What sort of traveller are you? Do you prefer to stick to well-known sights, or are you keen to discover something new? Or do you like to explore the wonders of our planet from the comfort of your own home? A new title from Lonely Planet, Secret Marvels of the World, is a feast of information for curious travellers of every type.
Secret Marvels of the World
The book is subtitled “360 extraordinary places you never knew existed and how to find them”. It is a mixture of the odd, the very odd, and the simply baffling. Some of the places mentioned are intentionally bizarre, like the ice cream parlour in Venezuela with 1,000 flavours including garlic, prawns in wine and beef stew. Others are more accidental, such as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone or an abandoned amusement park in Aruba. Some I’m not at all sure about – why exactly does Vanuatu have an underwater post office?
The author obviously has a taste for the grotesque – ossiaries, tombs and preserved human remains seem to be a recurring theme. And there are lots of quirky museums, like the Beneficial Microbes Museum in Taiwan or the Lunchbox Museum in Georgia, USA. Nature gets in on the act too. There are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand (check out my post on Waitomo), the “living fires” of Romania and Namibia’s singing dunes.
An Individual Collection
A collection of this type is likely to be individualistic and can only be the tip of the iceberg. I pride myself on being able to ferret out odd and unusual things but I had only visited a handful of the places in this book (two of them were the Wave Organ in San Francisco and the Big Pineapple on Australia’s Sunshine Coast). I even found sights in London I hadn’t known about.
The book also includes lists: you always wanted to know the 10 Top Tremendous Toilets or Bizarre Disaster Sites. And there are itineraries such as The Real Dracula Trail and Eerie Namibia. Each entry has information about how to visit. I found the arrangement – by longitudinal region rather than the more conventional continent/country – a little confusing. However this seems to have been quite deliberate, a challenge to see the world in a different way.
Seeking Inspiration from the World’s Marvels
There are some places in this book I’d love to see, particularly the Salvador Dali inspired Hang Nga Guesthouse in Vietnam or, closer to home, Vienna’s Hundertwasserhaus (I visited the Hundertwasser Toilets in New Zealand a couple of years ago). And there are others I’d rather avoid, including all of the 10 top nerve-wracking rocks (the picture of tourists perched on the end of Norway’s Trolltunga is enough to induce vertigo in anyone). But that’s the point of a book like this: it is an invitation to dive into a world we never knew existed, and to decide whether or not we want to explore further.
Secret Marvels of the World is a book for browsing and inspiration, a celebration of the bizarre and the unexpected. As the introduction says, “In a time when technology has given us a better understanding than ever before of the hows and whys of life, these places show us we don’t know the half of it”.