A Journal of the Plague Year Day 21

Tuesday 7th April

Well another forage out has led to stocking up ridiculously on that rarity: meat. Veal mince, pork filet and diced lamb, all exorbitantly priced and exorbitantly reduced, enough to force me into snapping them up, despite whispers of false economy. Yes, I’ve reached the stage where I’m blogging about my shopping. Such is my domestic world. Will maybe make burgers, and a curry.

I will strive to keep up appearances. Trim the goattee, pluck the eyebrows, and keep the short back n sides, long on top. Though there has been quite a trend seen of men shaving their heads on social media and among friends, my idea also on day 1. There’s definitely something to be said about that, how everyone has been having that same instinct, as if we’re all joining the army, or prison, but a virtual version like the Open University of FML. Cold Steel against your own humanity I reckon, into becoming a new you when life changes for the worse.

I’ll use J as my outside, the replacement of social expectation. One’s partner being inadequate, having seen you already at your worst, waking up with your hair like spiders, halitosic, farteous, spotted and a limp.

This is what housewives back in the day had to look forward to, trapped in a life where detail becomes your only cerebral outlet. From which cleaning product to use on the shower (Mr Max) to the trick in getting the windows fully open (tweak the ledge up then down), to the organisation of your cupboards (the winter stuff can now go into storage behind the door). Dolling yourself up for your provider, as some semblance of meaning. It does after a spell become a ritual, a new font to immerse yourself.

I mean wtf. Everything I said I never would be. My outlook (clue’s in the word) has always been swiveled to the horizon, a true north being to travel, to experience, to live beyond, with hobbies in people, culture, society, and the things we create. If you’re interested in humans, or life, or nature you’re interested in getting out. I’m determined not to write politics today. Make this diary my own.

Watched Ponyo, and not as good as the first time. Plus a bit AWKWARD how they portray a tsunami as a magical event. Pre-2011 obvs.

Wrote a lot on the book. Ate badly, but healthily.

I think that’s pretty much it. My life in still.

Pretty much got nothing to say if it’s not gossipping about the wider world. Four fucking walls.

Feel a bit crap, all achey on occasion (though it’s not THAT). But I am not to write about what is outside, only what I am experiencing here. And from the look of things, that’s not a lot.

One of them days.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 6

Monday, 23rd March 2020

Okay, today’s been tough. As in tough being stuck indoors. So not that tough given the mf shitcake the world is baking right now. But let’s forget perspective and ethics and scale and any later claims to hairblowing heroism, I’m feeling it’s tough, being in bed. Still in my PJ’s, writing the book for 5 hrs, break for a pot noodle, then admin for another 3hrs and counting, and writing now the blog. I imagine weeerrkk today will account for about 11hrs when I’m done with this. Don’t mind it so much but when it involves claiming travel insurance, a new all-day, family affair, it’s gonna be a memorable one.

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I don’t know anyone who can conceivably enjoy or enable into existence the process of filling out jargon-heavy forms, ringing up multiple call centres, midway discovering other refunds not fulfilled or double charging, then extracting a range of evidence, phone and bank records, screenshots and converting it all to PDF while trying to annotate using counter-intuitive tools. Our collective societies should be designed around never having to do this. A is doing a big chunk of the werk, but in his roundabout way, operative word roundabout. I dream of the day we can talk to an operating system, perhaps pleasingly named Berty, or Sharon, and get them to fill out, fact-check, source and send the form within milliseconds, trawling through our emails, creating attachments and communicating with other OS’s in multiple bureaucratic pigeonholes. She’d only have to ask if you wanted to claim, and all you’d have to say is yes Shazza, yes.

Throughout this time the smell’s getting to me. That pungent burnt aroma it appears only I can still savour, reeking at a low level throughout the flat two days later -not so much cardboard/ woodsmoke, more dead fish, giving me a headache, a gnawing gut feeling and a lack of appetite. It does make me wonder what Francomanca puts into its boxes. I found out how to fully open the 2 metre high windows yesterday after fiddling with the brackets, they swing dangerously out and I’ve entreatied the housemates not to trampoline.

The fact I’m already moaning about the little things in life is an indicator methinks. This is the new normal. People are dying, and I’m inside, oblivious. When UK reaches the state of Italy I will be singing a different tune, nearer to the first blog post, what only 5 days ago, so full of doom and gloom, and now look at me, complaining about paperwork. Do I have to acknowledge disaster every day? Do I have the altruism to even look?

The news is full of snaps of heaving beaches and national parks; places such as Snowdonia and the Peak District recording their busiest days in living memory, where parking space so ran out miles of empty cars appropriated the country lanes. London parks are now threatening closure until we behave. And stop effectively killing each other – a viral load indeed.

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Brighton:

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A similar story played out in so-called lockdown states in the US, notably squawky Californian beaches and buzzing Floridian boat parties, tied up to swap fluids. The tube lines and trains in London also suffered a rush hour, in part thanks to the enlightened choice of cutting down so many services and stations the groundlings that still travel have to cram onto the next available shuttles, making social distancing a Hawkins-esque abstract, a bit like how they claim learning algebra will help you in life. The govt maintains that only essential workers should use the trains, and is discussing full stay-at-home-or-we’ll-shoot-you lockdown, by all counts the only thing that may work on us Brits. Especially when that once in a lifetime opportunity presents itself in the sky of a golden glowing ball.

Still terrible news from Italy, but marginally better as a slight dip has been seen in infections and deaths these past 24 hrs, the latter down from over 800 to 600. India has enacted a lockdown now of 80 cities and over 100 million people, the largest in history alongside China’s -the subcontinent has been especially vigilant for months, and can be praised for their far-reaching measures knowing full well the disastrous possibilities in the world’s densest tracts of humanity, even with their much earlier lockdowns, public transport and interstate travel bans, rail cancellations and events and business closures.

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However, for all its foresight the Indian govt can only hold so much at bay, with such a vast undertaking. Some states alone have 200 million people in them.  And when Indians and Africans start dying in their far greater droves, will we even care by then?

The US continues to squabble over a blame game, alongside ineffectual handling of preventative measures. Opinion pieces in CNN and the New York Times are now making the connection (alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci, the main health advisor to the regime) that an administration compromised by so pointing the finger is misdirecting its resources, possibly wilfully so. Fauci maintained in yesterday’s interview with CNN, that he can’t exactly jump in front of the microphone and take it away whenever POTUS makes another sweepingly inaccurate statement. Trump’s deployment of a line of appropriated human props in the background of his public appearances are surely starting to reveal the holes rather than cover them, by the fact many of them appear to have thought processing.

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Japan is mulling over whether to postpone or possibly cancel the Olympics (its legally binding agreement when accepting the flame was to hold it in 2020, this year only). Norway and Canada are already out. The nation’s torch relay has been heavily edited already and similar hisses are being sounded across many nations to follow suit. More shockingly, Eurovision was canceled.

Having scrolled through a few million comments last night on the Internatz, it appears people are settling into the routine, while many others are reaching the point of cabin fever/ bankruptcy/ withdrawal and asking in their non-drug hazed clouds, whether it’d be better to just get on with normal life and let the millions die. It’s reached that. The moral question on an indentured life in the name of the living. And we’re barely at the shit>X<fan moment. The global economy is now set for a depression, the Asian nations months ahead, whose lockdowns and infection levels were steadfastly clearing, are now facing reinfection as numbers climb from returnees stepping off Western flights.

Last night I had a sore throat, so quickly used the throat spray thing everyone says got invented in Sweden a few years back, and that halts many colds in their tracks. Despite it being anti-bac rather than anything anti-viral. Had to use it again today, and A admitted the same, but thinking it’s just the dry air from being indoors for so long. Here’s to hoping.

Last night’s matinee was Onward, Pixar’s latest which has a fantastic premise (blue elves, centaurs, trolls and assorted storybook creatures transposed into today’s evolved existence, of suburban drives, class politics, and that time-worn Disney adage, the magic of unbridled capitalism), along with lovely visuals and two likable protagonists. However, how very quickly does it wear off, how very quickly do we realise how unexotic our everyday is, even when populated by pet dragons, cop centaurs and chimeral restaurateurs. And there’s only so far you can push the same meme of juxtaposing fable with reality- although they definitely should have had more on the feral unicorns. A very human story, almost boringly so. Plus a rather bizarre insertion of a half body dad (don’t ask). I generally felt they missed a trick somewhat, peppered with way too much Deux Ex and dreamed up situational comedy written by several competing writers without a producer. It is too deeply unmagical, too accurate to our lives to suspend disbelief.

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Next up is the BAFTA winning documentary For Sama. In this day and age, dare I watch it? The struggle of a filmmaker, newly pregnant, who is forced to stay in Aleppo, the world’s oldest city and former UNESCO World Heritage Site as it’s bombed out of existence (her partner a frontline medic). The ethical dilemma of bringing a new life into such a world throughout. It is perhaps too close for home now, no longer viewed from the pity generating, door slamming safeties of mollycoddled privilege, in the continent next door.

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Aleppo was of course Syria’s biggest city (more so than its capital Damascus) and spending no less than 8,000 years as the same continuously inhabited settlement, while we were largely still looking for caves and handy-sized rocks, and mammoths still roamed. At its centre a vast citadel that would be the world’s largest castle if ever we decided to call it one, surrounded by ancient medinas, bazaars, churches (yes, churches) and mosques:

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Now gone

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It is a harbinger, that we have been here before. If another country offered shelter, on the doorstep, would we go, could we afford the liquidity of an average $20,000 fee, and risk that seafaring, lorry-hiding, continent crossing journey? From a war with an estimated 700 sides, where half a million have died violently or from starvation. It brings it home, context, scale, memory. When society crumbles where do we turn?

