G'day folks,

The once-dying town of Sheffield, Tasmania has reinvented itself as a village of painted wonders. 

Dams are blamed for ruining a lot of things. Their construction often leads to the destruction of wildlife habitats, the choking of a river, or even the flooding of a town.

But in the tiny Australian town of Sheffield, Tasmania, it wasn’t the building of a dam that caused problems – it was when that building stopped.

Sheffield, always a rural town, experienced a population boom when several hydroelectric plants were constructed nearby. Once that construction finished, however, large segments of the population left, leaving the town with an economy and infrastructure on the brink of collapse.


But sometimes, precipitous population declines simply aren’t enough to kill a town with a particularly plucky bureau of tourism, and that’s exactly what Sheffield has. Emboldened by the stories of other towns who reinvented themselves as tourist destinations, Sheffield’s leadership encouraged, commissioned and created murals on the side of every building and the face of every structure in town.

Almost immediately, Sheffield announced itself as a “Town of Murals,” complete with a comprehensive marketing campaign.

Of course, such an ambitious title commands results, and the murals have only grown in number and artistry since that time. The town got the results it wanted as well – it’s now well-regarded as a popular tourist destination and visitors flock to the rural hamlet not to work but to view the oddly engrossing and encompassing art that now decorates the town, and likely will for years to come.







G'day folks,

American newspaper editor Christopher Latham Sholes was granted a patent in 1868 for a typewriter. There are claims by others to have invented the machine, but Sholes is widely believed to have produced the first commercially successful model.

 It was hardly an original idea. Back in 1714 it was announced on behalf of Queen Anne of Great Britain that Henry Mill, an engineer, born in 1683, had been granted a patent by the Queen for a writing machine. The patent notice read:

“Our Trusty and welbeloved Henry Mill, gent., hath by his petiçon humbly represented unto Us that he hath by his great study and paines & expence invented and brought to perfection an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters, one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print; that the said machine or method may be of great use in settlements and publick records, the impression being deeper and more lasting than any other writing, and not to be erased or counterfeited without manifest discovery.”

Nobody knows what the apparatus looked like or how it worked and there have been patents registered by others for machines that could pass as a typewriter. But credit for the first modern version goes to Christopher Sholes, who lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The problem with his first machine was that the keyboard was arranged alphabetically, just as anyone would expect. But as operators learned to type at speed it was discovered that the metal arms bearing each character often became entangled.

Sholes studied the problem with his partner Amos Densmore and worked out which letters were most often used. They then put them as far apart as possible on a new keyboard, reducing the chance of clashing arms because they would come from opposite directions. And thus the “Qwerty” keyboard, still is use today, was born.

Sholes was as pleased as punch with his “Qwerty” typewriter and described it as “a blessing to mankind.” Even so, he sought expert advice and opinion and in early 1873 approached engineers at the Remington company which, apart from firearms, made sewing machines and farm tools.

Remington were highly impressed and offered to buy the patent from the partners. Sholes agreed and accepted $12,000 for his half-share. The more canny Densmore, however, would not sell unless the company agreed to pay him royalties. It has been estimated that these were eventually worth $1.5 million to the astute partner.

Thanks to Sholes and Densmore, Remington began producing typewriters just a few months later. One of their early customers was Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, one of Twain’s most successful works, published in 1876, is widely believed to be the first novel written on a typewriter.






G'day folks,

This tiny Bulgarian town offers a stunning location in the mountains and also has a storied history. 

You can see a lot in Melnik (Мелник). Sweeping mountain vistas, quaint city streets and picturesque valleys are all plentiful, as are fantastic markets and great bottles of wine.

But the most interesting thing you might come across is this number: 385. That’s the number of residents in this tiny Bulgarian hamlet, and many would say they’re 385 of the luckiest people on Earth.

Melnik is the smallest city in Bulgaria by a wide margin – in fact, it’s only able to maintain its status as an incorporated city in somewhat honorary fashion, due to the city’s storied history. In fact, nearly 100 of its barely-more-than-that buildings are designated historic landmarks.

Founded more than 1,000 years ago in the 9th century, Melnik has changed hands numerous times as war swept Europe over the centuries, at different times belonging to the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Russia, and then Bulgaria once more.

The remote city is nestled in the Pirin Mountains, making both travel and residency difficult for citizens. The locals swear by this quiet and reserved isolation however, and visitors are quick to note the quaintness of the town, with its small cafes and old-world atmosphere instantly transporting tourists to something of a land that time forgot.

