The Great Mystery of Fire Lake

Not too far from downtown Stuttgart, Germany, sits a very small park with a very small pond but a very huge cathedral:


What is NOT a mystery is what these things are: The pond is called the Feuersee (in German, “fire lake”) – and the cathedral is called the Johanneskirche.  The church was built in 1864, so it is relatively new – but you can still see some damage from bombing in World War II.  The pond was created somewhat earlier, in 1701. It was designed as a small reservoir for fighting fires, hence the name, Fire Lake.

What the MYSTERY is: how did this Fire Lake actually work?

In the middle of the pond you can see three intake pipes (one of them is shown in the photo above) – but where exactly did the water go?  How was it pumped out?  Was it transported to horse-drawn fire wagons, or was something more sophisticated in place?

Having living nearly 10 years in Germany, I’ve visited the Feuersee many times – but I’ve never seen any historical placques that describe how all this worked – or when/if they stopped using it.

Amazing Horse-Scavaging Birds of Provence

Well, even if nobody else thinks they are amazing, I do.

While driving around the south of France, include Provence and The Camargue, I spotted quite a number of horses grazing, and underneath them and surrounding them were whole flocks of strange white birds.

This pic has a somewhat bad quality: I took it while driving and (no kidding!) being followed by a police car!

But I think you get the idea:

I have no idea what kinds of birds these are – but I assume they eat any small insects that appear when the horse grazes.

Frustrating France

If you’ve ever driven around the south of France, you know how frustrating it can be. You’ll find spectacular villages and chateaus high on the French hills – but no easy way to get up to see them.

While driving on an Autoroute through the French Alps near Savoie I spotted this castle high on a high, and I decided enough was enough: I was going to drive up there!

It took over an hour to leave the Autoroute and, even with my GPS, find the right roads.  Here’s a view as I got closer:

Amazingly, when I finally reached the place, it was closed!  A sign on the wall said that it was now privately owned, and it was open to the public only a few days each month.

Still, the trip up here was not a waste of time, since I got a breathtaking view of the plains of Savoie, as the sun was just coming out and burning off the ground fog:

UNESCO fails to impress in Orange

If you’ve spent time reading my blog, you’ll see plenty of entries that show the incredible UNESCO monuments scattered around the world.  Well, at least in the French city of Orange, UNESCO fails to impress.

This is the Roman Theater from the outside:

And this is the Roman Theater from the inside, looking towards the stage:


And this is Roman Theater from the inside, looking towards the seats:

Any Roman ruin this large is impressive, to be sure.  And the fact that it dates back to 40 BC is also pretty spectacular. But . . .  compared with the usual magnitude of UNESCO sites, this one falls a bit short of many of the others.

What I thought was most impressive were not the well-worn stairs, eroded after centuries of use (and probably even more amazing when you think most people were either barefoot or wearing soft leather sandals):

No, what I thought was most amazing were the arabic, rather than Roman, numbers!

Warsaw

As seen from my hotel room, this is the famous “Palace of Culture and Science” in Warsaw, or rather, how it looked about a decade ago:

At least when I visited, it looked like the building was mostly empty.  And here’s the same building, that I captured from the street level:

The Amazing Plane Trees of Provence

This might look like any other tree-lined street, but it’s not!

These are no ordinary trees.  And this is no ordinary street lining.  I took this snap somewhere between Sénas and Salone-de-Provence.

These are plane trees planted carefully on both sides of the street, and in fact this street lining continues for well over 20 kilometers!  According to what I’ve read, Napoleon ordered the planting of zillions of these trees along the roadsides in France, to give shade to the army troops when they marched from town to town.

Valuable resource for IT project managers

I rarely use my blog to give reviews, but in this case I can’t resist. A long time colleague from our HP days and still a very good friend of mine, Mario Neumann, has used his passions for training, leadership, and project management to create some very valuable and very high quality resources: his website, his books, his podcasts, his trainings, and especially, his project management application.

Here’s a screenshot of his application:

And here’s a screenshot of his webpage, http://marioneumann.com/

(Yes, you can easily mistake him for Ray Mears!)

But where Mario really shines is in his trainings, which can integrate wide ranging topics such as psychology and human behavior, to present a truly unique approach to management.

Only bad news: because he focusses on the German market, most of his collaterals are only available in the German language. Hopefully that will one day change!

