When VeryFirstTo.com launched their £1m holiday last month, many dismissed it as a typical PR stunt. Indeed, even the company offering it never expected anyone to take them up on the offer: a two-year, luxury holiday taking in the planet's 962 Unesco world heritage sites (an intense itinerary that would mean taking in more than one site every single day for two years).
Then the phone rang.
An unnamed man from China, with an undisclosed background but apparently studying for a PHD, has signed on the dotted line and is now preparing to begin his journey next year. His trip will include visiting more than 150 countries over in two years, staying in the most luxurious hotels and flying business class.
Although the phone was hardly ringing off the hook, the company said they have another tentative booking and have received 15 enquiries.
"When we launched it, we didn't know if it would sell. Not all of our products do," says company founder Marcel Knobil, who launched Veryfirsto.com in November 2012, seemingly as a one-stop shop for those with so much money they need someone else to come up with ludicrous ways to spend it. Or, as they call it, "a haven for early adopters".
Knobil says the site now has 18,000 members and past products that have failed to find a buyer include a 267-carat black diamond nail polish for £160,000 and the chance to star in your own marriage proposal TV commercial for £135,000. Perhaps even the super-rich are aware of YouTube.
The £1m trip was billed as "the world's most expensive holiday", in the same vein as the most expensive lunch/coffee/bacon sandwich phenomenon. ("There is nothing that pushes my 'rage' button more," wrote chef Luke Mackay about a recently unveiled £1,000 coq au vin.) The holiday package also includes the almost obligatory nod to charity: in this case, a £5,000 donation to Unesco.
In the same month that VeryFirstTo.com launched, Graham Hughes, 34 from Liverpool, completed his own epic round-the-world journey on a much smaller budget. His four-year trip – all overland, with no flights – took him to every UN member state in a bid to gain a Guinness World Record (a claim which is still being processed as Hughes presents various forms of written and photographic proof).
Hughes's trip cost an estimated £27,000, which he funded through various loans and by making travel documentaries along the way. What does he think of the "world's most expensive holiday"?
"If people have got the money, travel is a better way to spend it than drugs or yachts. Visiting all these places is absolutely feasible in two years [if flying], but it will be difficult. You can't get a limo to all these sites. Surely they'll have to be some bus travel involved. And it's a shame that they are spending all their time in five-star hotels. I imagine that could be very lonely."
It is not known whether the Chinese participant will be travelling alone, although the £990,000 fee does allow him to bring a partner or companion. And he won't be able to boast that he's been to every heritage site. The small print confirms that the itinerary will only cover sites that are safe and practical to visit.
Hughes wishes the participant well on their trip, but adds: "I hope they know what they are getting into."
A woman caught on camera driving on a pavement to avoid a Cleveland school bus unloading children will have to stand at a crossroads wearing a sign describing herself as an idiot. Watch the video here.
A Cleveland municipal court judge on Monday ordered 32-year-old Shena Hardin to stand at the crossroads on two days next week. She will have to wear a sign that reads: "Only an idiot drives on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus."
The judge ordered her to wear the sign from 7.45am to 8.45am on both days. Hardin's licence was suspended for 30 days and she was ordered to pay $250 (£156) in court costs.
The driver of the school bus, Uriah Herron, filmed Hardin driving on the pavement, a detour she is thought to have made every day. His manager, Eric Taylor, said: "We had a very conscientious driver for 30 years. He really cares about his children and he took the extra step [to ensure] that this doesn't happen again."
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but for one man from northern China, this was not the case. Earlier this year, Jian Feng, divorced and sued his wife for being ugly.
He won his case and was awarded a little under £75,000 by the judge, Fox 31 reported. Mr Feng said he took issue with his wife’s looks only after the couple’s daughter was born.
He was shocked by the child’s appearance, calling her ‘incredibly ugly’ and saying she looked like neither one of her parents. Mr Feng was so outraged that he initially accused his wife of cheating.
Faced with the accusation, his wife admitted to spending around £62,000 on plastic surgery which had altered her appearance drastically.
She had the work done before she met her husband and never told him about it after they met. Mr Feng filed for divorce saying his wife had deceived him and convinced him to marry her under false pretenses.
The judge agreed with him and awarded him the damages.
