I’VE ALWAYS fancied myself a renegade cartographer — my journals and sketchbooks are filled with scribbled street maps of various cities around the world, indicating monuments, museums, and rarely redemptive hostels. To an outsider, they might look more cryptic than helpful, but I’ve always prided myself on being able to find my way around a new city using only three lines — four, at most.

My father taught me how to read a map. Long before I was born he studied real-deal cartography, equipped with an assortment of rangefinders, compasses, and instruments lost on me. But in teaching me how to read them, I learned how to love them, and to this day I’ll pass the time with a map the way someone would a book. Maps are a precious exercise for the imagination, and in staring at them for so long I noticed some peculiarities as I went. For example:

1

Texas over Alaska

Texas vs. Alaska: Score settled.

2

Singapore over Great Salt Lake

Singapore can fit inside Utah's Great Salt Lake.

3

St. John's vs. Paris

St. John's, Newfoundland, is farther south than Paris. Fancy a new tourism slogan?

4

Pyramids of Giza over Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is simply massive. Not only could one feasibly fit the Great Pyramids of Giza (and a sphinx, for god's sake!) on the central island, there's room enough left for the Taj Mahal and its gardens.

5

Black Rock City over Golden Gate Bridge

Burning Man began with a group of friends burning an effigy on a beach under the Golden Gate Bridge. The annual festival now has a footprint that could span from Presidio to Horseshoe Bay.

6

Puerto Rico over Netherlands

Take 90% of Puerto Rico's surface area, and what do you get? An area roughly similar to the amount of land reclaimed from the sea by the Netherlands.

7

Philippines over New Zealand

Thousands of islands make up the Philippines, which is approximately the same size as New Zealand.

8

Disney World over Pyongyang

Walt Disney World Resort and Pyongyang are roughly the same size, and both bill themselves as the happiest place on Earth. Which would you prefer?

9

Eiffel Tower over Victoria Falls

It's hard to appreciate the scale of Victoria Falls without a reference. It dwarfs the footprint of the Eiffel Tower.

10

Bermuda

Bermuda conjures all kinds of Caribbean connotations…but did you know it's closer to New York than Miami?

11

Panama Canal over Eurotunnel

Eighty years passed between the completion of these two marvels, and each is a destination unto itself.

12

Grand Canyon over Challenger Deep

No doubt the Grand Canyon is massive, but Challenger Deep and the rest of the Mariana Trench show us what a more sizable rift looks like.

13

Kiribati over Caribbean Sea

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati spans a total area surpassing that of the entire Caribbean Sea.

14

Vatican over Vegas Strip

The Vatican over Sin City. Appropriate, no?

15

Anchorage to Tahiti

Easiest way to get to Tahiti: Start from Anchorage, and then go directly south.

16

Mauna Kea Observatory over Stonehenge

Mauna Kea Observatory Complex overlaid on Stonehenge -- two bookends in a relatively short history of humanity looking to the night sky.

17

Saint Helena over Paris

Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena, an island roughly as large as the modern-day seat of his empire, Paris.

18

Sicily over Amazon Delta

Sicily can fit inside the delta of the Amazon River.

19

Colosseum over Strahov Stadium

The largest stadium of antiquity could fit inside the now-closed Strahov Stadium in Prague several times over.

20

Westboro Baptist over Auschwitz-Birkenau

Westboro Baptist Church over Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp -- a reminder that small factions of hate can have world-changing consequences.

View 18 comments