#2. The Gargantuan Cave of Wonders (Majlis al Jinn)
The Fantasy Location:
The Cave of Wonders from Aladdin is a vast, magical cave hidden deep in the desert. It contains illusions of great riches and an unassuming old lamp that would probably look a lot more decent if you gave it a little rub.
Of course, what makes it something that exists in a Disney cartoon instead of real life is the sheer scale of the thing -- you can see the tiny Aladdin scaling the cave.
The Real Thing:
"Oh God, I suddenly have to poop."
Majlis al Jinn, translating to "The meeting place of the Jinn," is the ninth largest cave in the world. Like its fairy tale counterpart, it is accessible only through a tiny opening in the desert above. It is also commodious enough to accommodate a whole magical treasure, or an entire graveyard of jumbo jets. What we're saying is it's big.
Gatis Pavils, Wondermondo
Really, really, really big.
Seriously. That tiny speck in the middle is a man.
Although regrettably lacking in sentient giant cat heads, the entrance of Majlis al Jinn more than makes up for it by not having any sissy stairs or, for that matter, footholds. The only ways in or out are tiny holes on the roof, some 400 to 500 feet from the floor. You are only allowed to climb down via rope if you are an experienced spelunker or easily duped by shifty-looking Grand Viziers.
You're also required to have a minimum of two musical numbers memorized.
And while you're down there, the standard magical cave rules apply: Don't touch anything. The reason for this, however, is less fairy gold and more common sense: Due to the cave's spectacular drop, masses of dead animals have found their final resting place in the belly of this beast.
#1. The Disney Castle (Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria)
The Fantasy Location:
Quick: When we say "Disney," you picture ...
Also: Crazy old racists with pencil mustaches.
... a ridiculously stylized castle seemingly plucked out of a cartoon.
The Real Thing:
Holy crap, that's just about the fakest real picture we've ever seen. If you stepped out of the fog and saw that shit, you'd immediately hydrate to combat your hallucinations.
How does a place like that come about? Well, every once in a while, history is graced with eccentrics so wealthy and insane that they end up throwing the freakiest figments of their imagination at the planet until they or their bank accounts self-destruct. Neuschwanstein Castle, the retreat of Ludwig Il of Bavaria, is the product of one of those eccentrics.
The man rocked the white-tights-and-boots look like few after him.
Throughout his life, Ludwig was infatuated with beautiful things and wasn't afraid to show it with all the might of his kingdom's treasury. He had dabbled with the whole "Let's build ridiculously cute stuff" concept many times before, but Neuschwanstein Castle was to be his masterpiece.
You know you've picked a great location when it looks exactly like a matte painting.
The enormous structure was deliberately built in the style of castle romanticism -- i.e., the architectural school of little girls in the middle of their worst princess phase -- to look like the ultimate fairy tale castle. And it should, otherwise the ad wizards at Walt Disney Co. are asleep at the switch. Neuschwanstein Castle was their inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle and its numerous rehashes around the Disneyverse.
But built for the impressiveness factor as they might be, Disney castles can't hold a candle to the original. This is because of the oldest saying in the real estate business: Location, location, location. Sleeping Beauty's castle is located in a crowded amusement park, with sugar overdosed-kids in Mickey-ear hats vomiting in its pissy moat. Meanwhile, Ludwig showed slightly more tact in his choice of site. This is where Neuschwanstein Castle is located:
It looks pretty, but the leprechaun infestation has reached epidemic levels.
A shining gem of 19th century building technique and ability as it may be, Neuschwanstein clicks with the Disney castles in more ways than one: Like them, it is merely dressed to impress. The castle was (understandably) a giant money pit, and although its exterior is more or less finished, the vast majority of its interior remains unfinished. The 15 or so rooms that were finished look like this:
The original plan was to include over 200 of those babies.
Jacopo della Quercia is the proud author of "Go @#$% Yourself!" - An Ungentlemanly Disagreement, by Filippo Argenti and "The Sound of Laughter" in Wordplague's The Four Humors.
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