 

The Hague

I don’t know why exactly, but growing up in America I could not be more impressed when I heard news reports coming out of “The Hague.” I thought any city referred to as “The” must be a highly advanced, mysterious place populated by the world’s smartest and most savviest ambassadors and diplomats.

Sometimes the truth can be a little less captivating. The Hague is the American equivalent of Den Haag. And it is nothing more than a city in the Netherlands – albeit it one of Europe’s biggest cities.  But even today, to my American ears – any city with a “the” in front of it must truly be an amazing and important city!

Recently The Hague is in the news due to the International Court of Justice. I only visited The Hague for the first time a few years ago, and sadly the weather was so bad I took very few pictures. But a few pictures are worth printing, especially given the recent news stories coming out of the International Court of Justice:

And I thought the World Peace Flame was also quite interesting:

Apparently, in a highly symbolic act a number of other eternal flames were united to create this flame.

ASIDE: If you haven’t realized it already, there are a handful of places that start with “the,” depending of course on your language.  The country where I live, Switzerland, is a case in point: in the German language it is known as Die Schweiz.  Of course, it makes sense to add the definite article when talking about place with a noun e.g. The Czech Republic or The Dominican Republic or The Marshall Islands. But The Philippines and The Netherlands and a few others stand as noun-less examples!

 

Carrières de Lumières – MIND BLOWING!

If you find yourself in South France, and if you are even as far away as 3-4 hours from the Provence village of Les Baux de Provence – one day you will deeply regret not spending double this time to travel here and experience this attraction!

What is Carrières de Lumières ?

Les Baux de Provence is a medieval village perched high on a limestone outcropping in the Provence countryside,

But that is not the amazing bit.

Carrières de Lumières is a stunning, amazing, breathtaking attraction, open to the public and located deep underneath the city, in a huge cavern where, centuries before, limestone was excavated. Even the chance to stand in this place and experience the colossal magnitude of the limestone quarry is amazing:

The limestone hall is probably larger than a football field, and the ceilings are nearly 20 meters tall.

But this is still not the amazing bit.

The amazing bit is what happens when they turn out the indoor lights, and when huge digital projectors flood every square centimeter of walls, floor, and ceiling with animated artwork synchronized with rich stereo music in the background.  As the light show begins you are free to walk around.  These few stills do not do the experience justice:

These are not random pictures of art, but rather art that showcases particular medieval artists. When I visited, the theme was based on the works of  Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516), Brueghel (a family from 1525 to around 1719) , and Guiseppi Arcimboldo (1527-1593).

You can only begin to appreciate the power of this place when you see the live motion and hear the music. I tried to capture of a bit of that here at these links:

 

 

World’s smallest country?

Nope – not even close!  Although a microscopic 160 km2 (62 square miles), there are a whopping FIVE countries smaller than Liechtenstein:

Leichtenstein is a tiny country, organized as a monarchy headed by a prince, nestled on the Alps covered border between Switzerland and Austria. The snap above was taking IN Lichtenstein, looking down at the flat flood plain of the Rhein River, which forms the border between Liechtenstein on this side, and Switzerland on the far side.)

Living in Switzerland as I do, over the years I’ve gotten to know many people from Liechtenstein.  Perhaps coincidentally (or perhaps not) almost all of them all have light skin with very dark black hair – but all of them are very nice and very well educated.

Smiling Lion and Rotary Dial Telephone

Warsaw, Poland, is an amazing place, filled with lots of old stuff.

The lions at the presidential palace, in Warsaw, Poland, date back to the year 1821:

Probably, the telephone in my hotel room dates back even longer:

Interestingly, if you’re like me the sight of an old rotary dialphone immediately brings back the sound I used to hear when I dialed it.  If you are interested in more “obsolete sounds” like this, there is a fabulous website called the Museum of Endangered Sounds that tries to record and store sounds like this for posterity.

Cassis

This is NOT cassis:

Technically, it’s “Creme de Cassis” and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Village of Cassis, located on France’s southern coast.

This is now probably one of my favorite snaps, taken as the evening winter sun illuminated the harbor:

And just around the corner I spotted the locals playing pétanque in the town square:

I’ve still never really wrapped my head completely around why people in the south of Europe are more outwardly social in this regard, spending more time outside with their neighbors.  A site like this would be strange anywhere in, for example, Alsace.

WeChat and the Great IT Divide between East and West

First things first: this is my WeChat QR code:

If you’re like I was until recently, you’ve probably never heard of WeChat. And that is the AMAZING part – that you’ve never heard of it.  Because it is the top social networking service in China, and it is used by around ONE BILLION PEOPLE!