There’s a lessening pool of what can suspend disbelief, of options in escapism. But we should at least be thankful we still, right now, have the choice.

Need to open the windows again. Then Netflix, then pie.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 4

Saturday 21st March 2020

Last night was the swansong for pubs, bars, clubs, theatres, gyms, and leisure/ community centres, not to mention schools. Restaurants are allowed to operate only with takeaways. Going out for a final pizza (Francomanco’s) we waited patiently for nearly half an hour as the small team stacked up orders, the pizza chef sweating in the empty restaurant -business seemed solid. In a few restaurants singular couples sat, candles burning.

Witness these epic, unreachable scenes below, now worthy of National Geographic covers and coffee table books exalting the exotic. People, clumped:

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The streets were almost crowded, commuters in every bus stop, but also a deal of footfall towards the boozers, each one full. A lone man ran a treadmill from a window in the gym above, spreading the last of his copious body fluids before a flabbygasted hibernation. It was almost a snapshot of London at its norm, nowhere near as crowded but a semblance of old -a few hundred populating the streets around the station, mums with toddlers, family groups, commuters, shoppers and drinking buds in arms, couples in embrace.

The supermarket trawl was its usual self-defeating offering of stuff no one else wanted to buy, but you got one or two of in case. Some cigarillo-like wafers from Poland (cheap looking but amazing, creme filled), a big bar of Turkish Delight (how does that company even function, everyone hates it yet is ubiquitous in every shop -evidence of one laureate winning marketing team) and some butter, very much needed. No crispbread, pickled goods, Vitamin D or paracetamol, or anything carby, tinny or cleany, which was the original intent. Vitamin Dee is the new big thing, the It girl that not only offers that daily 5 mins of sunshine required for a good mood (in UK level climes, 5 mins equates to an hour naked in an X-shape in the middle of the road, well until mid-April), but also purports to reduce respiratory infection by up to 70%. It is of course now mythical, on par with Bigfoot sightings and right now, God. I was reminded of the timeless words of George Bush Jnr, to a painfully smiling Hispanic family: “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your kids.”

At one point, trying to wrangle my camera from a ridiculously over-engineered bag, I picked out the black-wrapped butter and put it to my face. A snapshot of society indeed.

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The new estimates for the government’s current approach of gradual infection is 250,000 dead – lower than the 800,000 if the viral spread is left unchecked but also significantly higher than the 20,000 figure if quarantine is instated. One hospital in London – Harrow, is already breaking capacity with its ICU’s and wards overrun. Everywhere on the fora, people are intoning: It Is Coming. Yet life looks as if getting back to normal for a few, or at least a last Churchillian knees up down the boozer, typical. It appears a few days of self-imposed lockdown is undoable for many Londoners. Even when the tube looks like this (photo courtesy of J, one of the last workers in the city today):

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A is off for a bike ride today, in Battersea Park, a semblance of normality and his need to get in exercise otherwise his mind will go barmy. I’ve asked him not to talk to strangers, and not to hug them. Yesterday he put the pizzas in the oven to warm them gently, complete with boxes. A few minutes later smoke was billowing and a thankfully non-existent fire alarm screaming in my head. Pizzas were saved, while I held every nerve not to castigate in a big shouty display. The whole flat still reeks of smoke and is freezing from the windows being wedged open (barely a few inches thanks to 60s modernism coupled with noughties Health & Safety); I lied to our flatmate J that there must have been olive oil on the cover that got ignited when it rested on a still-hot stove, easily done. As opposed to putting yards of paper into an oven. Alanis could easily have penned out a belter about us dying in a fire after surviving a pandemic, back when it was ironic, rather than a viable option.

It does not bode well.

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The world of the internet is still well and truly alive, and feeding, with finger-pointing, political competition, sabre-rattling and divisiveness making up almost every comment. There is far less of the sharing of helpful information for all, the comfort, sympathy and jokes we kinda need right now -less of the support networking overall. As a great woman once said, Life is like a fucking giant sinking disaster, you’ve just got to enjoy the view while rowing.

 

But I do get it, there is quite a history of cataclysm bringing out the best and worst in people. I had a horrible dream, one of many recently where I was willing to do anything to protect my loved ones, including repeatedly punching some woman in the eye. With a chair leg. However if that were to transpire, I wouldn’t boast to all and sundry about it, rather quietly stuff the crawl space.

I do think if ever historians of the future look back on these archived comments -a rash throughout these past few decades ever since we each got an online podium and our entitled 15 years of fame -they’ll come to the conclusion we are a pretty nasty bunch. Judgmental, prejudiced, openly, knee-jerkingly racist, homophobic, fat-shaming, sexist, misogynistic, divisive, politicised, partisan and petty. Just look at the Youtube comments from a few years back, before they got all un-toxic and started getting people to register their identities, or at least some form of societal comportment. Actually, Youtube in the noughties would be a great example of the winning human spirit, unsheathed from the shackles of social respectability and free to call Adele fat for page after page, regardless of her performance.

Japanese culture likes to distinguish between these ‘truths’, the honne ‘true sound’ of your inner, privated thoughts and the tatamae of what you present to the public. This applies to most places round the world, though the Japanese system goes one step further in debate class, whereby both teams, after their polarising exercise, actually find correlations between arguments and round on a respectable midpoint. Thus, instilling a unity of honne and tatamae -the great nexus of Buddhist and Ayurvedic teachings, whereby what you think, say and do are in line with each other, giving inner peace. It’s much more doable in Japan -cultural stalwart of politesse, yet honesty alongside. This is somewhat lacking in the rest of the world, as exposed on the Internet, where any respectability can often be a mask. Don’t get me wrong the Japanese still snigger at videos of fat people falling over and will bitch about Sandra The Bitch In HR buying Rich Tea when it was her round. So not so kawaii as they make out (cuteness being a rebellion against sararimen conformity).

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But they are perhaps less likely to spit from the balcony or get all warm and cuddly at the idea of foreigners dying -because if they do, they’ll politely mention they do and be gracefully accommodating if you disagree, as opposed to manning the barricades in Les Miz or shooting people from clocktowers until we all concur. It also helps that in Japan the kids don’t get any tests until the age of 9, because they spend the first few years largely learning how to live, rather than the usual mix of subjects interspersed with three daily lessons on where they stand in playground hierarchy.

It remains to be seen how they bow out of hosting the Olympics this year. In South Korea they set up signs and even protests forbidding Chinese, China is in turn playing the blame game, and in the US they’re already talking about recompense, and even war, rather than focusing on the job at hand.

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I won’t even start on the utter lack of empathy, and often overt schadenfreude we have for Iranians at the mo’, now dying in their thousands under our sanctions, for a regime we put into place, back when we overthrew their democratic, secular government and reinstated their dictatory Shah (who in turn would be overthrown for a refreshing round of Wahabbism), in order to grab the oil in ’53. But then that would be gauche, me talking pollyticks after railing about getting all politicised at this no-dinner party of ours. I really have to look into it, it is perhaps a condition I suffer, a bit like Tourettes. Bring up say, popcorn flavours in conversation and I’ll then want to point out the mismanaged holes in globalised food production or the American health system, and why war is a bad thing.

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https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/03/coronavirus-has-forced-iran-to-take-a-hard-pause/

We appear to be grappling on two fronts, as a collectivised audience to the WTF situation operating across the world right now, and getting deluged under. It helps if we organise our crazy fucking grab the cat fears:

Front Number One: interpersonal

  1. How our governments are dealing with this; what is being done, what is the approach, what are the worst/best case scenarios?
  2. How many will die?
  3. Where the blame is.
  4. What the reaction is in the populace, and how that affects the spread.
  5. How long will this last – the viral peak, the global economic meltdown.
  6. What lockdown is, and what is the new normal for societal life.
  7. How will all this Thunderdome shit affect the future?

Front Number Two: personal

  1. How bad is the virus, what will it do to me or loved ones should we catch it? What can I do to survive it?
  2. Where is my income going to come from?
  3. Where is my home and shelter going to come from?
  4. Where is my food going to come from?
  5. Who will look after my dependents?
  6. How do I protect myself if shit hitteth the fan and society becomes Chavfest Zombieland? Where did I put that axe?
  7. How can I protect my old folk, from afar, for the next few months, or even year? How will I stop it spreading to them?
  8. What will happen to my investments/ are my savings safe? All £55.78 of it.
  9. How TF am I meant to keep sane and healthy and all yoga-mat blissful under lockdown?
  10. Will I get my refund?
  11. How are my friends doing? Actually fuck ’em I got enough on my plate.
  12. Shoot, I forgot to fully switch bank accounts, am I being charged? I still have that phone swap thing to do. The cat needs to be de-wormed. I think I left behind one of the kids in Asda. Rent is due. My divorce papers are missing. I think I water-boarded my i-Pod. Something’s going off in the fridge. A bird just shat on the window.

I honestly think we should divide those further into What Matters (most or what matters today), and What Can Be Shelved/ Ditched. Basically an exercise in downsizing on all fronts -imho I’d jettison almost the entirety of Front Number One.

Come on kids, we have enough on our tiny, cracked Ikea plates. Cain’t we all, y’know, just geddalawnng?