Greece has 'unblocked' €30m so it can build a motor racing circuit capable of hosting a Formula One Grand Prix. Despite data showing Greece is heading for its sixth year of recession, the government is pushing ahead with constructing the track in Xalandritsa, near Patras.
The total cost of the project will be €94.6m (£75.6m) and it is hoped the circuit will be able to host a Formula One race in the future. The news comes as a draft Budget for 2013 shows that the Greek finance ministry expects GDP to contract by 3.8pc next year after shrinking 6.5pc this year.
Meanwhile, Premier Antonis Samaras must prove to the troika he can deliver an austerity package of €13.5bn, amid reports at the weekend that Greece will need financial help from Europe for the next eight years.
Mr Samaras will target pensions, benefits, and top civil service pay in a bid to unlock the next €31bn payment from the EU.
Cecil Chao Sze-tsung, a Hong Kong property magnate, has offered a reward of HK$500million to the man who can woo his lesbian daughter. He announced the bounty this week after reports that his daughter Gigi Chao, 33, entered a civil partnership with her long-term girlfriend in France.
“I don’t mind whether he is rich or poor,” Mr Chao said. “The important thing is that he is generous and kind-hearted.” Mr Chao also told the South China Morning Post that reports of his daughter’s civil ceremony were “false”.
The tycoon said he hoped to help the successful suitor could start a business. The reward was “an inducement to attract someone who has the talent but not the capital to start his own business”.
“Gigi is a very good woman with both talents and looks,” the doting father said. “She is devoted to her parents, is generous and does volunteer work.”
It was reported that Miss Chao entered the partnership with Sean Yeung, her girlfriend of seven years, who also uses the name Sean Eav, on April 4.
A photograph on Miss Chao’s Facebook page confirmed that she and her girlfriend flew to France two days earlier. “Going to Paris to buy a few businesses,” read the caption to a picture apparently taken in the first-class section of a plane.
The Facebook profile of Miss Chao, an architecture graduate, reads: “Helicopter pilot. Social entrepreneur. Creator of expressions in colour and emotion.” It also describes her as an executive director at her father’s Hong Kong-based property firm, Cheuk Nang.
Miss Chao’s profile for the networking website LinkedIn says she worked with the British architect Sir Terry Farrell for two years.
She now runs Haut Monde Talent, a model management and PR firm with an office on Hong Kong’s Hennessy Road.
Mr Chao’s search for a husband for his daughter appeared to contradict a description Miss Chao gave of her father in a 2007 interview.
“My father took a hands-off approach in parenting,” she told HK Magazine. “I see him as a friend more than a father. My parents never pressure me with high expectations.”
It also exposed a traditional streak in a man known for his playboy way of life. Mr Chao made headlines in 2003 when his Rolls-Royce caught fire while he and his girlfriend were inside. The tycoon has never married and once claimed to have had “intimate relations” with about 10,000 women. This week he denied that he would force his daughter to marry a man.
Miss Chao has yet to comment on her father’s offer but her Facebook and Twitter accounts have been bombarded by people keen to become her friend. “No longer accepting Facebook friend requests … sorry,” she wrote. “Where do all these people come from? Jerusalm [sic]? Ethiopia? Istanbul? ridiculous. It’s also quite scarey [sic] that my friend requests number keeps jumping up every few seconds.”
A white limousine screeches to a halt and a bride, resplendent in frothy gown and veil, is hauled outside by her abductors. It's one of Romania's more colorful customs: bride-napping. The tradition of snatching the bride from under the nose of groom and guests at her wedding is getting increasingly common in the Romanian capital, the Balkans' undisputed party town.
Every Saturday night brides from Bucharest and beyond are dragged away in a mock abduction by friends and driven to a top tourist spot where they are 'held hostage' – all the while pouting, dancing and striking provocative poses for the cameras.
The ransom: a few bottles of whisky or perhaps something more romantic, like a public declaration of love from the abandoned groom.
The kidnappers negotiate by phone, working out the details of the payoff. It's all harmless theatrics meant to add a whiff of risque fun to the nuptials.
Mock abductions of brides are part of marriage ceremonies across the former Soviet Union.
In some countries, guests lock up a bride or have her hide in a backroom during celebrations, demanding that the bridegroom delivers a 'ransom' – like singing a song, dancing or sometimes paying real money.
In Romania, the custom took off a few years ago when a top football player rented Bucharest's Arch of Triumph, a major monument modeled after its iconic namesake in Paris, and proposed there to his girlfriend.
