G'day folks,

This ancient Irish landscape boasts hundreds of legendary ruins. 

Rathcroghan, or Cruachan Aí, is an archaeologist’s dream. Found in the center of County Roscommon, it contains about 240 identified archaeological sites packed within an area of about 2.5 square miles.

This landscape confidently bears witness to nearly 5,500 years of continuous settlement. The earliest known monument is a small court tomb from the early Neolithic Period. Bronze and Iron Age burial mounds dot the earth. You’ll also find traces of massive feats of late Iron Age architecture such as the Rathcroghan Mound and the Mucklaghs earthworks as well as early historic settlement sites and religious foundations. The later medieval period sees Rathcroghan divided into a large matrix of field systems, evidence of the pastoral farming practice common to this region from prehistory up to the present day.


This area, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also one of the key theaters of Ireland’s impressive collection of intoxicating mythology and literature. It boasts the mythological gateway into the Irish Otherworld: the cave of Oweynagat. Uaimh na gCat (Gaelic for “Cave of the Cats”) is the origin place of the pre-Christian seasonal celebration of Samhain, the Celtic precursor to modern Halloween.

Rathcroghan is the starting point for a whole series of Iron Age heroic cattle raiding tales, known as na Tána. Indeed, the central tale of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, an Táin Bó Cúailnge, Ireland’s greatest epic, rises out of Rathcroghan, at the behest of the famous Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb (Maeve) of Connacht. Medb is a vital part of this landscape, and of the West more generally, and her capitol and palace are reputed to be located on the Rathcroghan landscape. These stories record the deeds of Ireland’s heroes, such as Cú Chulainn, Fráoch, the Morrigan, Conor Mac Nessa, Ferdia, and Medb herself.

Many of these archaeological sites retain links to these heroic tales through their names, among them Reilig na Rí (the Cemetery of Kings), Caiseal Mhanannán (the stone fort of Manannán mac Lír, god of the sea), Rath na dtarbh (the fort of the bulls), Daithí’s Stone, and more. Hearing these stories, told on this earthen canvas, is the perfect way to understand the previous generations who walked this sacred landscape.






G'day folks,

Welcome to the secret wartime bunker built on the platforms of an abandoned Tube station. 

The Down Street Underground Station was practically doomed from the start to a short operational life. The residents of the wealthy Mayfair area where it was to be built were not keen on having a Tube station on their doorsteps, believing it would entice “undesirables” into visiting the posher parts of the city.

The Great Northern, Piccadilly, and Brompton Railway had tried to purchase land so that all their stations along the Piccadilly route had entrances on the main road, but no one was willing to let them buy such a prime site around Down Street. Instead, they had to make do with building on a side street, necessitating construction of longer subterranean passageways to bring passengers from the lifts to the Underground platforms.

When the station opened on March 15, 1907, it immediately suffered from low passenger numbers. The residents of Mayfair could afford other methods of transport, the location made the station harder to spot, and it was close to other, more convenient stations on the same line. By 1932, Down Street was closed for service.


This was not the end of the station’s use though. In 1939 it was repurposed as an underground bunker to be used by the Railway Executive Committee, the organization in charge of keeping Britain’s railways running during the Second World War. The long tunnels and platforms were converted into offices, dining rooms, bathrooms, and dormitories. A popular story has it that the dimensions of the corridors running along the outside of the offices were planned to be just wide enough for a tea trolley to roll along.

The executives could arrive at the bunker at street level, entering through the old building. But when it came to leave, they could choose a different route. There was still a short section of accessible platform, and if an executive left a red lamp there, the next train would stop so they could board the driver’s cab—the drivers were instructed to ask no questions. The other passengers of the train would be unaware of the cause of the stop, as the platform was only long enough for the front of the locomotive.

The Down Street bunker was secure and “comfortable” enough that it was also used by Winston Churchill and other members of the government before the completion of the Cabinet War Rooms. Churchill affectionately called the bunker “The Barn.”

After the war, the station was given back to London Transport for engineering access and to use as an emergency exit point. Many of the offices in the tunnels were removed, though those on the platforms remain. London Transport Museum now operates tours of Down Street, showing visitors down the dusty spiral stairs to the darkened and dilapidated corridors, where Piccadilly Line trains rush past just behind metal gates.






G'day folks,

The sinister ruins of one of the worst dam failures of the 20th century lie in this astonishing alpine setting. 

In a growing modern nation craving for energy, as Italy was at the beginning of the 20th century, hydroelectric power was a synonym of progress, representing a victory of humankind over nature. Yet in the mountains of Bergamo province in Lombardy, that attempted feat would take a tragic turn. 