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

 

 

 

The True Size

The traditional atlases of the world always have distortions, such is the nature of translating a 3 dimensional globe onto a flattened 2D plane. Thus the notorious Mercator version (used as a dartboard among geographers), that was traditionally used to increase the size of northern (read: Western) countries has been accused of long peddling the incorrect sizes of landmasses to millions in generation after generation, and we’re not just talking physical size and distances, but the map as envisaged in the political mind. Any map that say elevates Eurocentrism, or puts China in the centre, or the US (thus splitting Europe and Asia to opposite sides) can be equally accused -yet which is most correct?

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In truth, countries compared… you’ll need to be a bit of an atlas-savvy nerd to appreciate the differences in size of some of these comparison, but onwards:

https://mapfight.appspot.com

First off…

Ecuador, that tiny cut in the western side of South America is actually bigger than the UK. Fun fact, it is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries despite its small size, more so than say the US.

Also, it’s capital Quito has fantastic potential as a destination, and one of the world’s truly undiscovered next big thangs, should it ever clean up get and get the flower baskets out. It’s blessed with one of the world’s largest and most encompassing Old City’s that swamps over numerous hills and mountain vistas, like San Fran but with more grit, crime, streetkids etc. Actually exactly like San Fran:

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Quito

Quito

Laos slightly smaller. Fun fact – one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries unlike almost all other Asian territories (pop 7.2 million in comparison to the UK at 68 million). Lots of room for cows, temples and minefields -the world’s heaviest bombed country, that took more fallout than all the ammo and explosives used in both World Wars combined. Not only was this paradise so mullered, it was done secretly, that the outside world had no clue the US was bombing (as a nice little sideline in the Vietnam War). But now it’s hippy heaven, lush and laid back in every direction, just don’t stray off the paths.

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Koreans would come in at a 76 million count were they ever to reunite. The difference would be stark within the new populace – not just in culture and clothing, even in height where the Southerners would average a 3-5 inch difference thanks to the North Korean famine during the 90s. But it’s also said the Northerners are a happy, convivial bunch contrary to assumption, and the opposite holds truer for the south. The closest we’ve gotten to believing ourselves in paradise are those living in Pyongyang.

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Next off, England.

Sri Lanka. Until as late as 1480 Sri Lanka was connected to India by Adam’s Bridge, a 50 km/ 30 mile limestone shoal that is now about 1-3 metres underwater. Quite a hike, paddle and swim but bring your shark net. Where no boat ever dares:

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Tasmania, with a population of only 537,000 is very sparsely populated. Its original inhabitants were wiped out within 30 years of British conquest, and one of the few human ethnicities (distinct from Mainland Aborigines for 12,000 years) to become extinct. But yeah, let that little footnote in history hold you back. An extraordinarly beautiful island, also a little known pinnacle of fresh, inordinately organic produce from seafood to wine to bush tucker.

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Suriname, a country of half a million mostly living along the coast is South America’s smallest. It is also the first in the world to reach carbon neutrality, whose vast interior of rainforest goes far to mitigate carbon reduction for the rest of the planet. Caribbean in culture, it speaks Dutch formally and English Creole (unintelligible to the English) among the populace, who are one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, an even mix of Afro-Surinamese, Indian, Javanese, Chinese and mixed race. Basically anyone from anywhere could look Surinamese.

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Svalbard (popularised by its largest island, Spitzbergen) is Norway’s northern archipelago and a wondrous, tortured landscape of mountains, glaciers, pinnacles and ice. Only 2,700 people live across the archipelago, making it third in place from Antarctica and Greenland as the least populated land spot in the world. One of its most arresting sights are the annual waterfalls that form mile-long walls of water pouring off the melting glaciers, and the fact the inhabitants have to tote guns everywhere they walk for fear of polar bears, even if it is to take the rubbish out. Actually ESPECIALLY if you’re taking the rubbish out, such is the attraction for foraging ice monsters.

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Newfoundland floats in the world’s largest estuary, islanded also as an English speaking outpost (one of the Maritime Provinces) before French Canada takes over. Its accent is still discernibly Irish sounding as is its old sea shanty laden history -about 70% of its population claims some ancestry from the British Isles, compared to 6% from France. Small towns and fishing villages create a sleepy backwater of an island, the first part of North America (other than Greenland) discovered by Europeans, complete with a Norse settlement about a millennium ago – take that Columbus! [/snappy Geonerd speak circa 1992 school video].

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Togo, one of the smallest countries in Africa no less holds more than 40 ethnic groups, and was once known typically as to what it offered the colonials -the Slave Coast, sandwiched between the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Ivory Coast that still bears its name. Togo nowadays might be known as the Phosphate coast, having the world’s fourth largest deposits -peddler of fortune but also tying 30% of the economy to the whims of price fluctuation.

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Tunisia, the northernmost country of Africa and an even mix of Berber and Arab worlds. It is classified as the only ‘Free’ country on the continent and the only full democracy in the Arab World, in part helped by igniting the Arab Spring in 2011, and the martyrdom of lowly market trader, Mohamed Bouazizi. Thousands of years of culture, from Phoenician to Roman to Berber to Arab to Ottoman to French -and it’s more famous for the scenes shot for the Star Wars franchise. I mean, fuck the ruins.

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Japan’s northern island was once home to the Ainu people, who now number 25,000 and could be as high as 200,000 due to those who have no idea of their ancestry. They were claimed to be the world’s hairiest people, whose women would tattoo moustaches onto their faces. They were also proto Caucasoid -that doesnlt mean White, but looking similar to the Central Asians (think Afghans riding/ fighting bears and living like the native Americans).

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Louisiana comes in as the 19th smallest state in the US -which means it’s on the small size over there. Its history of Spanish, French and British colonisation, with large amounts of imported slaves and Creole culture has resulted in a heady mix of urban societies unique to the country -in 1974 English was officially unofficialised as the state language of instruction in schools, with people free to practice the tongues of their heritage. Bajan, Cajun, Creole, Caribbean, French, English and Spanish influence is redolent in cities such as New Orleans, that lends to the culinary mix. Think French food a la swamp, soul food a la spice route, Americana tropicalia.

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Panama’s 80km (50 mile) canal carved out in the 19th – 20th centuries connects the Atlantic with the Pacific without the rigmarole of going round the whole of South / North America, a journey saving thousands of km and untold hazards from sea ice to stormy straits to financial lawyers. It contributes a full 40% to the economy, though that’s now diversifying into conservative banking and luxe tax haven, notably exposed by the Panama Papers . Panama City currently looks like condo heaven for the part.

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Guatemala, the most populous of the Central American states (with 17 million) and the core of the former Mayan civilisation. About 45% remain indigenous, while the rest are mixed. They happen to be one of the world’s shortest countries, where women average 4″10 (147cm) and men about 5″3 (160cm). It’s also one of the youngest countries outside Africa, whose median age is about 20 – almost half of all people are kids. Like kid kids. Like the Dino exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Half Term with Santa Claus riding the T Rex over an Easter Egg Hunt on Disney Nite. Everywhere.

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Denmark’s size is the most varying of the world’s nation, due to whether you’d include self ruling Greenland. From 130th position it can be propelled to the 12th largest territory, overtaking Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or equivalent to 6 Germany’s. Even if you were to take just that little poky nib pointing out of Germany as the be all and end all, thanks to the exactitude of how coastlines are measured it comes in as having one neverending seaside longer than Chile’s (who measures things quite laxly, doesn’t take in so many indents and doesn’t quite give a fuck unlike map nerds). Geo-porn right here.

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Iceland is so sparsely populated it stands at 3 people per sq km for its 364,000 inhabitants, mostly in the capital Reykjavik. The island is powered by geothermal energy, and almost completely renewable, plus the first on the Global Peace Index, though to be fair it’s sitting on a giant bubbling vat of energy as the one place on the planet still being formed, and there’s plenty to go round for a pool of people so small there aren’t enough wankers to get pissed off about. Even the dating apps have to run the gamut of ancestry/ DNA tools that alert you (giant flashing letters, industrial screaming, pop up of Michael Jackson’s face) if you inadvertently swipe right on your cousin.

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Greece has 6,000 islands, of which 277 are inhabited, and 80% of the country is mountainous to boot. This topography of islanded, competing city states led to the cradle of Western civilisation, and the translation of history, landscape, culture and food today has seen it become a leading destination for visitors, notably winning ‘world’s best country’ by Condé Nast. The big secret not yet overrun with 20 quacking cruise ships a day are the mountains, dramatic idylls, that command much of the mainland and that are only visited by natives. Epirus in the west, is where its at.

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Welcome to the world’s densest country (non-city state), that fits in 13% more people than Russia -a territory 115x larger. 165 million Bangladeshis call this, the world’s largest river delta, home. Its capital Dhaka, will rise from today’s 21 million to 35 million in the next decade, then slow (Bangladesh already has below replacement fertility levels). Still, by 2100 the city will have reached 54 million, many of them climate refugees as the sea level rises and the delta sinks, though the long term plan is for a giant version of the Netherlands -the sea held back, the economy with few resources, invested in people.

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One of Russia’s most beautiful spots and a major stop on the Trans Siberian, this is the world’s oldest lake and actually the largest body of freshwater in the world. Not due to its footprint (where other lakes are multiple times in size) but depth, at over a mile down. It holds nearly a whopping quarter of the world’s freshwater, and have the only freshwater seal species, more famed for the fact they look like fat cigars /fuzzy zeppelins zipping about.

