Amazing Grasse: medieval village of perfume

The French culture is obsessive compulsive in many regards.

For one, there are a few villages that are not just well known for a particular trade, but in fact are obsessive about it.

Theirs in central France is one example I’ve blogged about. 90% of all cutlery in France is made in the tiny village of Thiers.

Grasse in southern France is another.  Here is a snap I took while in Grasse, overlooking the valley below:

Grasse’s claim to fame is the perfume industry. Almost two thirds of all scents in France are manufactured here.

Brain exploding experience – Gordes!

If you have a brain and you like your brain, and you don’t want your brain to accidentally explode, then you should best avoid this place!

Because visiting Gordes in Southern France is a truly brain exploding experience!

Here is a snap is the spectacular village of Gordes, located in Southern France:

The village dates back to Roman times and is located high on the top of a rock outcropping. Over the centuries the stone buildings and the rock outcropping itself have merged and melted into one another.

I’ll post a few more pics when time permits but with a long delay in between. Too many snaps of this place, too frequently, and there is a good chance your brain may explode!


Unbelievable plague of birds in Southern France

While driving across the French countryside in Southern France, I happened upon an usual sight – a dark gray cloud that I though was smoke from a fire.

But as I got nearer, I realized it was no smoke and no fire, but rather thousands upon thousands of birds!  This sight was so spectacular I had to stop and take a snap. The birds you see here are just a tiny, tiny fraction of them – many, many others were located on the other side of the building. Conservatively, I’d have to estimate there were at least 1 zillion birds:

Now, I’ve seen beautifully choreographed flights of birds in the skies above Rome, tracing out Lissajous-like figures. But this was nothing of the sort. It was a chaotic mess.

I have speculated about plagues of swallows in France. Sadly, I am not a bird watcher, so I can’t tell you why these birds gathered here, in the middle of winter, and what exactly they were hoping to accomplish.

Würm flowers

Continuing the series, I took this snap in a field in Alsace,

What’s amazing to me about it are two things. The plants are stuck on the ground and remind me of starfish.

And the high number of flat, polished rocks is certainly a vestige of the last ice age in this area, in which a massive glacier (known as the Würm) covered this area.


Minerals in rural France are MIND BLOWING – 3

Continuing the series, I’ve warned you that Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and Sainte-Croix-aus-Mines are places where tourists are advised to keep out.

Keep well out, that is, except for two days every year, during the summer, when they become home to one of the world’s LARGEST and most MIND-BLOWING gem and mineral show on the planet, namely, the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines International Gem and Mineral Show.

During this time, the villages are visited by literally hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.  And every square inch of the villages is occupied by the stands of gem and mineral dealers from all over the world (52 countries at last count!) selling their gems and minerals.

The village center is filled with dozens upon dozens of stands:

The church courtyards are all filled with dozens and dozens of stands:

And in fact, during these two days, each and every village office building is open to the public and filled with yet more stands. No space goes unwasted. For example, the local indoor pool is also filled with stands:

Minerals in rural France are MIND BLOWING – 2

Continuing the series, I’ve said that Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and Sainte-Croix-aux-Mines are extremely rural French villages where even tourists are advised to stay well away.

Well, if you do risk life and limb and find yourself here, you won’t be surprised to see vestiges of the Roman mines everywhere.

Here, for example, right in the middle of the downtown area there is an ancient Roman mine shaft that has been turned into a flower garden.

Minerals in rural France are MIND BLOWING – 1

Before we talk about the minerals, lets talk about the place.

Nestled deep in the most rural of rural regions in France sit two little villages, Saint-Marie-aux-Mines and Sainte-Croix-aux-Mines.

To visit, you need just two things.

First, you need a damn good GPS navigation system in your car – or you might not arrive. These villages are tiny, and they are remote, and the people who live here do their best to keep visitors away.

