Blodelsheim Sprinkler

I’ve always wanted to try photographing these things, but until now I never have. This is my first photograph of one. I felt I could have got some spectacular shots, even in the dark and overcast weather, but I did not feel like crushing the hardworking Alsacian farmer’s corn.

The great swallow plague of Rumersheim le Haut

Well, there was probably never a plague of swallows at the tiny hamlet in Alsace called Rumersheim le Haut. In fact, while there have been plagues of locusts and plagues of disease, there was probably never a plague of swallows, anywhere.

But nevertheless I could not believe my eyes when I came across this bird house, right smack dab in the middle of the village:

If you look closely, you’ll see not only that it was designed to withstand a F5 tornado (which has never happened in Alsace, either) and that it sports tiny gray swallow enclosures on the underside of the platform.

There must have been swallow babies in there, because I could hear them squeaking.

Urban Mysteries – 1

There are a number of urban mysteries for me.

One mystery is why they paint tall structures with red and white.

This is a snap I took of a transmission tower in Alsace in France:

And this is a snap I took of a nuclear cooling tower in New York:

The mystery is why different countries use exactly the same approach?  Is this an international ISO standard?

(By the way, that big dome in the photo above is the enclosure to the nuclear reactor. I was only around 20 years old at the time, but I had a security clearance to work on the so-called operations deck from which they directly controlled the reactor.  I was quite probably the youngest person in America to have this clearance. It was quite cool because there was a retina scanner to get in, and once you entered you walked into a metal cage. Once in the cage, one guard pointed a gun at you while the other checked your badge.  This was the 1980’s, the Cold War was in full swing, and they didn’t take any chances.)

Transmission Tower

Nothing special about this one – it just struck me that this high tension transmission tower was standing over the streetlight like the Giant might stand over Jack:

I’m not an expert in this stuff, but it struck me that the cables are in pairs – rather than in bundles of threes. Does this mean that this is ordinary two-phase AC power, rather than the more common three phase that you’d expect to be transmitted on a overhead power line? Or, is each phase carried on a separate tier of the structure?

Hydroelectric Roundabout – 1

This is a hydropower generating station located on the Rhine River in France, just across the border from Switzerland:

It makes a pretty picture, but what impressed me even more was this Rond-Point (roundabout) that I spotted very near to the power station:

Spread out over the Rond-Point are all the mechanical components used to turn the flow of water into electricity.

Innovation in Ashes

I spotted this very innovative cigarette dispenser in the French department of Haut-Rhin:

Supposedly, you discard your cigarette butt according to which sports team you support.  But if you stop and think a bit: do you drop your butt below the team you favor, to show your support – or do you drop your butt at the team you least favor, thereby giving them your butt (so to speak)?

When you stop to think about it, there is really a big assumption built in!

Terrifying, intimidating, threatening stork

Ok, maybe it is not so terrifying, intimidating, and threatening, but nevertheless a stork walking around a highway rest area in Eastern France is really something to see.

You can try all you want to tempt this fellow with potato chips, but unless you have a bag of fresh frogs or live mice, you’ll hardly be able to get his attention.

I am not sure why, but I find storks quite interesting, and you can find a number of examples of them on my blog in different countries.

(Trivia: scientists have recently learned that these European storks learn their flying skills from their social group.  If a baby stork is taught by an expert flyer, then each winter he/she will travel to and overwinter in North Africa. But if a baby stork learns from a stork with lessor flying skills, he/she will overwinter in Spain. Apparently – and this is the amazing bit – if a scientist attaches an accelerometer to a stork to measure their flight, then in the first 10 seconds of flight the scientists can recognize to which category of flyer the stork belongs: African super-flyer or more relaxing Spanish-flyer.  I am not sure if the scientists understand which storks are happier.)

Bubble architecture in Sélestat – 3

I’ve recently written about what I call “bubble architecture,” particularly in France, in which historical buildings are somehow encased in glass bubbles.  When done right, it can be magnificent. When done wrong, it can be atrocious, as this example shown here.

Recently I stumbled across this example in the Alsacian village of Sélestat,

Many European buildings are under historical protection, and this means that modern changes to correct building problems (such as doors not sealing properly and hence leading to wasted energy costs) are often forbidden.  Hence there is often a motive for encasing a building or a portal in glass.

When viewed as in this photograph, it doesn’t look that bad.  But when viewed from the human perspective in the middle of the town square, it looks absolutely hideous.

Garbage in Alsace

I’ve blogged about garbage in Texas, garbage in Germany, garbage in Switzerland – including the famous underground Swiss recycling cysterns! – and a recent trip to Alsace has given me to chance now to show how they handle garbage in Alsace, at least in the commune of Seléstat.

Voilà, because the French always say voilà before they point to something:

If you have a closer look at the machines / kiosks, they look like this, voilà:

In the Swiss system, anyone can dump their trash into the chute for free – but the trash needs to be packed into a plastic bag sold by the city (a roll of 15 bags of 35 L each costs around CHF 20), which means the residents are encumbered to buy special bags and pack their trash accordingly.

Here, the residents can use any bags of their choice – or no bags – but the chute can only be opened by someone with an RFID card. While I’ve never personally used the Alsacian Seléstat system, it does seem to be both more user friendly (it is a lot of hassle to buy the bags) and environmentally friendly (why use an extra plastic bag when you may not need one).

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!

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.

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:

 

 

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.

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.