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Hawaii is the planet’s most distant island, that takes multiple continent sized expanses of water in every direction to reach. Slap bang in the middle of the Pacific (half the world’s water area and about a third of the planet surface) it’s so hard to reach only a few birds made the up to 10,000 km /6,000 mile journeys about 8 million years ago, and evolved in utter isolation into 140 different species. No mammals made it other than a flying bat, and of course the genius of Polynesian explorers in 300 AD and another wave in 1100. Imagine rafting up your belongings, pigs and family, saying goodbye to your relatives (who’ll never know your fate) and striking out from the Isle of Wight, in a hope you’ll get an angle right to reach a spot of land near Tehran, if everything in between and all around and in every direction is ocean. For all their expertise with finding land (based on clouds, currents, birds etc) hundreds of flotillas likely never made it.

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The last major spot made habitable by humans on the planet NZ was recently discovered to be the mountaintops of a previously undiscovered continent that now lies beneath the seas. Separated by 1700km / 1000 miles from Australia the islands also enjoyed unique wildlife that propagated in isolation before humans hit it in 1350. They entered a wondrous land (world’s most varied in terms of topography and climate types, on par with the entirety of the US), where birds ruled the roost, filling the niches of mousey pickers (kiwis), giant grazers (11ft moas) and the predators that swooped on them (eagles that stood a metre tall and whose spine-snapping talons were the size of tiger paws). None of them, many who nested on the ground, were prepared for the human, rodential and livestock onslaught that followed.

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Japan is -typically dichotomous for its culture -one of the worlds most densely populated yet also most forested and mountainous countries. Tree cover accounts for 70% of the land, while the 125 million-strong population crams into the strip of coastal cities on the Kanto and Osaka plains, including the world’s singularly largest – Tokyo with 39 million inhabitants. But look again at the size of the islands, each massive -just so riddled with topography humans are islanded again.

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Somalia, with the longest coastline on Mainland Africa is the continent’s most homogenous country, standing out in a panoply of states in the world’s most diverse region, that will normally count hundreds of languages and ethnicities within any border. 85% are Somali, albeit divided into 8 tribal/ chieftain groups. In the north Somaliland has declared itself independent, a functioning, peaceful state, as opposed to the civil war decimating the rest.

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WALES

Qatar can claim the title of not just the richest country per capita whom earn nearly $100,000 each every year (and that still takes into account the legions of indentured underclass and guest workers), thanks to 14% of the worlds natural gas and plenty of petrol to boot. It can also claim the world’s most multicultural country, where only 12% are native Qatari, and its capital Doha is 92% foreign born.

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Fijians are a mix of Melanesian, a few Polynesian and later waves of Indian emigrants. Melanesians share a blonde hair gene, long assumed to be traces from European colonials, but has been found to be endemic, and long before Western contact.

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Lesotho is a mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, a mere spot on the map that shows its real size below. With spectacular cliffs, gorges, mountains and waterfalls it remains an undiscovered gem, though now rising in the tourist ranks for its verdant landscapes, plus the novelty of snow in Africa.

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Beijing has grown from 1.6 million in 1950 (barely growing since 1700 when it was the world’s largest city for the next century) to 20 million today. The govt has since curbed the growth via urban citizenship registration, but is now building a new city on its outskirts, Xiong’An.

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The Aussie state is nearly 40x larger than it’s namesake but only 2.6x larger in population  (ergo about 15x more sparsely populated), albeit a large majority live in in the Sydney area -5 million out of 8 million.

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London

Hong Kong (7.5 million) appears similarly populated as London in density (9.2 million), though in reality the large majority of HK is open countryside and mountain. If counting only the urban areas of the territory it becomes 20x denser- in fact the world’s most heaving spot of humanity surmounting to 60 sq km -about the size of Manhattan but 3x the population and built density, also being the world’s most highrise city, including 380 skyscrapers (over 150m/ 492ft in height):

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Luxembourg, a mix of French and Germanic culture, came about in 1815 as a fiefdom of the king of the Netherlands who installed a Prussian guard to defend against another French attack, thus bringing about the crossroads that is this little nation, though one of the fastest and richest in the world. Fun fact: the worlds largest manufacturer of dentures, not just a tax haven.

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Hawaii actually has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, that is a gently sloping cone volcano (dormant) with a snow capped peak on Big Island, most of it underwater. If measured from the sea floor it comes to about a km taller than Mount Everest, at over 10,000m or 33,500 ft. Above water it 4,200m or 13,300 ft, slightly taller than Mont Blanc.

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New Caledonia, a gorgeous colony of France out in the Pacific, and one of the few places where you find tropical conifers.

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Germany.

Ghana, the rising star of West Africa this ‘small’ (well on the map it looks tiny of course), gold and petrol-rich kingdom, already diversifying into tech and biotech, is estimated to climb from a population of 30 million today to 80 million by the turn of the century:

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Uganda -another supposedly small country on the banks of Lake Victoria. However it will become the nexus of one of the world’s great population centres alongside eastern China, northern India and West Africa. A state that features little in many minds, by 2100 its nondescript capital, Kampala (present population 3.3 million) will hold 40 million, more than twice NYC. Further along the lakeshores will be Malawi, a thin thread of a country, but which will also transmogrify its sleepy towns of Lilongwe and Blantyre to similar sizes.

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Welcome to one of the world’s most mineral-rich (and suffering for it), mountainous and beautiful countries, and a former jewel of the Silk Route, whose populace is a sensual mix of the Middle Eastern, East Asian, Central Asian, Caucasoid and Indian peoples. A place remarked by invaders as an epic place to stage a war, with beauty in every direction, and crosshair.

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This ancient version of Arabia, Yemen is redolent of a medieval world where ancient mud-brick skyscrapers and exotic oases now share airspace with the current whizz of Saudi bombs and insurgent missiles.  One of the poorest, most indentured, and most beautiful nations on the planet, like Afghanistan paying the price for its isolation.

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Rights Managed

Yemen, Hadhramaut, Wadi Do’an, Khuraibah. A view of the oasis in Wadi Do’an.

From a glance at an atlas CAR looks like a small nondescript territory in the middle of the continent. It is literally the heart of darkness to many mindsets -the world’s poorest, unhealthiest nation, and worst place to be young, largely thanks to its civil war. Despite its true size shown below, only 5 million call it home, though typical of Africa they consist of 80 ethnic groups each speaking their own language. Fun fact the country is the best place in the world to view stars with the least light pollution, as well being bounded by the Bangui Magnetic Anomaly. So named after its capital that stands at the heart of this displacement in the Earth’s magnetic field, possibly caused by a meteor impact.

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The world’s newest country South Sudan broke from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war (Sudan has been under 6 continuous conflicts since independence in the 1960s), but has recently entered its own civil wars now. In the south the country holds what may be the largest movement of large animals on Earth, in the annual migration of savannah grazers that rivals the Serengeti, only recently spotted by naturalists as a cloud on the horizon 50km (30 miles) wide and ongoing for 80km (50 miles).

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Thailand looks like an upended Germany but with a vast umbilical that stretches into the Andaman sea, haunt of tourist coves and terrorist strongholds as Islamic separatists (more affiliated with Malay culture further south) conduct their intrigue among the spectacular karst scenery. Despite its size and population (70 million), only one major city occupies the country- Bangkok, steamy denizen of the east and home to 15 million, vaults far over any other Thai city (runner up Chiang Mai only holds 200,000). One of the few cultures never to have been colonised by an Abrahamic religion or power, and thus ferw hangups about sex, and free lovin’m.

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Sulawesi, the fourth largest of Indonesia’s islands is a range of peninsulars isolated from each other by a mountainous centre. A full 60% of its species are endemic (found nowhere else), and its range of ethnic groups, tribes and religions, each with their own cultures, architecture, languages and cuisines, also owe their existence to the varying levels of geogrpahical isolation. Indonesia at large holds 388 ethnic groups, whose national motto is ‘unity through diversity’.

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100 million people, 175 ethnolinguistic groups, nearly 8,000 islands, of which 5,000 haven’t even been officially named yet, spanning the equivalent distance from Norway to the Sahara. That’s a lot of ferries and a lot of timetables. Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire it is perhaps the world’s most disaster prone country (including the bi-annual typhoons and flooding), but also benefits from the vast natural resources that location endows, alongside one of the world’s greatest hotspots for biodiversity.

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The world’s sparsest populated country, or territory outside the poles Mongolia counts 2 people per sq km. Imagine a rolling grassland from London to Russia and you’ll get the idea of the empty expanses that have made it even hard to invade, though helped the other way round. In the past nomads would keep track by building cairns just before the last one went out of sight in the distance.

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Extra:

Australia is a continent

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Precolonial

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This is not Argentina – it is the southernmost tip of Argentina. Once populated by the world’s tallest people, many of whom were taken into human zoos and circuses round the world -now extinct. The men were said to average 6.5ft -7ft.

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As mentioned above, Russia population 145 million, Bangladesh 165 million:

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Chile is not a thin country, just a neverending one.

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The Moon displayed below is actually just splayed out. As a three dimensional ball it would look about the size of Australia.

