Atlas of Improbable Places


Especially in coronatimes like these - when travelling is not an easy feat - reading books about special places all around the world really inspires me.

Thanks to Atlas of Improbable Places by Travis Elborough I visited some that were totally unknown to me.

If you want to discover a few of them, just read on! 

Travis Elborough goes in search of the obscure and bizarre, the beautiful and arcane. His unique atlas shows you the modern world from surprising new vantage points. Discover the secret Soviet city of Zheleznogorsk and the church tower of San Juan Parangaricutiro, miraculously still standing as the sole survivor of a town sunk by lava. Explore the underground realms of Beijing and Berlin, dug for refuge and espionage, and the floating worlds of remote Palmerston and the macabre Island of Dolls.


The truths and myths behind these hidden lairs, forgotten cities and  improbable wonders are as varied as the destinations themselves. These curious places are not just extraordinary sights but reflections on our relationship with the world around us.



Here's my review of the book:

"Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are."

Mason Cooley


Especially in coronatimes like these - when travelling is not an easy feat - reading books about special places all around the world really inspires me.


In this book 51 places are discussed and they're divided in 6 categories:

- dream creations

- deserted destinations

- architectural oddities

- floating worlds

- otherworldly spaces

- subterranean realms


Although I'd already heard of some of the mentioned places, the author always succeeded to learn me some new facts about them.

Other places were totally unknown to me and thus formed interesting introductions to some of the earth's strangest places.


As you can also read in the extensive biography on his website, Travis Elborough is an acclaimed author and social commentator. He already wrote several books, including 'Atlas of Vanishing Places' which won the 2020 Illustrated Book of the Year Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award.


In 'Atlas of Improbable Places' every continent is represented and various environments are talked about (both natural ones conquered and artificial ones made by humankind).

The only downpoint was the fact that the underlying explanation was always quite negative. The places that were selected for this book didn't often appeal to that positive 'sense of wonder' you can experience when discovering new places. They rather showed the darker side of humanity (war, discrimination, …) and of nature (disasters, inhospitable places, ...).

But besides that, the info which was given always contained interesting facts and certainly prompted me to look for footage  So if you'd like to know where you can find the door to hell, the creepy doll island or some of the other interesting discussed places, feel free to head over to my blog.



*Thanks to NetGalley and 'Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion, Aurum' for providing a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



Have you ever heard of Hashima (Japan), also known as Battleship Island?

If not, you still may've already seen it without knowing it, as it appeared in the James Bond-movie Skyfall.



What do you know about the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan?

Have you ever seen images of the boat cemetary of Muynak?



Even though it's much closer to home, I never heard of the Euro Banknote Bridges in Spijkenisse (Netherlands):


Did you ever wonder how the door to hell would look like?

You can experience it at the Darvaza crater in Turkmenistan!
Apparently it isn't entirely clear when and how this phenomenon started. More about the different theories can be heard in this interesting BBC-video.

One of the theories is explained in following movie from Atlas Obscura (a book I'll certainly talk about during another blogpost):



Despite the fact I've got a collection of beautiful dolls, I don't think I will ever set foot on the creepy Doll Island in Mexico City.

Would you, after seeing this movie?



What do the last mammoths and Ada Blackjack have in common?

Wrangel Island, a Russian island in the Arctic Ocean!


Although most mammoths were extincted 11.000 years ago, there was a species that lived till 4.000 years ago.

Learn more about these intriguing last survivors:



Even though Ada Blackjack isn't mentioned in the Atlas of Improbable Places, the story of this courageous woman is so interesting that I wanted to share it with you.

Did you know she was called the 'female Robinson Crusoe'?




  1. Well, Tau, where to begin? Hashima island was completely new to me. The Aral sea is truly a testament to the extent of meddling humans are capable of. The damage to the Aral sea in just half a century is mind-boggling - it's an eerie place indeed. The banknote bridges are a case of "fun facts" - I did'nt know of their existence and it is kind of fun to see those bridges in real life. The Gates of Hell (new to me also), now that's quite a surreal spot, especially at night, I did not now it was technically possible to create such a slow burn of a gas reserve. Seems rather wasteful, considering the amount of trouble people go through elsewhere to extract the stuff from underground reserves. The island of the dolls was somewhat ridiculised by turning it into some B-rated ghost story, in my opinion. On the other hand, the story of the mammoths was fascinating, I did not know a small branch outlived the species for so long only to meet its fate through inbreeding.

    Which brings me to the last tale. Now why is it I kept replacing Ada Blackjack's name with "Tau" throughout that story? Coincidence? I think not!

    1. Well, Bohse, I'm really glad that you discovered lots of new things too!
      And I second your opinions ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Even though the movie of the doll island may be a bit exaggerated, it was the one which told the original story in the most complete way (at the beginning of the movie) and which reflected best the atmosphere that was evoked in the text of the book.

      Ada/Tau … why would that be?
      I have no idea, because I don't know if I would be as brave as Ada was.
      Well, probably, if the circumstances would require it. People are capable of many things in extreme conditions ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. In reply to your last remark, Tau, I was wondering what would happen if I would wind up sick on Wrangel Island and you would be the only one around carrying a loaded gun? Desperately in search of food?

      Not a healthy proposition for me, I would wager, in all senses of the word.

    3. First, I was going to ask you what you thought I would do, Bohse.
      But based on your remark, I bet you don't think much of me by showing such a serious lack of confidence.

      Of course I wouldn't shoot you!
      As in: never eat ill meat, because you could get ill too ๐Ÿ˜‹

      Btw if you wouldn't be there anymore, who would make me laugh?
      Laughing is the best way to deal with difficult situations ๐Ÿ˜„

      On a more serious note (although that last paragraph is totally true): I would only shoot if I'm in danger (= attacked by an animal or human).
      And if you should fear anything at all in this particular hypothetical situation, it's that I'd put a bullet in my own head and that you stay there all alone ๐Ÿ˜‰

    4. I just knew you were going to give me that "No worries, I'd never eat meat gone bad"-routine! You see, Tau, I'm starting to understand what makes you tick. And another thing: I never make jokes when I'm sick. Clearly, you've never witnessed the behaviour of a man taken ill: even afflicted with a minor illness, most of us act as if we're on the point of dying - at least, that's what my wife and children tell me.

      O, and thanks for leaving me in the lurch by turning the gun on yourself. We really would make a hell of a team - you and I would not even last two days out there in the wilderness.

    5. Yes, I become quite predictable once you know me and my sense of humour, Bohse.
      Although I still could surprise you from time to time ๐Ÿ˜„

      Well, actually I assumed you'd be the exception that proves the rule.
      But clearly that was a false assumption.
      Because yes, I dรณ know how most men are quite squeamish when they're (barely) ill.
      Luckily they don't have to give birth.
      Otherwise the birth rate would drop drastically and humankind would be threatened with extinction ๐Ÿ˜‹

      We would indeed really be a dream team, Bohse.
      With a clear emphasis on 'dream' ๐Ÿ˜„