apertures placed strategically to avoid the sun, and the fascinating windcatchers or Bagdirs standing above the roofs and domes in the horizon.

Windcatchers are nothing less than natural air conditioning without plugs or the use of mechanical devices, apparently invented by the old Persians several millennia ago. These imposing air cooling systems are especially big and varied in Yazd:

Yazd Iran

Salina Turda, the most spectacular underground mine

We are entering a subterranean world that seems out of a crepuscular sci-fi movie. But descending the stairs that led you to the base of the immense cave carved in salt, you will soon forget about Blade Runner, once you hear the echo of people talking out loud form the top of a fun fair big wheel.

This vast space has been transformed into an underground theme park; You can play from minigolf to tennis table, there is a mini soccer ground, an amphitheatre for concerts and you can even row in the waters of a tenebrous lake.

Turda salt mine dates from the seventeenth century, but it was not opened as a tourist attraction until 1992. Located near Cluj-Napoca, the capital of the mythical and historical region of Transylvania (Romania), in 2009 it was refurbished to get the incredible futuristic design, that looks so good in pictures:

Salina Turda

Te Waihou, a river out of a fairy tale in New Zealand

With a tropical look thanks to the exuberant vegetation, a dazzling display of colours, and a crystal clear water purified after over 100 years travelling underground, Te Waihou river is another hidden gem that most tourists pass by without exploring.

Te Waihou Walkway & the Blue Spring are located near Putaruru, going northwest from the rotten valley of Roturua, famous for being a stinky geothermal wonderland. You can find a map at the end of the post to help you to find this nice short walk, in the north island of glorious New Zealand:

Te Waihou

16 rare wooden churches from the Carpathians

In 2013, the UNESCO selected sixteen historical Wooden Tserkvas (as these peculiar churches are called), as new world heritage sites. Eight are on Polish territory and other eight in Ukraine. Their architecture, cultural environment and features are unique compared to other remarkable wooden churches like Kizhi in Russia, or the ones in Southern Lesser Poland.

These tserkvas were built between the 16th and 19th centuries to serve the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic faiths, and were made from the timber of the great forests which covered most lands in Europe at that time. The location of most of them in remote rural villages in the Carpathian Region, between Poland and Ukraine, helped them to survive centuries of plundering and fire.

You can find a map with the location of the 16 Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region at the end of the post:

Wooden Tserkvas

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