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Mawr:

Peru

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Japan

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Colombia

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Saudi Arabia:

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South Africa

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Algeria

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Indonesia

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Chile

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FIN

25 Amazing Places You Can’t Go To

 

Okay, we’ve often seen the lists of places on the verge of being the Next Big Thing, awaiting discovery. Think idyllic Mediterranean isles, forgotten tribal valleys or overlooked, off-grid cities now spruced up. -But what about those so far removed one needs way too much organisation, money or a deathwish to reach?  Indeed some of these may be possible with titanic perseverance, a briefcase of cash, a low regard for respecting the law, or an outright disguise, just have the luck on your side. Failing that, read it and weep:

 

  1. The world’s largest annual animal migration, South Sudan.

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When scientists flew over this vast region of savannah and swamp in 2007, in the midst of war they witnessed a never before seen spectacle on Earth: a darkening convoy of animals on the horizon – nearly 50km (over 30 miles) across, yet stretching 80km (50 miles) long. In short this may well be the biggest movement of large mammals on the planet, more so than the Serengeti, and made up of countless antelope, zebra, elephants, giraffes and buffalo, with the accordant beasts that stalk them. Unfortunately the country has been a warzone for most of the past 30 years, and currently a battleground in a new civil war for the world’s newest country. It may be the last time we ever see animals on this scale.

 

  1. Battleship Island, Japan.

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So called for its brutish profile on the horizon, Hashima island was one of the world’s densest ever pieces of urbanity – a tiny islet 9 miles off the coast from Nagasaki where 5,300  miners and their families lived on barely 16 acres (which equates to a population density of about 140,000 per sq km), till its closure in 1974. Hauntingly desolate, and with a dark past as a labour camp during the war, the ruins of the mines and apartments, and the left behind belongings of their hastily evacuated residents, stand testament to a forgotten community in strong isolation. Long barred access for 35 years, a trickle of visitors can finally see the place from a newly built walkway – but 95% of the island is still walled off as too dangerous to explore for its crumbling structures. You’ll just have to make do with the scenes from James Bond in Skyfall, where it doubled as a megalomaniacal lair.

 

  1. Chateau Miranda, Belgium.

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No, it’s not a Hollywood set, this really is the most spooky looking place you’ll likely ever see. A genuinely abandoned chateau, complete with ivy choked statuary, spiralling towers, 500 darkened windows, a roof open to all elements, and a rumoured child’s graveyard. Built as a country estate for French aristocrats fleeing the guillotine it fell into financial ruin over the century, shortly before being taken over as – you’ve guessed it – an orphanage for children in WWII, a ‘holiday camp’ where the children were worked to a strict regimen by authoritarian staff. Finally abandoned in 1991, the estate is currently off limits except to unexplained fires, vandalism and violent storms that are slowly dismantling the structure. In 2013 the owners formally applied for its demolition.

 

4. Kaesong, North Korea.

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This ancient dynastic capital miraculously survived the Korean War that levelled the other capitals on the peninsula, and has been preserved in aspic ever since by the Communist state. Surrounded by royal tombs and home to several universities, it’s famed for its sumptuous cuisine, caught-in-time streetscapes and enduring cultural relics, many of which are so priceless they’ve been shipped to fallout vaults in Pyongyang. On the new side it has all the socialist statuary, architecture, banners and posturing you could wish for. In short, medieval life unchanged, moving onto regimented modernism as you progress.

Visitors to the country require a guide at all times to strictly delineated areas, with a base rate of at least $1000 for 3-4 days minimum. However the current heightened tensions have effectively sealed off this real life diorama, with various travel bans in force, and a pioneering scheme of cross border factories now closed.

 

  1. The oldest living thing, California.

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Welcome to Methuselah, measured to be 4,849 years old and long thought to be the oldest living, non-cloned organism. That is until they found another bristlecone pine nearby that was 200 years older. This starkly beautiful landscape in Eastern California is made up of otherworldly rock and shale in the northernmost reaches of the Mojave desert, peppered with stands of hundreds of disfigured trees, all reached via a visitor trail that branches off to former mining sites. Why is it so unreachable? Well the oldest specimens are in secret, unmarked locations, for fear of vandalism. Good heed for in 2008 arsonists set fire to the visitor centre and its exhibits, destroying several of these rare giants.

 

  1. Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans, Antarctica.

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Built by the ill-fated 1917 expedition to reach the South Pole, this snapshot in time is hauntingly untouched as it was when they headed off for the last time, even the local fowl on the table they had readying for a meal, and the seal meat in the larder. Tables are scattered with lamps, cutlery, papers and bottles, the bunks slung informally with clothing, and wall to wall are never used supplies, including a cache of penguin eggs. Handmade tools hang off the ceiling and pillars, even a rusted bike mounted forever on the wall, while outside the bones of loyal dogs wait an eternity. Dug out of the ice in 1956 this is one place far, far removed from the rest of the world – that you’ll need to organise your own expedition to reach.

 

  1. Coming of Age Day, Japan.

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On a brisk January Monday in Japan you may witness gaggles of kimono clad young people on the train tapping on their phones – cue priceless sneaky travel shots. This is how Japan should look you think, a world of tradition melded with ultra-modernity. But then they are fleetingly gone, in droves to ceremonies at obscure prefectural offices, the insides of which you’ll never see, while everyone else looks on with a mixture of envy and regret. Later they will reappear, staggeringly drunk by evening, then back to Western dress and hangovers the next day. Why don’t more people wear this outstanding attire, many updated with modern accessories? Why can’t every Monday be beautiful, young and kimono-clad? Well, it takes an average 2 hours to fold themselves into those layers of silk, hair and makeup – not something you could prep on the daily commute. The exclusivity? Well to get with the in crowd, you have to be of 20 years in age and Japanese to join in the fun, on the one day they say goodbye to childhood and hello to the responsibilities of the adult world. Missed the boat? Leave maturity behind and go in disguise.

 

  1. The Red Forest, Ukraine.

Bumper cars at an amusement park in the abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine.

North of Kiev lies an untouched landscape despite being so close to the capital, full of forest life and brimming with natural diversity little seen elsewhere on the continent. By some counts the wolf population alone –  a sign of plenty of other animals and food – is six times higher than the norm, not to mention the counts on elk, deer, lynx, boar, bears and a carpet of new growth forest. You won’t see another human for miles, nor hear any sign of habitation – other than the occasional ghost town with trees growing in its streets and eerily abandoned playgrounds. For you are in a ‘zone of alienation’, and nearby lies Chernobyl, the power station that exploded in 1986, sending a nuclear cloud across Europe. The Red Forest was so called because the trees initially died en masse, along with local insect life and small animals, and is unsafe for human habitation for the next 20,000 years. Since 2011 radiation levels allow only a few die-hard tourists in on private tours for brief visits, provided they sign the disclaimers.

 

  1. The eternal fire, Democratic People’s Republic of Congo.

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The world’s largest lava lake lies deep in the jungles of Central Africa, in the crater of the highly active Mt Nyiragongo, and has been in existence since at least 1894 . Within human memory a lake of fire 2km wide and up to 10,660ft (3.25km) deep, it’s since shrunk to a mesmerising cone within a cone within a cone. Never mind the trekking through endless jungle nicknamed the ‘Green Hell’ by explorers, and the setting for the Heart of Darkness by Conrad (be prepared to be covered with thousands of tiny, stingless bees); never mind the fact the country is in a civil war that has claimed untold millions since 1998 – it’s the volcano you should worry about. With lava measured at a record-breaking 100 km (60 miles) p/h, and studded with pockets of odourless gases known as the deadly mazuku, this is the most dangerous volcano in the world. In 2002 several ‘spatter cones’ emerged to spread a molten stream up to a kilometre wide through the quake hit city of Goma, evacuating 400,000 people and rendering 120,000 homeless. Worse, a 1974 fracture of the crater emptied the entire lake in an hour, causing a fiery tsunami that killed 70 villagers nearby. Be warned.

 

  1. Vintgar Gorge, The Land of Rising Mist.

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So called because that’s what Slovenia is everywhere you look in winter, with this canyon in particular becoming an atmospheric vision of trees clinging to steep slopes, echoing off into the mists above an unearthly crystalline river. This woodsy, watery country bedecked with attractions in the sunnier months sees a sharp fall in numbers by December, but transforms into a landscape of purple mountains studded with castles, waterfalls and lakes, and cloaked in fairy tale forests and wooden architecture. The gorge, coming off Lake Bled is not hard to reach, where a pre-booked hostel room comes attached with a welcome note, keys taped to the front door (it’s that safe), and a suddenly emptied villa to yourself, not even a proprietor, as per course for that period. However the gorge is officially closed by then, due to the hazards of falling rocks, landslips blocking the path, and perpetual fog so close to the rapids, with no staff in low season to police the place – thus closing off one of the most romantic and ephemeral backdrops in Europe. Though local dog walkers, with helmets, are known to jump the barrier and warning signs. That’s all I’m saying.

 

  1. Middle Earth, China.

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Only ‘discovered’ in 2014 the titanic Er Wang cave is so large it has its own weather system, a cloud factory in a space that stretches 42 km into the earth, where mist rises, gets trapped and comes back down as waterfalls. The villagers even rely on the cave for their weather predictions, noticing when fog comes out, rain is expected. To reach it you’ll have to go far into rural China, finding a friendly local who will stump you up for the night (expect a pigsty toilet and a piece of ground), before rappelling the next day 820 ft into a giant sinkhole, crossing fast-flowing rivers and climbing through waterfalls to reach one of the caverns so large you won’t be able to see the sides. This geological area, the size of France and Spain combined, is made of soft karst limestone, eroded to produce the famous hump backed hills of Chinese paintings, but also honeycombed with gigantic unseen caves. Another nearby has recently been discovered with a cavern that’s the world’s largest, nearly 3km long, that a jumbo jet could fly down. And you’ll only have to reach that one by swimming up an underground river.