There was no kidnapping involved but the scene stuck in the popular imagination as a symbol of marriage – and soon the monument became a sort of midnight mecca for bride-napping.
This past Saturday, about 20 brides were held hostage at the Arch of Triumph, which was built in 1922 to honor Romanian soldiers who died during World War I and to celebrate the reunification of Transylvania with the rest of Romania.
One bride was driven in from her wedding in a town an hour east of Bucharest with a gaggle of guests in tow. Another grabbed the toy machine gun of her kidnappers, dressed up as Taliban, and pretending to use it in front of the monument.
Authorities turn a blind eye to the partying under the monument, technically illegal because it's a historic landmark.
Motorists cruise around the square honking, waving and cheering. The outdoor party is one way for Romanians, frustrated with austerity measures and feuding politicians, to let off steam. One bride, 25-year-old Alisar Dragne, says her abduction was scripted from start to finish.
'Everything was staged and ready in my case. The limousine was waiting for me in front of the restaurant, I was given the "leave" signal by my friends and together we came here to have some fun,' she said. 'Now everyone's thinking what ransom to ask the groom.'
George Neascu, a Roma musician, who plays at the monument every week for small change, said the bride-stealing custom is as old as living memory.
'All sorts of people come here,' said Neascu, 'both those who have lots of money and those who have less.'
An Egyptian-born bodybuilder has just had his 31 inch biceps crowned the biggest in the world. Moustafa Ismail, 24, has spent ten years pumping iron twice a day and his upper arms now have the same circumference as a grown man’s waist. But despite his cartoon proportions he hates spinach.
Instead 'Big Mo' eats as much as 3lbs of chicken, 1lbs of steak or fish and four cups of almonds washed down with two gallons of water and three litres of protein shakes.
The bodybuilder was so dedicated to bulking up his arms he moved his whole family to America to gain access to better workout equipment.
The muscle man said: 'People always say you remind me of Popeye the sailor man. 'This makes me laugh as the truth is I don’t have any spinach in my diet - I can’t stand the stuff.
'Actually I think my arms are now bigger than the cartoon character.' Mr Ismail, who lives with his wife Carolina, started bodybuilding ten years ago in a bid to keep fit.
But after hitting the gym he received hundreds of compliments on his bulging biceps and decided to concentrate all of his efforts on making them even bigger.
Five years ago, when he failed to win a place in the Egyptian bodybuilding team he swapped his home country for the USA.
He now trains at least twice a day and can lift an incredible 500lbs. The gym fanatic admits to taking protein shakes to help with his bodybuilding but puts his bulging body down to genetics - his father was an Egyptian wrestler.
He has a daily exercise regime of 5am until 8am during which he concentrates on cardio, strength-training and body sculpting, using heavy and light isolated weights.
When Mr Ismail is not pumping iron he’s pumping gas at the two petrol station he owns near his home in Massachusetts.
'Working out makes my mood better. You’re just focusing. 'And I like that in this type of sport you can see your improvement in your shape,' he says.
'I know they are growing, my chest, my shoulders, my arms. I love weights.' Moustafa’s biceps have now been confirmed as a record and he will appear in the Guinness Book of World Records 2013, which is launched in London today.
As an enduring tribute to a life lived, gravestones have changed little over the centuries. Until now. Funeral directors are giving headstones a rather modern makeover – by making them interactive. Barcodes are being placed on the gravestones to allow visitors to find out more about the person laid to rest there. When scanned on a smartphone, the square codes – known as Quick Response or QR codes – launch a website which contains a biography of the deceased.
A woman who claims to be the world's oldest person has allegedly celebrated her 127th birthday. Luo Meizhen lives with her only son, who she reportedly gave birth to at the age of 61, in Bama, south China's Guangxi province. She was born on July 9, 1885 in the Chinese lunar calendar, which this year fell on August 25 in the international calendar. That would make her 127 - five years older than the verified oldest person who ever lived.
It is every Star Wars fan's dream mode of transport, but an American firm has finally made a working 'hoverbike'. Made famous by 'Return of the Jedi,' where it flew through woods piloted by Stormtroopers, the real life version has been tested in the rather safer surrounding of the Mojave desert.