Construction of a hydroelectric dam to exploit the river Gleno in the the Valle di Scalve (Scalve valley) began in 1916, but the project was immediately cursed by poor materials and poor workmanship. On top of that, due to funding problems, the plan changed from the original idea of a gravity dam to a multiple-arch dam while the work was still in progress, resulting in a mixed-type dam.


Just after its completion, heavy rains filled the reservoir, and several leaks caused concern among the inhabitants of the valley below.

Sure enough on December 1, 1923, at 7:15 in the morning, the tragedy happened. The central section collapsed, causing a mass of 4.5 million cubic meters of water to pour into the villages in the Scalve valley. The official death toll counted 356 lives lost as a result of the flood, as well as massive damage to roads, bridges and buildings.

What remains of the dam is a 160-foot-high concrete barrage with a huge, chilling laceration in its central section. The sinister ruins are a stark and surreal contrast with the stunning alpine surroundings. 





G'day folks,

This modern sundial uses ancient methods to tell time and date perfectly. 

 The Calendar Sundial in Galway, Ireland tells both the time of day and the month of the year. Located in Brigit’s Garden, a local park, the Calendar Sundial, built in 2006, is the biggest in Ireland. Its five-foot spike of bog oak, situated near the center of a stone circle, casts a shadow that can be used to determine much information with beautifully simple techniques. 


Elliptical lines carved in the stone show the passage of the shadow during the different months of the year, while the length of the shadow determines the time of day.

The Calendar Sundial can show the time and date to great accuracy using methods that have been available for thousands of years. Ironically, it sits in a country famous for its frequent rainy days.





G'day folks,

 People spend their whole lives looking for whatever it is that makes a perfect home. For some, it’s as simple as a walk-in closet or space in the yard for an herb garden that looks just so. For others, nothing can compare to grandiose dreams of a seaside villa or a mountain chalet. Not so for Francisco Gonzalez Grajera.

Francisco Gonzalez Grajera was an artist and he did not want a normal home.


So Francisco set about building something special, with his bare hands, that would satisfy his creativity both while he lived there and while he built it. Before long, he had created a startlingly unique estate – one that fits right in with the whimsical outsider art sculpture house of Peter Buchs, or Ed Leedskalnin’s coral castle.

Clad in elaborate mosaics built in the trencadis style of broken tiles, the house of Francisco Gonzalez is a sprawling castle-shaped villa, flanked with towering ramparts and spires made to look like the points of a massive royal crown. Tourists now drop by the Gonzalez home, still a private residence, just to see the odd house the locals always talk about.

If you were to speak to Francisco himself, he would tell you there’s nothing odd about this place. To Francisco, it’s just home.


19 February 2023 - SOVIET 'SPY HOUSE' in VIRGINIA, USA




G'day folks,

Conveniently located within binocular range of a nuclear bunker, this "summer camp" area was a painfully obvious spy house. 

On April 23, 1966 the Associated Press reported that the Soviet Ambassador in Washington had finally settled on a location for a new “camp and summer recreation area” for the children of his embassy employees. The site in question was a beautiful mansion on the Shenandoah River in Northern Virginia, 40 miles out of D.C.

The elephant-sized omission from the news report was that the house was strategically positioned at the base of Mount Weather, home to a key U.S. continuity of government site and a massive underground nuclear bunker. The “summer camp” was a dreadfully obvious ruse, but both the State and Defense Departments inexplicably gave their authorization to the Soviet summer campers.


Mount Weather was something of an open secret among locals who rubbed shoulders with military men at the town bar and could see the black helicopters run mock evacuation drills. After the Soviet summer camp plans became known, a local Clarke Courier reporter blasted the State Department for permitting such a blunder, calling it a “stupid move that tempts the fate of the unknown.” “Maybe we have been wrong, along with everyone else in the area, in thinking that Mt. Weather is a hush-hush project,” the Courier opined. “Perhaps it should be classified as merely a weather station which, of course, it isn’t.”

It’s unlikely that the Soviets could have used their spy station to listen in through Mount Weather’s blast-proof walls. But there were plenty of useful clues to be gathered in the open source from such an opportunely located lookout—namely monitoring the front gates for motorcade arrivals and the skies for helicopters. The unexpected arrival of a mass of visitors from Washington could be a tip off that a surprise nuclear attack was underway against the Soviet Union.

The Soviet summer spy camp has been alluded to in several histories of the Cold War period, but the exact location of the house was a mystery. Comparing an AP archival photograph with modern Google Earth imagery and real estate listings reveals a likely address. It’s unknown when the Soviets moved out of the area, but it seems their old spying summer camp is presently used as a veterinary stable.