 

  1. The Cave of Crystals, Mexico.

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Discovered in 2000 after the groundwater was drained in Naica mine, Chihauhau, this cavern is 980ft (300m) below ground and formed by 500,000 years of optimum temperatures and chemicals to create these huge crystals, including the world’s largest nearly 40ft (12m) long and 55 tons in weight. Such is the temperature (nearly 60C), and a humidity of 99%, visitors can only last ten minutes. The fragility of the crystals’ exposure, decaying in the air, meant that the caves were only ever temporarily open; allowing just for documentation for posterity and science. Mining operations have since closed this year, meaning the pumps are off and the caverns have refilled.

 

  1. The world’s oldest city, Iraq.

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Erbil is billed as possibly the world’s oldest existing settlement, dating back 7,000 years. A diverse population following 8 major religions reflects in its history being in at least 18 different empires, now dotted with mosques, minarets, churches, shrines, steeples and temples. The Ottoman citadel at its heart is nearly the size of the Forbidden City in Beijing (the world’s largest palace), and about 60% larger than Hradčany in Prague (Europe’s largest castle), plus being the site of the oldest town in existence. Waves of settlement outward from there reflect the continuing history, with bazaars, cafes, restaurants, modern day squares, fountains, shopping plazas and a network of Orientalist alleyways and Arabesque streets. This is the most stable and liveable part of Iraq, but still haunted by terrorism, and now facing heightened tensions as the Kurdish area moves toward independence. All travel is now advised against.

 

  1. Portobay Hotel roof, Rio de Janeiro, New Years Eve.

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This 19 storey hotel right on Copacabana Beach sells heavily priced tickets to its rooftop, once-in-a-lifetime view of the world’s largest New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s that or staying at the 4* for a minimum 4 nights, but at preposterous mark ups. It’s not so much the prices, but the lottery of how few tickets are available if you choose to splash out on the night. If you do get in, be sure to tread in the time honoured tradition of wearing white, watching the epic, horizon filling fireworks (in both directions), then going down to the beach to jump 7 good luck waves (and make 7 wishes). But don’t look back, as that will anger Yemanjá, the Candomblé sea goddess.

 

  1. The last oasis, Chad

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Archei Gorge, populated solely  by camel caravans and Saharan crocodiles that will likely go extinct in our lifetimes, lies in a sculpted warzone a four day drive by 4×4 through unforgiving desert. The large crocs, who learnt to bury themselves in logs, sometimes for years, were found recently to be a unique subspecies to the Nile variety, and the last remnants of a population when the Sahara was green. They were also found to have so few numbers as to be unsupportable. Meanwhile the camel herds, stone age rock carvings, and exotic tribes who still trade in salt, haunt a landscape of sandstone arches and pinnacles, drifting dunes and dried river beds that is the Eneddi Plateau. An adventure writ in stone, it’s gruelling to reach and harder to return from.

 

  1. The lost tribe of the Enriva river, Brazil.

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Close to the border of Peru, in a federally barred area lives an uncontacted tribe – one of 77 in Brazil – whose name remains unknown. The plane which photographed this scene, a target for arrows and spears two years previous, is run by Brazil’s Indian protection agency, which tries to scare them every year, in order they keep their distance. For first contact may mean exposure to our microbes and diseases, that wiped out 90% of tribes in the rubber boom of the ’70s, not to mention murder and exploitation by cocaine farmers and miners after their land. Ever since, the survivors have avoided the outside world to great lengths, almost all constantly moving, with some coming out only at night. One tribe has systematically stopped having children, while another is down to the last man, who still hides from all attempts at communication. Since this photo was taken in 2010 this tribe is on the move again, fleeing massacres and takeover of their land by cartels.

 

  1. The balancing rocks of Julianatop, Suriname.

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The country’s highest peak is no easy matter to get to. Charter a plane from the capital to a dirt airstrip deep in the interior, then canoe downstream for a couple of days, including navigating several  dangerous rapids. Apparently the inlet fork you’re looking for is easy to miss, and after that it will be machete work for three days, with time to camp in malarial swamps – make sure you’ve had every shot possible. But then you will reach one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, rife with life, much of it unexplored and new to science, plus  a view to die for, literally. The hair raising journey to this gargantuan rock and its dangerously balancing boulders was only first forged in 2006 in order to climb it, and has not been attempted since.

 

  1. The vale of flowers, Pakistani Kashmir

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This is one of the most beautiful countries on Earth – that is if it was a country. Torn between Pakistan and India, Kashmir is in a situation far more complex than appears, with a painful history of political violence, war and terrorism.

But what a stunning battleground – alpine landscapes of pinnacle peaks, rippling glaciers, thickly wooded hillsides, brilliant lakes, clear rushing streams and famous wildflower meadows, at times dominating every inch of land. Dotted with traditional villages, welcoming locals and rare animals this is a place of crystalline air and scented vessels laden with blooms, slowly journeying to floating markets. Although travel is possible, especially from the India side of the Line of Control, the Pakistani half with much of the heartstopping scenery -such as the Neelam Valley, for all appearances a version of Switzerland in ancient times – is especially restricted. Foreigners are not allowed within 10  miles of the unofficial border, with almost all foreign governments advising against any travel to the province. Plus you’d have to traverse the lawless areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, rife with banditry and curfew. Good luck.

 

  1. The fairy tale forest, Nagorno-Karabakh.

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A disputed enclave of Armenians in Azerbaijan this heavily wooded area of great oaks and birches, replete with isolated villages, hilltop churches, natural springs and ruined shrines, glowering over haunting steppe landscapes is like discovering a much older version of Europe (or is that Asia?). Where one keeps to the path in the forest for fear of wolves, bears, witches, and the odd few thousand land mines. Government advice warns against all travel to the region, due to recently heightened tensions between the powers, plus one needs clearance to visit from the Azerbaijani government – internationally recognised as the state in power – yet not in control since 1994. Effectively islanded, NK is trapped in circumstance, and time.

 

20. Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.

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Welcome to an island so thick with virgin rainforest you can see the huge size of the old growth canopy and clarity of the water from the air, as it cascades off the mountain (the Luba Crater Scientific Reserve) in a series of waterfalls, finally dropping in a rare cataract straight onto the beach. Even more surprising is that this untouched forest shares its slopes with the nation’s capital. The country is (in)famous for the recent discovery of oil that has propelled its GDP per capita to surpass many European nations overnight,  yet with resultant inequality, corruption and coups, many funded by international businessmen. To even enter the country one needs a letter of invitation from a citizen, such is the precariousness  of its politics.

 

21. A seat at Paris Fashion Week

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Okay the ‘easy’ way to do it for the average mortal is to go to the https://fhcm.paris/en/ website (formerly modeaparis.com) and peruse the list of shows. Pick your party, and send an email to the organisers, stating who you are, who you’re with, and how simply fabulous it would be if your presence should grace their little get together. If you’re not a tried and tested, lean, mean and utterly clean fashion journo/ editor, A-list celeb that the French have actually heard of, or another high up industry professional, you could always try blogger extraordinaire with a following of millions, at which point you might get a stab at getting the ‘standing invitation’, rather than a seat. And don’t even think about Haute Couture, darling.

 

22. The greatest life on Earth

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At the bottom of the Antarctic lies undersea volcanic vents, brimming with life. As the ocean floor cracks open with tectonic activity, it creates fissures that dot our oceans, that may have been the original source of life on the planet. A chemical soup of startling temperature change, life has sprung about these deep sea towers, some over 300ft (100m) in height. And in such abundance they are possibly the most diverse spots of Earth, with up to 30 million lives in a square metre -these are the coral reefs of the ocean floor, populated with entirely unique species and ecosystems, and utterly dependent on whether the vents continue to spout. Wavering ‘bushes’ of 6.5ft (2 metre) long worms, encrustations of crustaceans, and armies of shrimps and weird fish dodge in and out of freezing temperatures and fiery seas in complete darkness. Inches away from being instantly cooked in pressures and chemicals that allow for water at higher temperatures than boiling and lower than freezing. For this scene you’d need to be a scientist, oceanographer or member of a film crew to traverse the roughest seas on the planet, the Southern Ocean, that spans the globe devoid of landmass to break up the winds and currents, then charter a submersible to reach the bottom of the subzero sea.

 

23. The Grand Corridor, Windsor Castle

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Used exclusively by the Queen, this is one part of the royal residences that is off limit to the snapping tourists – usually the grandest State rooms used for wining and dining visiting royalty are for show. The 550ft (170m) walkway, filled with priceless treasures – rumours of lost Canalettos, portraits of famous royals through history, cabinets of Burmese jade and other pilfered artefacts from the age of empire – was designed by Jeffrey Wyatville in an 1820s remodelling of the east and south wings. It connects the private quarters of the monarch, including her entirely single bedroom, with the guests quarters (look out too for the elegant White Drawing Room and the restored Private Chapel, with it’s stained glass depiction of a fireman dousing the 1992 fire). An area so exclusive, even finding a photograph of the thing is a rarity. So make do with an 1846 painting, and depiction of what they think is the 27 year old Queen Victoria.

