Indian art

People who visit India for the first time are always amazed at the tremendous artwork that adorns rather simple objects, like buildings and vehicles.  Here’s a good example:

It is amazing to watch the artists at work: it’s all still done by hand using an airbrush and other simple tools.

A very secluded medieval town

If you’ve ever visited the very end of the Mississippi River, then you know how it is: a truly exciting environment, unbelievably remote, and visited by very, very few people.

The medieval town of Aigues-Mortes is the French equivalent. It’s a beautifully preserved medieval town, in the French region known simply as The Camargue, where the Rhone River forms a delta emptying into the Mediterranean Sea:

Interestingly, this is the spot where famous 7th Crusades were launched in 1248. But today the locals are more interested in shopping for bread

or bowling

rather than marching on Jerusalem!

Christkindelsmärik

Unless you’ve been to Germany, you may not know that the German towns and cities all have Christmas markets in the weeks preceding Christmas, filled with stands where you can buy small gifts and stalls selling food and Glühwein (a hot mulled wine).

That’s the nice part.  The not-so-nice part is: Christmas markets and Christmas itself in Europe doesn’t have the history of music that you find in America.  I always think Christmas in Germany could be improved with more traditional music.

But anyway, the best known market is not in Germany at all, but in Strasbourg:

And if you have good eyes you will have spotted that it’s not Markt but Märik, which is the word for market in the Alemannisch language – less commonly spoken in Strasbourg today, but still the lingua franca among Switzerland’s many unique dialects.

Amazing Bologna

While most tourists flock to Florence, I’ve always found Bologna to be more fascinating.

Here’s a good example: any visitor to Bologna would surely see this sight and think they are looking at Saint Petronius:

It even says so right above his head: Petronius, Protector and Father.  But in fact this is a statute of Pope Gregory XIII!  When the French invaded Italy in 1796, the locals took to subterfuge rather than destroy what, even at that time, was a very precious piece of art. Later on, after the French left, nobody bothered to change the inscription in the plaque.

You can also find plenty of gruesome statues in Bologna, like this one:

 

Somanathapura’s Chennakesava

There were two amazing things I remember about the Chennakesava Temple, just outside of Mysore.  The first is how incredibly well preserved it is, considering it is 800 years old.

No matter where you live in India, it is amazing that the locals over the centuries have treated the ruins with such respect, so that so much is intact today.

But the most amazing thing I remember: this was my first experience at understanding how tough and robust people’s feet can become, if they spend enough time walking barefoot.  The temperature of the ground was well over 60 C = 140 F, and yet this family showed no discomfort at all:

My guests and I could not spend more than just two or three seconds on the pavement in our bare feet.  After I lived for a few years in India, spending most of my time barefoot, so too did my feet become tough and calloused – I once measured the thickness of my callouses and it was nearly 3/16 of an inch in some places – but I’m still not sure I could have done this!

What is just amazing is that most people living in the modern world, wearing modern shoes, have no idea about some things the human body was really designed to do!

Amazing pilgrimage site – Lourdes and UFO’s

I’ve long been fascinated with pilgrims and their pilgrimages – people who are so devout as to make substantial investments of time and money and effort to visit religious sites.

Recently I visited arguably the oldest pilgrimage destination in the western world, and you can see my pictures here: Santiago de Compostela.  It’s tucked into a remote corner of Spain, and even today it requires quite some time and effort to reach.

And this is an equally famous pilgrimage destination, Lourdes:

Just like Santiago de Compostella, Lourdes is in a very remote section of France. Even with an automobile, it is very difficult and time-consuming to reach.

As I usually do, I visited during the off season, in the middle of winter.  Except for one family, I was alone in the entire complex which has grown in size to host tens of thousands of visitors each day. The pious believe that the spring water that flows out of a cave is holy and can cure illness – and it’s amazing to see the huge engineering effort, in which this water is diverted into channels so that the pilgrims have easy access. For a one euro donation you can buy a little glass water bottle.

A connection with UFO’s?

What I find most fascinating about Lourdes is the story of the apparition.  In 1858 a peasant girl reported seeing a number of apparitions of a woman. Here’s the amazing part: she never attributed the apparitions to Christian figures or the Virgin Mary; she only reported seeing an apparition.  It was other people in the village who assumed that what she saw was the Virgin Mary.

A few years later, in Portugal, three children also reported seeing the apparition of a woman; like the apparition at Lourdes, this was later attributed to the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Fatima).

So . . . could it be that the peasant girl in Lourdes, and later the three children in Portugal, witnessed something extraterrestrial in origin – or perhaps a time traveller from the future?  Some people believe so, and you can read more about it here.

INdog

While I lived in India I had an adopted dog. This looks like him, but this is not him:

These dogs are a common sight everywhere in India.  They are called Indian Pariah Dogs, or INdogs for short, and sadly, most Indians I’ve met seem quite unaware just how remarkable these creatures are.

First of all, many scientists believe they are the oldest breed of dog in the world.

Second, no matter how hard humans try to control their population, still the INdogs win in the end, and the INdog population always rises or falls in tune with the available resources.

Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – Birthplace of America?