16 February 2023 - WEIRD MOSAIC TILE HOUSE in USA




G'day folks,

Welcome to something different - a rainbow-hued local gem in Venice, USA. 

Venice Beach is known for its boardwalk filled with colorful, eccentric people. The houses, buildings, and structures that dot this area also reflect this “rainbow coalition” of people. From simple beach bungalows to ultramodern homes, Venice is truly a unique place to live. But none of these places quite capture the effervescent essence of Venice like the Mosaic Tile House. 

Though it’s not well known to the public, the moment you enter this large-scale artwork-in-progress structure, it’s like walking inside a coral reef. Most of the tiles are in the red, yellow, and orange spectrum, but bold colors radiate throughout the space. Almost every square inch of the home (including the outside) is covered in mosaic tiles. Cheri Pann and Gonzalo Duran, a husband and wife team, are responsible for this local masterpiece. Pann is the docent guide if you visit.

Pann and Duran’s “visual feast” began as a weekend project to install bathroom tiles, and it later developed into a lifetime love affair that’s lasted more than two decades. Cheri is an artist who creates contemplative large-scale oil paintings with mythic themes, and Gonzalo, canvases in vignettes of their life together. 


For the house, Cheri creates the tiles, and Gonzalo shatters them and distributes them over every square inch of their home. Since 1994, the couple has been transforming their once bland, beige stucco home into the structural kaleidoscope that it exists as today. The Mosaic Tile House is still a work in process–there are still sections where it has not yet been completely covered in tiles–but what is completed is more than enough to give the average person a visual overload. What might catch your attention is a fruit tree and vegetable garden incorporated into all the tile landscaping, and a black fridge stuffed with dolls that Pann has described as the dark part of her imagination.

So if you ever find yourself visiting Venice, once you’ve had your fill of Abbot Kinney and the Boardwalk, head east a mile or so, and visit the Mosaic Tile House. 





G'day folks,

This stunning sea creature-shaped home blends into the landscape like a fantasy villa. 

What’s large, gray, and shingled all over? Mission Canyon’s very own “Whale House.” Camouflaged in the woods of a suburb of Santa Barbara and a stone’s throw from the city’s Botanic Gardens, this stunning home feels like a fantasy hideout come to life.

The home, now available for vacation rental, is aptly named. Its somewhat whale-shaped exterior is made up completely of undulating rows of gray cedar shingles. The unusual abode was designed by architect Michael Carmichael and completed in 1978 after three years and with the help of 20 craftsmen.



The one-acre lot the Whale House sits on is so magical, it’s the main element that inspired Carmichael to experiment with organic design in the first place. In the tradition of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, whose nature-based designs exemplified the Catalan Modernist movement in Barcelona, Carmichael was moved to design a home that did not detract from its natural surroundings, and in fact bowed to them.

The Whale House has no flat walls and virtually no straight lines. Three bedrooms (which can sleep nine) and 3.5 bathrooms let people live comfortably within the belly of the sea creature. A 75-foot lap pool leads to the tail of the whale (read: a detached guest house). Further playing upon the home’s name, Carmichael littered the entrance with rocks to emulate a whale’s mouth full of teeth, and used a high-sitting stained glass window to serve as the mammal’s eye.

12 February 2023 - KGB SPY LAMP POST IN LONDON




G'day folks,

 This overlooked street light once served as a KGB dead letter box.

London has a particular association with spies: the Special Operations Executive, MI5, MI6, 007, and all that. However, there is more to London’s espionage heritage than tuxedoed, suave operatives with a preference for how they like their martinis.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s KGB had numerous agents at work in London. While some could operate under diplomatic cover, many others did not. These “illegal” agents, after gathering their information, needed some way to pass it discreetly onto their KGB superiors. Their reports would be left at selected drop sites, also known as dead letter boxes.


One such dead letter box was an inconspicuous lamp post in Audley Square, just outside the University Women’s Club at No. 2. Starting in the 1950s, agents would leave their documents behind the small door to the rear of the post. To indicate there was a message waiting, a chalk mark was made near the base.

The existence of this dead letter box was only revealed to British Intelligence after the 1985 extraction of their secret agent Colonel Oleg Gordievsky from under the watchful eyes of the KGB in Moscow. In a strange coincidence, back in the early ’60s No. 3 Audley Square was used as an office by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman when they were casting the role of a certain James Bond—all the while unaware of the real-life spies who may have been lurking just outside.





G'day folks,

At the centre of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a deep chasm ringed by tall waterfalls. 