 It’s no wonder then, that Melnik has developed a robust and celebrated winemaking tradition, that most ancient of crafts, and one which is perfectly suited for its agrarian surroundings. Of course, that wine is the main cash crop of the sleepy town and brings delight to the locals as well as visitors. Sir Winston Churchill reportedly ordered 500 liters of Bulgaria’s Melnik wine every year leading up to and through World War II.

Melnik is also famous for the medieval Rozhen Monastery (Роженски Манастир). The monastery is a ten-minute drive or a pleasant hike from Melnik. There are well-preserved frescoes, stained glass windows, unique carvings, and buildings from the many different historical periods in the life of the monastery. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the many monasteries it founded are still revered, if now little used by either monks or worshippers. That reverence is devotional, of course, for some, but throughout Bulgaria the monasteries remain compelling because of their crucial role in preserving and spreading Bulgarian literacy, culture and identity during five centuries of Ottoman rule.

The town is an architectural park and all newly built houses must comply with the Bulgarian Revival architecture. The most visited house is the Kordopulov House, a private museum. Beneath it the ruins of the family church St. Barbara are also worth a stop. 

Of all once over 70 churches in town, only 3 are still functioning. One of the most important ones is the church St. Antony, the only one dedicated to this saint in Bulgaria. It’s believed that mentally ill patients can cure themselves by spending several nights under the church’s roof. Unlike most Bulgarian orthodox churches, the walls in this one are covered not in biblical scenes, but in more tranquil paintings of flowers and plants. 

If visiting Melnik on a sunny day and you’re up for a little hike, don’t miss to go all the way up to St. Nicholas plateau. You’ll find the magnificent ruins of several churches, monasteries and Despot Slav’s fortress walls. The views to the magical Melnik Pyramids are breathtaking from there. 







G'day folks,

This dilapidated castle-like structure overlooks the Hudson River at one of its widest points and was once home to nuns. 

The St. Cabrini Novitiate’s castle used to offer some stunning vistas of the Hudson River from its large windows. But they’re shuttered, and the structure’s sits in disrepair amid thickets of trees and shrubs that threaten to overgrow it. Next door is the modern-looking St. Cabrini Nursing Home. The castle’s ultimate fate remains unknown after reports in the early part of the 21st century that it would be demolished. 


Situated on a bluff above the river bank, the castle has three levels, the top of which is close to even with the nursing home’s parking lot. The building has been described as a hodgepodge of architectural styles, but its edifice is beginning to show signs of weathering. The building served as part of a novitiate, which was a community for nuns-in-training, or novices, who lived together as they prepared to take their final vows. The nuns ran a hospital on the site. 

Frances Xavier Cabrini, who emigrated to the U.S. from Italy in the 1800s at the behest of the pope, founded the novitiate around the turn of the century. She also founded the order of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and close to 70 instituions across the United States. Cabrini is the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. 

Curiosity seekers can catch a glimpse of the structure from the train while taking Metro North’s Hudson Line train. The castle is just south of the Dobbs Ferry Station. 







G'day folks,

Welcome to the longest canal tunnel in the world, abandoned in the 1960s. 

Between 1911 and 1916, the Rove Tunnel was built to link the Marseille Harbor to the Rhone River. But it wasn’t until 1926, after twenty years of work and a World War, that the tunnel was finally opened for use, surviving a little under 40 years before collapsing in 1963.


The longest canal tunnel in the world, the Rove Tunnel passes through Berre Lake (adjacent to the Mediterranean to the west of Marseille) and Martigues (a commune in the southeastern part of France, to the northwest of Marseille), and stretches about 4.5 miles in length and 72 feet in width, which, before it was closed to public use, enabled about two ships to cross inside.

Although it has been abandoned for years, a project has been launched to bring this tunnel back to life by using it as a salty water supply for the Berre Lake, which is slowly drying.






- JAPAN  -

G'day folks,

Welcome to an exquisite tunnel of cascading flowers.

 It’s practically impossible to walk through the pastel-colored passageway of wisteria flowers at the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu without imagining an elegant fairy princess and her one-horned white steed prancing alongside you. 


A member of the pea family, wisteria is an ornamental vine, wildly popular in both Eastern and Western gardens for its graceful hanging flowers and its ornate, winding branches. Easily trained, the woody vines tend to reach maturity within a few years, at which point they bloom in cascades of long, lavender flowers of varying pastel shades. There are about 150 flowering wisteria plants of roughly 20 species that create this famous colorful flower tunnel.