 

24. Wadi Do, Yemen

Rights Managed

Welcome to Yemen, a land filled with medieval cities, and horrors. One of the most beautiful and untouched destinations, this is a place of pre-modern life in all its colours, antiquity and romanticism that you could shake an incensed hookah at. But currently enduring a civil war that’s now got Saudi Arabia sending in its hi-tech troops and satellite bombs, and Islamist insurgencies that see tourist buses attacked, killing four in the very picture above in 2008. Wadi Do is an oasis traditionally reached through camel caravans across the shifting deserts, traversing the passes of the immense plateau and gorge akin to the Grand Canyon. It’s sides are studded with multi storey, stained glass mud brick architecture that was a pre-cursor to the skyscraper up to 700 years ago.

 

25. The top of the world, Mount Everest.

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Whether you climb up the Chinese side or from the Nepalese base camp, you’ll need a cool $35,000 start off fee for the 32lbs of allowable gear and the $10,000 permits, getting higher depending on the size of your party. And you’ll need to be super fit, for after a certain altitude your body starts DYING (unless you’re a Sherpa who is biologically evolved to intake more oxygen at these altitudes), and you’ll only have a short window of time to reach the top and get back down again before you succumb to the elements. The death rate is a full 10%, although it improved in recent years with better tech and safety, including ladders to traverse the worst of the ravines, some recent deadly avalanches have raised the casualty rate again. Base camp at a lowly 17,600ft (5380m), is popular with tourists, looking at the mountain which looks surprisingly smaller than its neighbours, and mingling enviously with the teams about to set off or returning with looks of war in their eyes. It’s just climbing the last 11,430ft (3470m) to really look down on the world that’s the issue.

 

 

Got to the end? Any other suggestions or experiences for hard to reach places, for the next brochure? Post below.

The World’s Most Built Up City

So we’ve dallied enough in terms of scale and size, in hard numbers. That was all based on population. So what of the built environment? Which city is most impressive in terms of the size you actually see and experience? For example, let’s forego the fact Karachi has 25 million people and Chicago only 9 million – which city feels and looks bigger? And let’s conveniently  forget every street in Karachi looks like a stadium just emptied next to Camden Market. With cars. -Well otherwise Chicago would be more impressive from it’s dense stacks of skyscrapers as you wander round it’s centre (and not its unending lowrise suburbs). The city has 125 skyscrapers – defined as a building 150m or over in height – whilst Karachi only has one. 341 highrises over 100m, while Karachi has 12 (though watch this space – Karachi has 7 skyscrapers, and 7 highrises under construction). Karachi  may actually feel more built up only if you travel interminably across it’s horizons, but Chicago far outweighs in its centre, which would be the more common experience for the average visitor without a bi-plane.

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Globally there’s an obvious contender for the top spot here. New York, New York. Built on a narrow granite island it’s natural line of development was upward, spiking ever highward on a sturdy piece of rock that could take the weight and foundations of a ballooning population and economy. Its sheer density of building is almost unimaginable, famously creating ‘canyon’ streets sided by overarching walls of concrete and glass. The city is astoundingly built up, feels astoundingly huge, and has done for a century. It is the city of the mind when people think of cities.

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NYC has a whopping 804 highrises, of which 282 are skyscrapers. It’s also going through a building boom as developers rush to get a portfolio of tall buildings into plan before a new zoning law gets called in. The island is so packed already a new phenomenon is rising – small plots but exorbitantly high and profitable buildings rising like slivers, some so tall and thin they look liable to totter the next time a periodic Hollywood tsunami/ meteor strike/ giant monster revisits. By 2030 the city will resemble a glittering porcupine:

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Once again it may be dwarfed by other cities populations (it’s barely if at all in the top 10), but off paper its skyscrapers look and count more impressively. NYC has such a density of tall buildings, little seen elsewhere, it’s streets resemble canyons. Even Dubai with its greater catchment of supertalls had to artificially create it’s one concrete gorge on the Sheikh Zayed Road, whilst all around is lowrise and desert.

 

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New York on the other hand had to build up due to its islanded constraints – and more interestingly – it could. There are of course other islanded city centres (Montreal, pre-Columbian Mexico City, Vancouver, Malé), but they didn’t build upward to the same extent due to the lower population or business demand, and notably, greater difficulty.

Malé, Maldives

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New York is lucky enough to sit on granite, strong enough for all that weight and without the need for hundred foot foundations, as in clay-based, alluvial London or Shanghai, the latter of which began sinking from all the concrete, and a highrise moratorium declared in 2003. Ever wondered why European metropolises aren’t especially highrise-savvy, especially after the wartime clearances? Well they’re further lumped with restrictive zoning laws in the form of historic protection, and ‘viewing corridors’ that forbid any impinging structures on celebrated views.

London has no less than 14 of these hallowed visions stretching across vast swathes of the capital to its 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus one cathedral, so that you can see the small bump of St Paul’s dome on the horizon from a bush 16km away, whose existence controls the world’s premier business district. When one surly pensioner (the kind with a lot of time on his hands) hacked a hole in said bush to restore the 18th Century viewing point, he single-handedly laid waste to 4 planned skyscrapers in the 1980s.

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Only two other major cities share New York’s perfect storm of constraints, freedoms, demand and bedrock. The granite island of Hong Kong, and the granite peninsular of Yujiapu in Chongqing, both of which require high rises stacked closely, and the canyons they create.

Chongqing:

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Hong Kong

A bird's eye view of residential and com

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

Singapore is another contender in the making, especially as its population balloons, but the presence of its nearby airport keeps the height limit at 280m or lower – pretty much a Hong Kong highrise-fest but with fewer really tall buildings. On the horizon though is Mumbai, a 233 sq mile peninsular of 12.5 million (metro 21 million) that gets smaller the busier it gets, until it dwindles uncharitably into the sea:

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The city now has over 70 skyscrapers topped out, with another 33 over 250m to come, and about 800 more highrises (buildings 12 storeys/ 115ft)  than NYC, at 7,068.  And a helluva lot of profitable land reclamation for the future.

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For decades many Tokyoites believed their rival city in the States to be bigger due to the famed skyscraper thicket there, when in truth Tokyo was the world’s largest just before WWII destruction, and again by the 1960’s, a title it held till 2015. Tokyo’s skyline is still impressive but dampened considerably by being in a notorious earthquake zone, with strict height limits enforced. It’s still deceptively big in terms of highrises (coming in at 157 skyscrapers and 562 highrises), but they form disparate nodes or lone towers (and one REALLY big one), compared to Manhattan’s forest of centrality.

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Tokyo still has multiple winding lanes, midrises and even one storey townhouses throughout it’s centre, interspersed with the usual roaring pedestrian streets and skyscraper districts. It’s not for nothing that Monocle awarded it ‘the World’s Best City’ title in its 2015 and 2017 rankings, for its dichotomous ability for peaceful ambience combined with jaw-dropping size; how very Japanese.

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But look again at Tokyo’s highrises. The modus operandi of many Japanese based multinationals favour large trading floors. Add on the height limits of say 150m-250m (or 500ft-750ft) and you create a market for titanic sized buildings. Huge floors and sheer walls, squat and overbearing in bulk. In any other city – for example NYC, Shanghai or Hong Kong – they would be twice as narrow and twice as tall.

Tokyo’s monsters:

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Many are unapologetically wide and overbearing, creating a certain monolithic grandeur to the city that could almost be described as beautiful; thoroughly in keeping with age old Japanese functionalism, while others more diplomatically disguise their bulk by splitting into (or pretending to be) multiple towers and setbacks. They are the fat ambassadors wives gracing the charity ball circuit:

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Look at the Mori tower, a snippet of modesty at 238m (780ft), yet holding almost the same floorspace as the Willis Tower in Chicago – the world’s tallest building for nearly 25 years, at 442m (1,450ft), nearly double the height and imposition.

Mori:

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Willis:

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Likewise the even bigger Tokyo Midtown tower, with twice the floorspace of One World Trade Center (formerly the Freedom Tower) in NYC though half the height. This is one deceptive power dresser. Note the backing for her – the thin enshadowed strip at left, glimpsed from street level:

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In reality the ‘thin’ strip, made of green glass almost doubles the floorspace, though hidden from street angle. From the air one can see better the bulk of the place; a perfect expression of Japanese culture where the public face of tatamae hides – even compliments – the personal truth of honne.  The gargantuan building debuts with the ultimate socially acceptable accolade: that from whichever angle you see her, she looks half her weight :

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In short Tokyo has the biggest buildings of any city, not measured in terms of height, but on average floorspace. Not just that they’re lower or deceptive in format, but the city itself is so large (with a centre that’s arguably the world’s largest) that its massive buildings don’t need to pack it in to create a Manhattanesque thicket. Rather they are interspersed with lowrises and midrises that form the majority of the urban landscape of the region. However, travel the city seeing in the vastness of its infrastructure, its verdant crowds or taking a flight above it all, and the seething vastness reveals itself.

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Tokyo was of course the biggest city that ever was (multiple times over), for a good 50 years. Its breakneck growth saw in one of the biggest construction booms in history, best measured by population growth. Before the war it had just usurped NYC as the world’s largest city with 12.6 million, but of course plummeted during the war (the bit where it became the world’s most destroyed piece of urbanity ever). It then climbed spectacularly again as a phoenix – between 1960 and 1970 it went from 17.5 million to 24 million, or 650,000 newcomers a year.

Only a few other cities compare. Between 2000 and 2010 Beijing grew by 605,000 a year, Shanghai by 626,000. However… we have a winner: Seoul between 1970 and 1980 added 700,000 a year.

