A few weeks ago, when I was at a peak of renewed interest in strange places like Centralia, Pennsylvania and Prypiat, Ukraine, I came across this page featuring 7 Deserted Wonders of the (Post)Modern World (and the equally interesting part two) but neglected to link to it. I feel they’ve slighted my personal favorite, Desert Shores, California, but it’s still an interesting gallery.
…is not something you’re likely to get anytime soon.
I’ve written about strange places before, but few places on the planet are quite as strange (or so it would seem, from what little we, on the outside, know about it) as North Korea. And there are few places in North Korea as strange as its capital, Pyongyang. And… perhaps the strangest place in Pyongyang is the one that does not exist (or so I’m guessing the official line goes by now): the Ryugyong Hotel.
I’ll leave it to you to research all the details, but suffice to say it would have been something of a monstrosity, even if it hadn’t been a complete architectural disaster… or had at least been finished. As it is, it remains little more than a sagging, eerie pyramid towering over the city’s horizon. (It’s said to be visible from anywhere in the city.)
Damn Interesting has some… damn interesting things to say about it. Someone has even registered the domain name on the pretense of creating an official site. (Don’t bother clicking the ad on the page for reservations.) There is an intriguing picture on the bottom of the page though, showing what appears to be a sign on the construction site with a picture of what the hotel will/would look like when completed. If its concrete bulk were in fact concealed behind a seamless faÃ§ade of mirrored glass as shown, it might actually look kind of cool. But still a bit… weird? creepy? ominous? You decide.
Another of my favorite blogs, The Shape of Days, has also covered the subject in detail. Ultimately though, I think you just need to see it for yourself:
I think the most interesting aspect of the video above is something I’d never been able to glimpse in any of the photos I’ve seen before: the large numbers painted on the side of the building, indicating the floors.
Of course, maybe we’ve all misunderstood the real purpose of the hotel. This CGI video would seem to suggest that Kim Jong Il is going to perhaps load up all of the party faithful in the hotel’s copious accommodations, and blast the entire population of the country off into space in search of a new home planet. (Of course, such a venture, even in a Communist country, would require considerable funding via international corporate sponsorship.)
Despite my insatiable curiosity about places like this, there is just about no possible way I would ever want to actually visit North Korea, so I’ll happily settle for doing so vicariously via a bolder soul’s travelogue. It’s a fascinating and detailed account (which I’ve just spent the last two hours reading) of a rare, brief (and yet, in the moment, seemingly interminable) American tourist’s visit to the strangest country on the planet.
On most days I spend a little time perusing Wired for random and interesting articles. Random and interesting doesn’t always mean “pleasant” or “not-utterly-repulsive” however, and so it was today.
Yes, they’re pretty nasty. Especially the boiled duck embryos. But if you’re not retching yet, be sure to check out the shocking cholesterol content in a can of Pork Brains in Milk Gravy. Just don’t tell your cardiologist! I think even reading about the stuff might give you a heart attack.
No, I am not experiencing road rage. I am simply a raging road geek.
A little caffeine too late in the day (not to mention curious preoccupation with discovering the mystery of eon8) has kept me up well into the night.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent trip to D.C. and Baltimore, and in particular about the roads there, as I did a fair amount of driving in my 3 days in the area.
I’ve always been fascinated by roads, in particular the Interstate highway system, and in even more particular with anomalies in the Interstate system. The Interstates were conceived as a massive public works project and also as a vision of taking America into a bold, gleaming, gasoline-fueled future. But somewhere along the way reality stepped in and many planned freeways were never built, such as I-335 in Minneapolis or whatever they’d have called Ayd Mill Road in St. Paul if it had become a real freeway.
You can see remnants of such works throughout the country in the form of blocked-off ramps to nowhere or peculiar artificial mounds where bridge embankments had been created but the bridges themselves never constructed.
One thing that’s striking about Baltimore is that, for all of its interesting history and charming neighborhoods, it also has more than its fair share of blight. That was another unexpected side effect of the construction of the Interstate system. (Well, I doubt it was that unexpected to the large numbers of mostly African-American residents who were displaced by eminent domain or who saw their neighborhoods sliced in half by right-of-way lines planned by the mostly white, crew-cutted proto-geeks working in the various state departments of transportation in the ’50s and ’60s.)
While studying the map of Baltimore in anticipation of my upcoming visit, I noticed something rather odd: an “orphaned” stretch of freeway running through a part of the city west of downtown. As it turns out, this freeway, now signed as US 40 but originally identified as I-170, was a failure on a scale that puts Ayd Mill to shame. I didn’t get a chance to drive this road (and I suspect that if I return to the area I probably won’t have much cause to then, either, unless I can convince my family that it’s worth going to an undesirable neighborhood just to drive on a pointless stretch of road), but thanks to insomnia and the wonders of the Internet, now I can feel like I did.
There were also some interesting freeways in the D.C. area, such as the long stretch identified only as To I-295 because, even though for all intents and purposes it really is I-295, it cannot be designated as such due to federal standards for Interstate-grade roadways.
On a less dismal note, I had a couple of other interesting freeway experiences. First, driving into D.C. on I-66, I was surprised to discover that, once you crossed the Beltway, all lanes of the freeway were designated as HOV during rush hour. (Yes, in other words, if you’re driving by yourself, you have no business whatsoever being on I-66 inside the Beltway between the hours of 5:30 AM and 9:30 AM on weekdays.)
The other, and undoubtedly most pleasant, discovery was the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, identified inelegantly on some signs as the “Balto-Wash Pkwy.” This is, surprisingly, a 4-lane freeway, with relatively brisk-moving traffic, managed by the National Park Service, connecting Baltimore and Washington, and perhaps sometime in the distant past actually signed as Maryland (and D.C.) 295, as shown in my 2006 road atlas. The most surprising feature of this road was that it was densely tree-lined for most of its run, completely devoid of billboards and rarely within sight of any artificial structures other than the road itself. Best of all (especially since I drove the entire return trip in heavy rain), commercial trucks are not allowed.