Make sure to visit in late April or Early May, during the “Fuji Matsuri,” or “Wisteria Festival,” when the magical tunnel is in full bloom. Because many visitors come to the gardens during the blooming season, you need to book your time slot in advance.

Arrive at any other time of year, and its appearance will be a disheartening mass of lifeless, twisted branches.







G'day folks,

A partial tunnel blasted into a steep ridge is all that remains of a failed railway across Arizona.  

In 1881, businessman James Eddy was struck by inspiration. Northern Arizona was connected to the rest of the country by transcontinental railways and was dense with ponderosa pine forests and a burgeoning timber industry. Southern Arizona, meanwhile, was even more populated, and the isolated mining boomtowns in the deserts were home to some of the richest silver and copper veins in the world. If he could connect the south to the railroad network in the north, he would stand to make a fortune.

The benefit of connecting the two halves of the state would be twofold: sending much-needed lumber and supplies to the communities in the south, and freighting mined minerals back north where they could more easily be shipped to the industrial centers on the coasts. Only one thing stood in the way of Eddy’s plan: the Mogollon Rim.


The southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, an elevated region that crosses into four states, is the Mogollon Rim, a massive ridge of steep slopes that cross much of Arizona. When Eddy formed the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad company, his engineers calculated that to run a railway across the Mogollon Rim at a gentle enough grade for trains he would need to create a tunnel 3,100 feet long and 16 feet wide.

In 1883, work on the tunnel began. Over 40 men spent all summer blasting a passage through the rock. Only 70 feet of the tunnel had been completed, however, when the company ran out of funds and the work came to a halt. Eddy spent the next several years finding investors and hyping the railroad project, managing to get another 35 miles of track laid when the money ran dry and the work stopped again, this time for good.

Over the subsequent years, the 35 miles of track south of Flagstaff were torn up by locals who reused the scrap. Today, the only remaining evidence of Eddy’s ambitious but failed project is the partially completed tunnel deep in the Tonto National Forest. Other than some graffiti near the entrance, it still looks more or less exactly as it did when the Arizona Mineral Belt crews left it in 1883. The crumbling structure to the right of the tunnel entrance is the remains of the powder house where the workers stored their explosives while blasting through the ridge.






G'day folks,

 This old train trestle and collapsed tunnel once allowed the railroad to negotiate the steep slopes of the Colorado Rockies. 

Colorado’s mountains do not lend themselves well to the building of railroads. Due to the limitation of grade, engineers had to develop novel approaches for getting trains up and down steep canyons and high mountains. This often involved building trestles and digging tunnels, or combining both to make what was known as a loop. 


By passing the tracks across a high trestle traversing a narrow gap, gradually spiraling around the mountain then back under the trestle to complete the loop, the trains could navigate the high elevation of the Rocky Mountains. One of the few remaining examples of such a loop is the Rifle Sight Notch on the Rollins Pass route near Winter Park.

Looping around Spruce mountain, the route passes over Tunnel 33 on a 3-mile loop at a 2.5 percent grade, rather than take a 2-mile route that is more direct but includes 8 percent grades that are impossible for trains to negotiate. The loop allowed the train to gain or lose 175 feet of elevation per mile. Yet even with this gentle grade, trains managed to fall off the tracks with frightening regularity on this section of the Moffat Road. Evidence of at least two wrecks can still be found on the western approach to Tunnel 33.

From the pass, the trestle looks like the notch in a rifle sight, which is how it got its name. The tunnel under the trestle caved in following the closure of the route in 1928. The trestle—one of only three left on the Moffat Road—is unstable, but it remains as a testament to the engineering know-how needed to cross Colorado’s rugged mountains.






G'day folks,

These decaying bridges 1,000 feet high are a reminder of the skill it took to cross the Colorado Rockies by rail. 

Built in 1905 at a total elevation of 11,600 feet on the edge of South Boulder Canyon in the Colorado Rockies, the Devil’s Slide Trestles cling to the side of a mountain with only oblivion between them and the waters of Middle Boulder Creek nearly 1,000 feet below. 


The twin train trestles were part of a harrowing and dangerous railroad that climbed up and over the Colorado Front Range to connect Denver to Winter Park and Salt Lake. This route was part of the historic Moffat Road, one of the highest standard-gauge, non-cog railroads built in the United States. For two decades, the trestles provided an unnerving passage to passengers of the Denver & Salt Lake Railway, until the route was abandoned in 1928 with the opening of the 6.3-mile Moffat Tunnel.