A Chinese fisherman has netted a fortune after catching a critically endangered, but hugely prized, fish worth £300,000. The fisherman, whose identity has not been revealed, caught a Chinese Bahaba, or Giant Yellow Croaker, off the coast of Fujian province last week.
After a bidding war, a local fishmonger paid him three million yuan (£300,000) for the 176lb fish, or £1,700 a pound, according to the Strait News, a local newspaper in Fujian.
Any man with a smartphone and a scantily clad cast can shoot a porno, these days. Just ask every celebrity alive today. But there's a clear difference between smartphone smut and a serious, money-backed project of the NSFW variety.
A new crowdfunding platform called Offbeatr wants to tighten the gap between the actual amateur and the "amateur" porn. It wants to help you raise funds to make more professional porn-type projects. Good news, since Kickstarter isn't down with XXX content.
Because payment systems like Amazon Payment and Paypal have strict zero-tolerance policies for anything of adult variety, Offbeatr is currently working on its own proprietary online payment platform. For that reason, projects cannot yet accept funding. Offbeatr says it's been working on its payment system for the past 6 months and is so close, so don't lose hope.
Here's how it works:
• Registered users pitch an idea to the Offbeatr team
• Once selected and verified, the project creator/s cobble together a Kickstart-like page delineating the premise, the funding amount needed, and the rewards offered if funding is reached
• Approved projects are then greenlit, allowing the creator to launch the Offbeatr page and begin gathering votes
• With the vote goal reached, the project becomes "official" and the funding (hopefully) floods in
Dos & Don'ts
• Do pay the listing fee, once your project is voted in and approved. Listing Fee Deposit = (Desired Funding Goal / 25) x $0.50 [rounded to the next $5]
• Do pay the other misc. Kickstarter-type fees applied to completed/funded projects (they are too boring to explain here, but can be easily found here)
• Do pitch a tangible creative project, like an event being produced, a movie, or a toy prototype
• Don't pitch something that is clearly not of Offbeatr's, erm...particular predilection
• Don't pitch a project if you live anywhere other than in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, France, Austrailia, and New Zealand. Currently these are the only countries from which Offbeatr is accepting projects
• Don't pitch Offbeatr if you're not old enough to vote, marry, or go to war. They have a strict screening process, for what should be obvious reasons
Now what are you waiting for?
Baggage handlers at Fiumicino airport in Rome were given a shock by the appearance of a rather unusual item on the screen of their X-ray machine recently. It was the figure of a man (pictured), complete with internal organs on partial display. And no, he wasn't dead, just a drunken Norwegian who had climbed over an empty check-in desk onto the baggage conveyor belt (as you do), where he fell asleep.
When the operator of another check-in desk started the conveyor belt, the snoozing man was taken on a 15-minute tour of the system before passing through the X-ray machine where he was spotted and the police were called. The police, who struggled to wake the man, have denied that his journey indicates the presence of flaws in the airport’s security system.
Warm Shoestring is a project where shoelaces are made from a specialized fire-resistant material that can plug into an adapter. The adapter regulates the temperature while the strings warm up the shoes. A great idea if you have to live through the bitter North Korean winter.
A cancer victim used his own obituary to confess a litany of sins to friends and colleagues, including that he never really earned a PhD. Val Patterson, 59, came clean in an honest retrospect of his life in which he also apologised for minor crimes including stealing a hotel safe.
His self-penned mea culpa was printed, complete with grammatical errors, in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper in Utah after his death.
Mr Patterson worked initially as a mechanic and went on to become an inventor of products including a type of windmill, and computer software.
He wrote that his PhD from the University of Utah had actually been a paperwork error, and he didn't even complete his undergraduate degree.
In his obituary he said: "I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later a PhD diploma came in the mail.
"I didn't even graduate. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters 'PhD' even stood for. For all the electronic engineers I have worked with, I'm sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well."
Mr Patterson went on to confess: "As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest," He also admitted to kicking rocks into the Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park, and to being "banned for life" from Disneyland and Sea World in San Diego following youthful high jinks.
After Mr Patterson died of throat cancer on July 10 his obituary was posted on the website of Starks Funeral Home in Utah and those who read it disseminated it across the world on the internet.
One comment on the funeral website read: "This is the best obituary I've ever read."
Mr Patterson's wife of 33 years, Mary Jane, confirmed that the events he confessed to were true.
She added: "He wanted to set a new standard on how obituaries should be written."