Tripping over the Jakobsweg in Bamberg

On a recent trip to the Franconian village of Bamberg I stumbled across this while on a long hike in the woods:

An old and often historically old marker like this, with a shell, symbolizes that you are on the world famous but “Ken disappointing” religious pilgrimage route, dating back to the early Middle Ages and leading to a cathedral in Galicia, Spain.

It made my day!  I try to hike sections of Jakobsweg whenever I get the chance, and in fact a short segment passes through Winterthur in Switzerland and is often a part of my 15 km daily Nordic walk. So I was quite thrilled to find this very unexpected branch of the trail!

Well, I was not surprised when my eyes sometimes later caught this fountain in downtown Bamberg, also adorned with a shell:

Don’t get me long – I love hiking the Jakobsweg, as countless people have been on these very same trails dating back many hundreds of years. But I say “Ken disappointing” because, after many years on my bucket list, I recently had the chance to visit the destination of the pilgrimage route, a cathedral in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela – and I was thoroughly disappointed.

It’s on my bucket list to do a bit more research here. Did Santiago himself pass through Bamberg at some point?

Château de Tarascon

I love touring around France in out-of-the-way places that tourists have never visited or likely never will. And the most amazing thing about Southern France is that even the tiniest towns have magnificent relics. Far from any place you’ll see tourists sit two villages on opposite sides of the Rhone River, Beaucaire and Tarascon.

And you can’t find anything more “castley” than this, the Château de Tarascon:

Bamberg Barge – and what in the heck is a Nitz?

The more you travel, the more things you don’t know – so the stupider you feel. At least in my case.

Here is a barge approaching the bridge I am standing on, in central Bamberg, a UNESCO village in Franconia, Germany:

And here is the same barge, passing directly under me, carrying what looks like a bit of iron ore:

So what makes me feel so stupid?

The name of this river is the Regnitz.  It caught my attention because of a nearby town called Pulsnitz. And when I looked it up on Wikipedia, in fact the Regnitz is formed by the confluence of – and this is no joke – the Rednitz and Pegnitz.

So, what in the heck is a Nitz?!?!?

I asked a number of locals, including a cab driver who spoke a very intense form of the Franconian dialect (itself a pleasure to hear!) as well as very well educated IT specialists. Sadly, nobody could tell me.

The amazing, incredible Kirchenburgs of Germany!

I’ve lived in Germany and Europe for a long time, but I never stop learning new things.

While driving aimlessly around the German countryside near Bamberg I was attracted to cathedral I spotted from a distance, nestled in a sleepy farming village of very few inhabitants but very many tractors:

It turns out this is no ordinary cathedral, but rather a magnificient example of something I had never heard about before, a Kirchenburg – roughly translated as “church fortress.”

You can certainly see it has a church:

But as you walk around, you see it is indeed a church squarely within a fortress:

And not only that, but it turns out this is the third largest such Kirchenberg in Germany!

9? How can she possibly have 9?

I recently posted a blog about the Indian goddess Durga (one of the must-know Hindu gods for anyone planning a trip to India) and this the photo I showed:

I didn’t think anything of it. But my father flipped out!  Just after seeing it he broke out in a cold sweat – he could not sleep, he could not eat.

For you see, my father is walking weapon, a deadly combination of IT professor and retired Marine Corps “master sniper” who keeps his ultra-long-distance sniping skills very much current indeed. (Aside: he would take me as a small 9-year-old boy to the shooting range, where trained me to hit ping-pong balls and glass marbles at 1’500 meters using a Winchester M1 Garand antique Sniper rifle using metal sights.  At 10 years old he helped me make my first Ghillie suit.) It’s those awesome sniper eyes that caused him to flip out.

“She has NINE arms!” he exploded to me on the phone, “NINE of them! That’s can’t be!  Eight, ok.  Ten – maybe – twelve, if she was a very, very powerful goddess. But the Durga you showed has NINE!”

“Relax, Pops” – actually I never call him pops, but I thought it was a good time to start, “I will look into it and get back to you.

So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I surfed and I Googled and I Binged and I “Wolfram Alpha’d” – no references to nine-arm Gods. So I reached out to my network: I have a large network of very devout Hindu scholars as friends. One of my best friends and religious scholar in general, Jim (his real name is Prabir) answered me in Facebook: I think the number of hands have metaphorical purpose. Indicative of some Divine person who has all the skills as denoted by hands. It also symbolizes the effort it takes to destroy evil in this world even temporarily. My response: go stuff a sock in it (or something to that effect), you don’t have a clue! He agreed – he didn’t know.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Durga can appear in any one of nine different forms (Skondamata, Kusumanda, Shailaputri, Kaalratri, Brahmacharini, Maha Gauri, Katyayani, Chandraghanta, and Siddhidatri), and she can have between 8 and 18 arms. But . . . no 9 arm avatar of Durga is known.