In fact, as I travelled around the southern Chinese island of Hainan, I was impressed that just about every store, and every product in every store, sported a QR code.

This points to the real crux of the situation: a MASSIVE amount of IT in the West, and a MASSIVE amount of IT in the East, and yet despite all this, two huge universes with much little exchange between them than you might think.

I first learned about WeChat on a recent business trip to China.  All my Chinese IT colleagues and IT business partners were eager that we connect.  In fact, even in formal business meetings, instead of the initial round of swapping business cards, we spent the time scanning each other’s WeChat QR codes.

WeChat is a lot more than just instant messaging: it is online payment, email, and a host of other services rolled into one.

And . . . all content and communication with WeChat is strictly controlled by the Chinese government.  All posts and chats are filtered, and any words or topics that do not meet government standards are filtered out.

Final thought: a fabulous website shows the statistics about the number of languages that comprise the Internet:

Join the Legion!

No, I’m not planning to join the Legion Etrangier, also known as the French Foreign Legion.

But I did visit their recruiting truck, which I thought made an amazing site parked just across from the Roman Coloseum in the French city of Nimes,

Inside the truck, with the music of Bolero playing in the background, I spend a wonderful time practicing my French with two older legionnaire officers who you could tell from their body language that they had seen a lifetime of combat.

Outside, I also chatted in French with some of the younger soldiers, who all told me they were mostly from other countries, not from France itself, although there were some French among them. Sadly, my French is not yet that good to understand when they tried to explain why there were French in the Legion, not just foreigners.

Interestingly, when I returned later in the day, the truck was full of young men – so I guess they were successful in their recruiting efforts.

World’s largest building with no indoor supports

Well, I read this somewhere, but I don’t know if it is true.

This is a common sight on the A1 Autobahn in Switzerland, and I must have passed by it dozens of times. So I recently left the Autobahn to see how close I could get to this structure. Turns out: you can get as close as you want!

But what is this place?  It turns out that Americans do not have a monopoly on toxic waste dumps.

This building is a huge, hermetically sealed hall that covers a toxic waste dump. For years, the Swiss just dumped their toxic waste into the ground here, until they realized it was seeping into the nearby river.  So they built a massive hall over the dump, and inside they use airtight bulldozers and other airtight construction equipment to remove the toxic waste and package it up to be sent to a modern facility that can safely burn it.  I found these snaps on the Internet,

Unfortunately, the picture I took does not do justice to the size and enormity of this building, so below I am posting an arial snap I downloaded from the internet:

Apparently, the site has now been cleaned up – so I am not quite sure how long the building will be left intact.

Vendredi Noir?

I knew all about the famous start of the American Christmas shopping season called Black Friday. It starts on the day after Thanksgiving, also an American holiday.

So I was quite surprised to see how the Black Friday craze has spread to France, a country that does not celebrate Thanksgiving. I took this snap in Toulon, a seaside village on south coast of France:

What’s more: they call it “Black Friday!”  (Maybe one day they’ll say “Quarter pounder with cheese” but today it’s still called a Royal Cheese.)

Amazing Roundabouts – 1

Roundabouts in Europe are amazing things!

But first, what is a roundabout?  Depending on where you live they are also known as rotaries, traffic circles, Kreisverkehr (German), Rotonda (Spanish), or Rond-Point (French).  So I hope I don’t I need any more explanation than that!

According to Wikipedia, there are examples that date back to the 1700’s. But using the Google NGram viewer, I found the word “roundabout” first came into print around 1576.

But this is not a history lesson – it is a blog post!  The key point is that especially in Europe roundabouts are typically places for the villages and communities to install truly breathtaking artwork.

I took this snap of a roundabout just outside of the village of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, buried deep within the Savoie region of France:

This village is famous for Opinel knives, not for bicycles – but many bicycle races do pass through this village every year, so perhaps that was the motivation for this piece?

Büsingen am Hochrhein – A German island in Switzerland

Büsingen am Hochrhein is an amazing, amazing place.

But you would not know it when you drive into the village:

And you would not know it when you drive out of the village:

It’s really only amazing when you stop to think that it is a GERMAN village, but nestled entirely within the country of SWITZERLAND, as this map shows:

Interestingly, there were a number of villages along the German/Swiss border which, until just a few years ago, did not belong to one country or the other.