Visitors mention that Tokyo may not feel immediately larger than New York due to its greater preponderance of smaller buildings, but Seoul delivers in spades. A city of 24.5 million Seoul has traditionally been the world’s second largest city, yet one of it’s most obscure, with a surprisingly low global profile for much of the 20th Century – though things have now changed due to the Korean Wave of music, movies, tech and trends (and a certain catchy dance video about a certain highrise district).

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Seoul is the densest of the highrise megacities if you’re just counting the urban areas, with over 33,000 highrises (defined as a building 12 storeys/ 115ft or more) – that’s over 5x NYC. The country has the densest urbanity in general (not taking into account the countryside, or the 70% forest cover of the nation). Much more so than its rival across the sea, it houses the majority of its population in dense tracts of highrise housing, coursing over or around the local topography like a studded sea.

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It does however have far fewer skyscrapers (at ‘only’ 85), deemed a handicap if they were used as landmarks for bombers flying in from the North. Only recently has it thrown heed to the wind and built a swanky new supertall that’s over half a km high and as subtle as the burning eye of Sauron.

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To rival Seoul, there’s The Pearl River  Metropolis made up of the conjoined cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen as mentioned previously (not to be confused with the much wider Pearl River Megalopolis). Like Tokyo it combines massively built scale and population, but is much more high rise. It has 383 skyscrapers (buildings 150m or over) built and 75 under construction – less than Hong Kong’s 390 but more than New York’s 282, or Tokyo’s 157, plus an almost incalculable amount of highrises to compliment.

Guangzhou’s centre…

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…is a mind-numbing 140 km from Shenzhen’s centre, though both are part of a single contiguous urban area. This definitely takes on the northern twins of Seoul and Tokyo for built size:

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It does however, like Seoul, swirl around the many hills or are broken by remaining patches of farmland here and there, so not as blanketing as Tokyo. Best appreciated hovering from the air or a fine green hilltop which the city has many, but not flying for miles across an unbroken sea of buildings.

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Final answer, the most built up city is of course the one with most built living space. I would take that as New York with its skyscraper centre and vast tracts of large single/double storeyed suburbs, covering the biggest land area, but bear in mind the majority of that would resemble a green, sparsely populated forest. Like Milton Keynes, that forgot to stop.

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If you’re talking building up, well that would be the Pearl River Delta (or Shanghai/ Sao Paulo, but that’s on the next post). If you’re flying a plane, that would be Tokyo’s vast picnic sea of urbanity from horizon to horizon.

If you’re talking feel – 24 hr, highrise happy, neon drenched, slightly totalitarian Seoul. The future – Mumbai? Dubai? Chongqing?

And if you’re talking city centre, imo that’s back to the Big Apple baby.

NYCC

No, wait…

-isn’t Tokyo twice the size of NYC?

More? The World’s Most Highrise City

The World’s Tastiest City

Tokyo’s 90,000 restaurants (compared to NYC’s 24,000 or Paris’ 40,000) and 160,000 total eating establishments garners no less than 216 Michelin starred places to dine in (down from 226 in 2015 and 267 the year before that), but still head and shoulders above second place Paris, with merely 105. It was also named as the World’s Best Food city by Saveur Magazine  last year, harking on  not just about the quality of local food but also its French and Italian offerings (plus the whiskey, omg the whiskey), and the vast array of global cuisine in general from Belarusian to Senegalese.

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However on closer inspection Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto and Nara are geographically one city, though Michelin divides them into three distinct guides, so really that entity beats the lot. On Michelin stars per person (taking away those small villages like Baiersbronn, Germany, Bray, UK, Yountsville, California and er Knokke-Heist, Belgium) Paris beats Tokyo, not just on per capita, but equal on the almost impossible 3 star rated restaurants (they each have ten) – though the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe metropolis beats both with 14 triple starred restaurants.

These cities may not have the range over Tokyo but pack well above their weight in stars awarded, as do Barcelona (29 stars for 4.6 million), or Hong Kong-Macau ( 92 stars for 7.3 million), both in turn bettered by little old Brussels (30 stars for 1.2 million). But eminent above them all, by quite a margin would be Kyoto with 100 Michelin starred places for 1.5 million inhabitants– the world’s undeclared epicenter of exceptional places to eat. Meanwhile London toots the horn of most different types of cuisine awarded in one place, serving up British, Basque, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, pan-Mediterranean, Peruvian, Spanish, and Nordic cuisine with the appropriate(d) stars.

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Anyhoo this is the way it looks for the top selected cities, by number of starred restaurants as of 2016. Lift those trumpets:

  1. Osaka metropolis: (includes Kobe-Kyoto-Nara this is one contiguous city that merged together decades ago, not to be confused with a megalopolis, metro or CSA) 258 restaurants 353 stars
  2. Tokyo: 217 restaurants 294 stars
  3. Paris: 105 restaurants   135 stars
  4. Kyoto: 100 restaurants 139 stars
  5. Osaka: 89 restaurants 117 stars
  6. New York City: 75 restaurants 97 stars
  7. Hong Kong-Macau: 65 restaurants 92 stars
  8. London area: 70 restaurants 87 stars (London boundaries 65 restaurants 80 stars)
  9. Kobe-Hanshin : 53 restaurants 76 stars
  10. San Francisco: (Bay area) 31 restaurants 41 stars
  11. Brussels: 25 restaurants 30 stars
  12. Barcelona area: 25 restaurants 29 stars

Inhabitants per restaurant / star looks markedly different. As counted by the contiguous city (not metro), it looks like this. These are the single best places to land your chopper for foraging, provided your PA team did their homework:

  1. Kyoto  (1.5 million) 15,000 people per restaurant 10,791 per star
  2. Brussels (1.2 million) 48,000 per restaurant 40,000 per star
  3. Kobe –Hanshin (3.1million) 58,490 per restaurant, 40,790 per star
  4. Osaka metropolis (14.2 million) 55,039 per restaurant 40,227 per star
  5. Osaka  (8.8 million) 98,876 per restaurant, 75,213 per star
  6. Paris (10.55 million) 100,476 per restaurant  78,148 per star
  7. Hong Kong- Macau (7.3 million): 112,308 per restaurant, 79,347 per star
  8. Tokyo (29 million) 133,640 per restaurant, 98,639 per star
  9. London (10.4 million): 148,571 per restaurant 119,540 per star
  10. Barcelona (4.64 million) 185,600, 160,000 per star
  11. New York (17.5 million) 233,333 per restaurant 180,412 per star
  12. San Francisco -Bay Area (7.65 million) 246,774 per restaurant 186,585 per star

It’s notable how the Michelin people rate restaurants extensively in Europe, covering small towns, villages and hovels across France, UK and Spain but sees a notable drop once upstate a few miles from NYC or Tokyo for example (or was this coverage merely due to well-known celeb chefs opening in small retreats?). Likewise the large gap of unrated Chinese mainland between HK and Macau, which would prove rich findings I’m sure due to the beating heart – now bypassed- of Cantonese cuisine in Guangzhou. The Osaka metropolis however gets European level coverage due to its slew of city centres and different gastronomic regions within the city (Kobe beef a good example). Nevertheless it did get its annual share of doubts for some restaurants that went unrated (did someone drop a fork and not pick it up?).

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Michelin gets further complaints that they are biased toward French cuisine, and over-awed literally by Japanese, with some coughing abruptly and mentioning how the guide is opening up a new market there that coincides with its generous ratings. –Still, opposing camps complain they don’t rate Japanese cuisine high enough, with its complexities of flavor and form, plus subtleties of acquired taste, and the fact a few thousand stellar restaurants go unrated each year.

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Even then there are so many countries of gastronomic greatness not even rated by Michelin (Tokyo only got rated in 2007), with cities such as Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Casablanca, Chengdu, Chennai, Chongqing, George Town, Guangzhou, Delhi, Dubai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Lima, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, Rio, Santiago, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore,  Sydney, Taipei, Tbilisi, Tehran, and Tel Aviv world famous yet still trembling in the wings for the ‘ultimate’ accolade to visit. Shanghai, with 120,000 places to eat is drumming her fingers, and Bangkok, busily tidying away its global capital of street food is especially impatient as vendors disappear.

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Michelin, let me remind you, is a tyre manufacturer that publishes road guides (and thus got delving into the foodie scene by awarding stars to rest stops back in 1926), so does not have road guides as yet that would cover for example, the whole of China, or the backroads of Morocco, which in turn would warrant the accompanying restaurant booklet.

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The final nail in the hickory coffin is frankly, well not everyone dines out in Michelin starred establishments. It’s not like the 15,000 per capita Kyotoites are funneling into its chichi places to dine each day, let alone year. Edible flowers and gold leaf is not necessarily reflective of the average Parisian dinner, as cool minimalism and outrageous art is not the table at which Hong Kongers usually eat. What’s worse is the galling fact one can have amazing restaurants but terrible cuisine at large – just visit Moscow, or dare I say it, Berlin whose wonderful places to eat – and the extensive waiting lists that reflect that – are like diamonds sold in naff catalogues for Argos. After 50 years of communist austerity.

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But of course Michelin has its Bibs Gourmands, nods of approval to places that cost below $40 a head. Though even then, the vibrant street food of Shanghai, market stalls of Fez, food vans of LA, or hole-in-the-walls of Hong Kong –although lightly covered- would still sorely miss out, some of the best tasting options on the planet, but heavily penalized on their non-existent, obsolete ‘ambience’ and ‘service’ ratings.

If a fork falls and a Michelin critic is not there to hear it, does it make a sound?

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Okay enough of this kitkat break. Next up:

The World’s Biggest City