According to my friend Jim: Most likely just an artist’s goof.

 

 

 

Cow line

You can’t take a bad photograph of a good cow, and that even holds true for a whole line of cows!

I took this snap just outside of Winterthur:

I’m not an expert on cows, but I read something interesting: although they are herd animals, indeed there are “alpha” cows, and in group situations they always arrange themselves in such a way that the alphas tend to be in the center – and therefore much harder to reach for predators.

Swiss Police Cruiser

I thought it would be fun to capture police cruisers in different countries. In Switzerland they paint them with a high-vis orange:

What’s more amazing – even unbelievable – there is nothing inside!  My Uncle is a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, and his cruiser is loaded with a rifle, a shotgun, several other weapons that I have promised not to publicly mention – a computer, a high-powered search light.  Interestingly, the computer does have games.

A saint, a bear, and a magnificent city in Switzerland

There are a lot of cultures that have legends of “Big Bad People,” such as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox.  Here’s another one, Saint Gall (550 AD – 646 AD):

According to legend a bear attacked from the woods, but once encountering the saint it became tame and followed him around thereafter.

Anyway, he is the namesake of a truly magnificent abbey, which in turn is the namesake of a truly magnificent city in northeast Switzerland, St. Gallen. I haven’t shown many pics of this city in my blog until now, but I think it’s time to start sharing them – but slowly, otherwise your brain could explode from the majesty of the architecture, as this snap shows:

One tough lady and a lot of well fed rats

The Hindu religions have hundreds if not thousands of gods – but don’t let that deter you. If you have good knowledge of just a small handful of the most famous you’ll have a much more enjoyable and culturally enriching experience in India.

This is one of these must-know gods,  the warrior goddess known as Durga:

Fortunately she is one of the good gods, so evil spirits are well advised to keep clear of all these terrible weapons she is holding.

But she’s not the tough lady I’m talking about.

Interestingly, about the same time as Christopher Columbus realized he missed his goal of India and wound up in the New World instead, there was a famous woman living in the deserts of northeast India named Karni Mata. Something of an ascetic, she founded a number of temples, including this famous temple in the village of Deshnok:

This is what the temple looks like from inside, and in the shot below you can see from the rats drinking from a bowl of milk in the center why it’s known as the Temple of Rats.

Here’s a closeup that I took around breakfast time:

And here’s a shot of the kitchen:

The truly faithful will sit on the ground and eat together with the rats out of the same bowl – and there were plenty of them doing that when I visited – but out of respect I didn’t take any snaps.

By the way, as shown in the snap above and as with all holy places in India, no shoes allowed: so when you go into the temple your feet may be clean, but when you come out they will be covered with rat feces so thick you‘ll need a butter knife just to scrape it off.

 

The Swiss danger is terrifying and – this time – real!

This is the famous Schilthorn nestled high in the Swiss Alps,

And at the cable car station just below this at 2677 m lies the peak called Birg, where they have installed a massive outdoor attraction called the Skyline Walk consisting of chainlink and glass walkways suspended almost three thousand meters above the ground.

You always ASSUME they design these things with huge safety factors in mind. But on a recent visit there part of the glass walkway was cordoned off, and this is the frightening image I saw:

Spot the frog

I work in a building next to a creek – and just next to my building is a small natural spring out of which a stream of water runs into the creek. They’ve turned this into a natural biosphere:

At this time of year it’s filled with algae and water plants and frogs – probably well over a dozen big frogs. See if you can spot the frog:

He’s more or less in the middle:

Weed Shocker

I don’t know how common these things are outside of Switzerland, but at least in Switzerland they are becoming more and more common.

This is it – a weed shocker:

I think their official name is steam weeding machine. Sadly, I don’t know what these machines are called in German, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was something along the lines of Dampfunkrautvernichtungsanlage or Dampfunkrautbereinigungsmaschine.

The idea is to kill weeds dead by blasting them with extremely high temperature steam, rather than by the use of chemicals.  Presently, the Swiss Federal Railways use a carcinogenic weed killer to keep their rails clean and free of weeds – they plan to convert to 100% weed shockers in the next few years.