A very pretty village nestled deep in the Vosges Mountains of Eastern France:

It was named after Saint Deodat and dates back to the year 700.

But the most amazing thing about this little village is something that probably even the residents may not know. When news about the discovery of the new world by Amerigo Vespucci reached Europe, this was the village where the decision was made to name the New World America. In fact, here’s the snippet from a book printed here, Cosmographia Introductio, which was the very first time the word America appeared in print:

and the very first maps and globes using the word America were created here.

IT Transformation: how the new military and IT are starting to think alike

I was surprised when I saw this recent graphic, posted on a social networking site:

It reminded me at once of a book I just finished reading, but recommend only sparingly: Team of Teams: New rules of engagement for a complex world, by Gen. Stanley McChrystal (ret.). This is his book:

And this is General McChrystal:

If you haven’t heard of him, General McChrystal commanded all of the U.S. Special Forces teams during the 2000’s, and his biggest success is probably the capture of Saddam Hussein.

His book Team of Teams is not a fun-to-read action story of business ideas embellished with special forces military anecdotes; for a good book of that genre, you can try Extreme Ownership: How the Navy SEALs lead and win.

Rather, Team of Teams is a serious academic book that explains in great detail the organizational challenges but also philosophical shift in thinking needed for transforming from the old top-down military hierarchy to a new “agile” approach needed to reach the full potential of elite teams, such as special forces operators.

What I especially like about the book is that it goes into quite some depth, not just about the organizational concept but more importantly, about how to overcome the challenges to get there.

 

 

Yorkshire Gorse

This is Yorkshire Gorse growing wild in the Yorkshire MoorsEven the best scientists could never genetically engineer a plant to be more dangerous than gorse, since it is covered with the most razor sharp thorns that would kill anyone unlucky enough to fall into it:

Funny story: until I visited Yorkshire, I’d never heard of gorse before. But in the local dialect it’s pronounced goss, so naturally I assumed it was spelled g-o-s-s.   It took me quite some time on Wikipedia to discover the real name of this extremely thorny plant (ulex europaeus).

щъркел – Shturkl!

Everybody knows you can find some storks living in Alsace, France – but these days, just a few.  And if you look hard enough, you can find some living in Southern Germany – but these days, even fewer.

The first time I left Sofia to explore the West Bulgarian countryside, I was amazed to find huge numbers of storks – also known as “shturkl” in Bulgarian. Here are storks on a monument (monument storks):

Here are storks on a transformer (transformer storks?)

And here are storks on a house (house storks):

Happy Cows

It’s hard to take a bad photograph of a good cow!

These cows are relaxing just outside the ultra affluent town of Gstaad, deep in the Bernese Oberland.  Most likely the few square meters of ground they are laying on is worth more than my apartment!

The world’s most expensive boarding school is located here (Institut Le Rosse, costing well over CHF 100K per student per year); and the international school for smaller children is so select, they have no webpage.

Hidden canals #4: Covered Canal in Muhlouse

Continuing the series, if you find yourself in the Middle Ages and are looking to find a nice place for your market, you’ll probably locate it on a river or a creek.  Easy way to bring in the goods and the people – and easy way to float away the garbage and the refuse.

You would never guess it by this photo taken in Muhlouse, Alsace, but here I am standing on a market built over a canal:

Outside you’ll find the outdoor market, a vegetable market, as you can see here. And that yellow building in the distance is the indoor market, the Marché de Canal Couvert de Muhlouse. To provide that I’m really over a canal, here’s that same yellow market from the rear:

And here is a view looking down the canal, away from the market:

If you look closely you’ll see that it’s not just a natural creek but rather it’s lined with cut stones.  Muhlouse sits at the intersection of several shipping canals, so most of the small creeks in the area have been long since under active management.

China is cleaner than Zurich!

The first reaction of most people who’ve never been to Switzerland’s city of Zürich when they come here: how can a place be so clean?!

And of course, most people who’ve been to big Chinese cities like Shanghai or Beijing have a similar reaction: how can a place be so dirty?

Well . . . if you think China is dirty, think again!  The tourist island of Hainan is at least 10 to 15 times cleaner than the cleanest city in Europe!

Here is a view of downtown Hainan from the city park, with the Hilton Hotel framed between the trees:

And here’s another view of dowtown Hainan, taken from a beautiful park built along the north coast of the island:

Why is Hainan so clean?  The government has mandated this: strict fines for pollution, a huge staff of people to keep it clean.  And the amazing part: only electric vehicles are allowed in some areas of the city, as you can see from the electric scooters here:

It probably also helps that Hainan is a small tropical island, to the rains and winds keep the air clean.

 

Incredible Baroque Church

Located deep in Southern German Schwabian landscape, it does not look impressive from the outside; in fact, it is one of the most boring, plain church facades I’ve ever seen:

But when you step inside, your brain explodes:

 

As you walk around the church and look deeper and deeper, you’ll find that even the gold and diamond encrusted details have gold and diamond encrusted details:

It might be so boring on the outside because in fact it is not a church, but a Benedictine Abbey.

If you want to visit, don’t worry about tourists. I don’t think anyone outside of the locals know that this place exists – and probably even they avoid it, to keep their brains from exploding.