Flappy Bird and the Ice Bucket Challenge were among the world’s most Googled terms in 2014, proving that clicks are as specious an arbiter of quality as ever. But our 14 most-read stories of 2014 include some of our most-loved reporting: jihadi shopping in Istanbul, a citadel of steak in Lima, post-apocalyptic trespassing in Chernobyl. It’s a fine list, and it was chosen by you, dear reader. You have our thanks.
1. The Worst Party in Asia
The monarchy is in trouble, democracy is on the retreat, and even its most-famous party has turned into a symptom of Thailand’s malaise. That’s the report from Robert Foyle Hunwick, who pulled no punches in describing the messy decline of Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party.
2.Going the Distance in North Korea
Its recent war on Hollywood notwithstanding, the Hermit Kingdom is actually more open to the outside world than ever, welcoming some 5,000 Western tourists—about a quarter of whom are American—each year. Last spring, Beijing-based journalist Will Phillips traveled to North Korea to compete in the 27th Pyongyang Marathon, alongside locals wearing shoes that barely held together.
3. A Lens to the Front
Despite the inherent dangers for journalists covering war-torn Iraq, a small group of local photographers has managed to capture striking images and stories from the front lines. For our weekly dispatch with Slate, Roads & Kingdoms’ Director of Photography Pauline Eiferman reported on Metrography, the first and only independent photo agency in Iraq.
5. Chasing Orwell’s Ghost
Scot Matthew Bremner encounters a familiar “unconscionable boredom and inexplicable beauty” as he haunts the remote Scottish island of Jura – better known for its whisky – for some insight into why George Orwell (who reportedly hated Scotland) chose this desolate spot to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four, and to divine what impact Jura’s inhospitable landscape had on the finished novel.
6. The Stalkers
In Ukraine, Holly Morris joined the post-apocalyptic romantics that defy government prohibitions and illegally enter the highly radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for fun.
7. The Jihadi Gift Shop in Istanbul
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been able to flourish in part because of its ability to appeal to foreign jihadis and radical Muslims worldwide. Joseph Dana explores the extremist group’s allure by visiting a popular Istanbul gift shop that sells ISIS merchandise.
8. Why Is Coffee in France La Merde?
Paris is a city of cafe culture, not coffee culture. Anna Brones takes a deep caffeinated dive into the City of Light to investigate all the reasons why the French can cook 12-course feasts that bring you to your knees, but can’t make a decent cup of joe.
9. Toward Land’s End
San Francisco today is a fevered boomtown of Google Buses and IPO dreams. But the city’s western edge still retains traces of its immigrant culture and low-key charm. For a city trying to remember what it once was, Lincoln Mitchell’s nostalgic essay was a hugely popular read.
10. The Strangest Sport No One Knows
At a public demonstration at the 1936 Olympics, practitioners of Mallakhamb thrilled attendees–and Adolf Hitler–enough to receive honorary medals. Gaar Adams reports that today, this 900-year-old sport, which involves gravity-defying feats of acrobatics, contortion and strength atop wooden poles, is kept alive in only a few ramshackle gymnasiums in India’s Maharashtra region.
11. Who owns Chicken Tikka Masala?
Start looking into the origins of chicken tikka masala, and you’ll find, as Mark Hay did, a fascinating story about desperate Glaswegian restaurateurs, a changing sense of Britishness, and the inexorable rise of the UK’s curry culture.
12. The Meat Prophet of Peru
At a butcher shop on the outskirts of Lima, behind the deli case, at a single large wooden table, the young chef Renzo Garibaldi hosts elaborate dinner parties that stretch the meaning of meat into new dimensions. In his flame-licked profile of Peru’s protein magician, Nicholas Gill eats his way through Wagyu short ribs, bowls of cured pork fat, and a mammoth ribeye aged for 200 days.
13. Slow Boat From China
When R&K’s features editor Mitch Moxley returned to North America after six years in Asia, he didn’t want to simply book another plane ticket. The result: his diary of 15 excruciatingly, delightfully boring days on a cargo ship, from South Korea to Seattle.
14. The Dream-Time of the World Cup
Roads & Kingdoms collaborated with Sports Illustrated this year to produce The Far Post, a series of reported essays celebrating the triumphs and tragedies of global soccer culture. Supriya Nair’s reflection on the meaning of the World Cup starts with her grandfather, an “aggressive and inconsistent forward” on the playgrounds of British-held Kerala, and moves masterfully from there, through time and sport and politics, to arrive at Brazil 2014.