Réunion is an island in the Indian Ocean, sandwiched between Madagascar and Mauritius, a thousand miles from the east coast of Africa. Despite its remote location, as a “department” of France it’s actually part of the Eurozone, and with nearly a million inhabitants and some of the lushest and most magical landscapes in the world, the volcanic outpost has a robust tourist industry.


Tourism in the area centers around the coastal regions of Réunion, but at the island’s center is one of its most extraordinary sites, a canyon that reaches nearly a quarter mile (300 meters) into the Earth, ringed by a chorus of six tall waterfalls. Trou de Fer (the “Iron Hole”) is a collapsed crater of an ancient volcano, fed by bubbling rivers and streams, but dangerous to descend.

So rugged is the terrain at Trou de Fer, and so rain-soaked most of the year, the deep chasm wasn’t fully explored until 1989. Not that climbers hadn’t tried to reach its depths—they just never made it back out. Today it is a relatively easy hike to get there, just a couple of miles of well-groomed trails with a viewing platform at the end. From the high vantage point, you can see the surrounding mountains, tropical forests, and all the waterfalls that make their way to the bottom. 




G'day folks,

Beirut's thinnest building was the result of feuding brothers. 

A sliver-thin house in Beirut, built in 1954, is the ultimate display of how deep sibling annoyance can go. Known as The Grudge, or Al Ba’sa in Arabic, the house is just a bit over 13 feet at its widest point, and just around 2 feet at its narrowest.

At a side view, the “house” built of brotherly spite looks more like a wall than a place to live. But despite its narrow dimensions, Al Ba’sa is habitable, and is the skinniest building in the city. 

As the story goes, two brothers inherited land from their father. They couldn’t decide how to split the land between them, a dispute complicated further by the fact that one part of the property had been cut over the years by various municipal infrastructure projects, leaving a portion of the land a small and sort of odd shape. 

One brother decided to take that small, oddly shaped bit of land and build on it, constructing a building that fit the confines of the land with the added bonus of blocking his brother’s ocean view. Not only would his brother not be able to enjoy his spectacular sea view, but because he was now facing what was essentially a wall his property values would sink, too. The perfect plan.

Over the years, there have been some tenants in the house that sibling rivalry built. Each floor of the structure contains two apartments. For years, one was in use as a brothel, while the others served as refuge for a family fleeing the war.

Today the house stands as a reminder of a long-ago feud, and it probably will for a very long time; current city zoning laws state that the plot of land the house sits on is too small to build on. If The Grudge comes down, nothing else can be put in its place, making the land more profitable with the house than without it. As architect Sandra Rishani pointed out in her essay on the house, Al Ba’sa “continues to exist grudgingly and also defiantly in one of Beirut’s most prime locations, only time will tell what will become of it.”




G'day folks,
 An unassuming stone building houses New York City's oldest seismic station almost 30 feet below the Bronx.

Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus is home to the oldest seismic station in New York City, and one of the oldest in the United States. Installed in the basement of the university’s main administrative building in 1910, it continues to chart seismic activity from all over the world to this day.

The station is maintained by Fordham’s physics department, where data is transmitted to the adjacent academic building, Freeman Hall. While mainly used by the physics department, that data is available to students across several disciplines, notably environmental science.

Originally, data was gathered using a Wiechert seismograph, a precarious pendulum-dependent machine that graphed vibrations using a system of levers, kerosene-smoked paper, a weight, and a rod. It was so sensitive that in order to avoid skewing data, a horse was kept on campus to maintain the grass outside of the station instead of usual lawn-mowers.

Of course, this seismograph has since been replaced by computerized broadband seismometers, which lie in a vault nearly 30 feet below the ground, picking up trembling of the Earth’s tectonic plates and even of trains heading to Grand Central from the nearby Metro-North Fordham stop.


About a decade after that first basement seismograph, Fordham constructed a new seismic station using money donated by William Spain, who then named it after his son, William, a physics student of the university who died some years before. While the actual seismograph is subterranean, it is inside a small stone cottage flanked by trees and wildflowers with a stone path leading to the entrance. There is a bronze plaque of St. Emidio on the observatory’s side, the patron saint of protection against earthquakes.

Today, the William Spain Seismic Observatory, using a strong motion detector, partners with a U.S. government program to assess earthquake risk in metropolitan areas. This particular data is also streamed to a government data repository in Boulder, Colorado. Fordham is also a member of the regional Lamont Cooperative Seismic Network, which allows the 21 other seismic-observatory members across the eastern U.S. to share data and equipment like geophones and seismometers for further research projects.