In 1955, the road was opened to automobile traffic following the removal of the train tracks in 1938. But this did nothing to alleviate the unsettling experience of crossing these high bridges. Following the collapse of a tunnel in 1990, the trestles, decaying from nearly 100 years of Colorado’s extreme weather, were closed to automobile and pedestrian traffic. Today, the trestles are not safe to cross, but can be seen by hiking or mountain biking the trail out to the site from either the east or west side of the pass. Looking at the twin trestles you can imagine what it was like to traverse these rickety bridges, with nothing but air between you and the cold waters of Middle Boulder Creek.






G'day folks,

Approximately 300 million years ago, a massive coral reef existed in what is now the largest limestone cave in Japan. 

Deep within the mountains of Yamaguchi Prefecture lies Akiyoshido Cave, the longest network of limestone caves in Japan. While the total length of the cavern is nine kilometers (5.5 miles), about one kilometer (0.6 miles) of the cave is open to explore. These chambers are beautifully illuminated and are easily traversed via built up walkways.

There are three entrances to Akiyoshido Cave: the Akiyoshido Entrance, the Kurotani Entrance, or through an elevator. 


The chambers of the cave are decorated with an abundance of stalactites and terraces. Within the caves is a large underground lake, which can be comfortably appreciated from the walkway. The water from this lake feeds into a waterfall at the cave’s opening. This waterfall can also be admired from the walkway. Towards the end of the caves is a colorfully illuminated tunnel, this serves as a tribute to the evolution of the human race throughout the ages.

Just outside the caverns are also several hiking trails that wind through the Akiyoshidai Plateau. These trails weave through a hilly landscape littered with fragments of limestone. Some 300 million years ago, the plateau was the site of a coral reef. Over time, the limestone eroded into the formations that we see today.

Akiyoshidai is a wondrous place to visit all year round, with each season presenting the caves from a unique angle. 






G'day folks,

 Explorer Christopher Columbus landed on Cuba's northeastern coast in 1492 and claimed the island for the new Kingdom of Spain, which had sponsored his journey of discovery. For the Cuban people, there followed 400 years of slavery, degradation and rebellion.

Here’s what Columbus wrote about them in his diary: “They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for glass beads and hawks’ bells.

“They willingly traded everything they owned. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron.

“They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

This became the policy of the Spanish who took over Cuba following Columbus’s discovery. Resentment simmered among the islanders but it was not until 1868 that a major rebellion erupted resulting in what became known as the Ten Years' War, with 200,000 Spanish casualties.

In 1892 the Cuban Revolutionary Party was formed with the aim of achieving independence from Spain. The Spanish reacted with suppression, creating “reconcentrados” – fortified towns that are seen as forerunners of the Second World War concentration camps. Up to 400,000 Cubans died from starvation and disease in the “reconcentrados”.

As rioting took hold in Havana, the United States sent in a battleship – the USS Maine – “to protect American interests”. But within days of anchoring in Havana harbour the Maine was ripped apart by an explosion, killing three quarters of the crew – about 250 men.

The cause of the explosion was never established but some American newspapers – particularly William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal – had no doubt: it must have been a Spanish mine.

As hysterical headlines poured off the presses, public opinion veered towards war amid chants of “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!” Congress demanded independence for Cuba and authorised the use of force to achieve such an end.

Spain at first severed diplomatic relations but then on April 24, 1898 declared war against the United States. The next day Congress in turn declared war on Spain.

The war lasted for ten weeks, America’s far superior forces inevitably gaining victory over the Spanish.

Probably the most famous encounter came on July 1 when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt – who was to become US President in 1901 – led the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, known as the “Rough Riders,” in the Battle of San Juan Hill. He did so carrying a pistol recovered from the Maine.

Task & Purpose, a military and veteran-focused website, reports: “[It was] a bloody struggle to gain the high ground above enemy naval concentrations in the harbor of nearby Santiago de Cuba.

“The action cost [the US] over 1,000 soldiers – nearly five times as many as the Spanish – but despite the grave loss of life, Roosevelt overtook the enemy position and carried the day.”

Two days later the Spanish fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, leading to surrender of the city.

After the war Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris under which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the US for $20 million and Cuba became a protectorate of the United States.

It gained independence from the US in 1902 and would not hit international headlines again until President John F. Kennedy faced down Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.