Bruderthal Brücke

These are the Venusfigurinen von Petersfells, historical works of art discovered in South Germany that date back to Ice Age times:

And this is the Bruderthal Bridge in southern Germany:

Technically speaking, it is not a bridge; it is a viaduct.

The Bruderthal, or Brother Valley, is an interesting place located in the heart of a region (Hegau) that is home to many dozens of extinct volcanoes. It is the home of the Eiszeitpark – or Ice Age Park. And it’s here where scientists in the early 20th century discovered the remains of a massive human settlement. When you consider that the glaciers of the Wurm ice age in this part of Europe were many kilometers thick, it is truly amazing that our human ancestors could eke out a living at all!

Possessed artist – or brain parasite?

This is late Swiss artist H.R. Giger (1940 – 2014):

He is famous as the creator of the terrifying extraterrestrial creature in the Alien movie series, which looks like this:

Well, there is also museum in the Swiss town of Gruyère that has literally hundreds of his works spread out over many floors. Sadly, you are not allowed to take photographs inside the museum, so I tried to respect that. But outside of the museum there are a few of his pieces, such as:

And

And

Now to be honest I don’t really know anything about H. R. Giger, although I am sure there are people who do, so what follows may seem a bit absurd – but please bear with me.

The first thing that hits you is that all of the hundreds of pieces are very nearly the same, the Alien creature being perhaps the penultimate version of what you see. But they are all just tiny variations on this theme.

Now keeping this in mind when you see the flabbergastingly huge number of pieces, most of them very large and requiring a signficant time investment to create, the first thing I thought of was obsession – as if he were a mad character with a single image in his brain that he could not free himself from.

And THAT led me to the speculation that perhaps he was not mad. Perhaps he was the victim of a disease similar to toxoplasmosis gondi. There are in fact hundreds of different “zombie parasites” that infect animals and cause dramatic changes in their behavior.  Perhaps a parasite had infected his brain and was creating images he could not free himself from.

 

 

Attack of the cows

Even if when threatening to attack you, good cows make for good photographs:

I simply stopped to take a snap during my daily 15 km Nordic walk through the Winterthur hillside, when not only this cow but all of her sisters started running towards me. Since there was only a very thin single strand of electric fence, and since this cow looked easily more than 500 kg, I didn’t hang around long enough to see what would happen.

Project headaches are not always universal

This is not the building where I live:

But it is in the same complex, and when the complex was renovated last year I got to meet and exchange some experiences with the project manager for the double-digits renovation.  We seemed about the same age and the same level of experience. But although I manage projects in IT, I thought we really had a few good things in common. For example, quality.

According to him the source of some of his biggest headaches was  “I told you to drill a hole in this wall, at this height; you drilled it in the wrong wall, at the wrong height.” Now, maybe I‘ve just been lucky to work with great people, but my quality issues have always been along the lines of developers who want to goldplate their solutions – not developers who don‘t deliver the expected quality.

But about a year later, I took on the role of building facilities manager at Swissport, where I managed the consolidation and move of the entire IT department into a brand new building. And in fact, sooner not later, I ran into exactly the same challenge: our network architect spent an entire day and he very, very carefully measured our WLAN signal strength and determined exactly the right spot to mount each and every wireless access point for optimal strength and coverage. But the contractors I hired did exactly the wrong thing, despite both drawings and verbal instructions, mounting them on exactly the wrong walls in exactly the wrong locations!  

It was an amazing privilege for me to get a little insight into projects that are a bit different than IT. And it was a treat to experience the same project struggles that a real building renovation project manager told me about!

Morella

Valencia, Spain, is the home of the majestic Valencian language – although  most people know its dialectical form, Catalan, somewhat better. And deep in the Valencian countryside sits a hill, and high on the hill sits the medieval village of Morella. The village dates back to Roman times, and in fact it is surrounded by ancient Roman aquaducts:

It’s one of those difficult places to capture photographically, just because it is so big and impressive. But what I remember the most was thinking what it must have been like for the Romans living here, raising their children in the hopes they become great Roman Legionnaires, warriors, fierce gladiators, or lion hunters.

Today, the situation with children is a bit different: the swords are gone, none of them has slaughtered a wild animal, and instead these children are sitting and playing Nintendo.

My passion when I travel is to identify those local things, well known in a place but unheard of outside of it. In this part of Spain, this would have to be flaons,