And second, you need a damn good measure of courage, because the rural French don’t take too kindly to foreigners – so you might not depart. I am not kidding when I say going here unaccompanied is something the French Gendarmerie do not recommend.

Even with Google maps it’s hard to find these places until you turn the magnification up to the highest levels:

And what of these places?  These were the places where, even long, long before the Middle Ages, the tough, fearless Romans risked their health and their lives to mine silver and precious metals from mines deep underground. And today the tough, fearless inhabitants of these villages are the descendants of those Romans – brutal, not afraid of pain, not afraid of hard work, and not suffering either fools or visitors lightly.


Train Storks

Storks. I’ve written about transformer storks, house storks, monument storks, and Bodensee storks. And now to add to my collection of storks, train storks!

This fellow set up shop at the Basel Bahnhof, and as you can see from this snap he looks rather proud of himself:

Technically, he is geolocated in Switzerland – but legally, he is residing in the French area of the Bahnhof.

Black Church – 2

Continuing the series, still not what you probably think when you hear the term black church:

My passion is blind exploration – not guided tourism. So for me, the French city of Claremont-Ferrand is one of those truly magnificent, unplanned, unexpected discoveries that keeps me going back to France, time and again, even though there are other countries close by with impressive things to see: it’s an amazing, mind-blowing city that almost no one outside of France has ever heard of, or likely ever will.

Half of the Apostles – and a Holy Grail Mystery!

I don’t know if they are or if they aren’t, but I took this snap in Paris at the famous Cathedral of Notre-Dame, and they have circles around their heads, so it is not unreasonable to think this:

As you can see, the second one from the right (oddly) sports no beard. Could this perhaps really be Mary Magdelena? After all, this figure is carrying a chalice . . .

Another mystery for me to clear up one day!


Local French oddity becomes INTERNATIONAL MYSTERY!

They don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes in Alsace- never have, likely never will.  So in a recent blog I observed was quite odd for the French to take time from their favorite hobby (namely, wrapping historical buildings in atrocious glass bubbles) to build a nuclear-war-proof bird house, complete with high strength structural steel and (I assume) titanium bolts attached to a deep rebar-reinforced concrete piling:

To me, this was an oddity but no more than that.

But . . . something amazing happened this week. The situation has now suddenly turned from French oddity to international mystery!

For this week I spotted exactly the same type of bird bunker, in a completely different country!

This high strength bird bunker is located near the Zurich airport in Switzerland – and unlike France, outside of the European Union!

So it is now truly an international mystery: who designed this bunker?  Who decided where and when it would be used? Who paid for it? Who maintains it? And especially, when someone decided this was needed, how did they go about sourcing it?  I haven’t checked, but I am pretty sure the local do-it-yourself stores don’t stock massive bird bunkers!

Bubble architecture – 5

Continuing the series, maybe this is even the first bubble that kicked the movement off?

By movement I mean the French wrapping historical buildings in atrocious glass bubbles.

To be fair, the earliest example of bubble architecture I know is the encasement of the computer sciences building at the University of Illinois in a bubble; and also to be fair, there are some extraordinary examples of bubble architecture, such as the Gare Central in Strasbourg.

Cathedral Symmetry

In a few other blog posts I’ve complained that the great European cathedrals are simply the wrong size to photograph well.  But more than this: they present a conflict situation between the needs of the human brain and the needs of the camera.

The cathedrals are too large: no problem for the human brain but the photos always look skewed; and at the same time the cathedrals are too small: the photos would look fine at a distance but the human brain would miss the needed details.

Perhaps I’ve come up with a solution?

Here is the what was the tallest building in the world for a long, long time, and remains the centerpiece of Strasbourg:

But I’ve tried to capture it from a unique angle:

Bubble architecture – 4

Continuing the series,  I’ve blogged about a trend that I’ve seen mostly in France, in which historical buildings are encased in glass bubbles. Sadly, almost every example I have seen to date has been atrocious.

But one example stands apart, and it may be the biggest bubble of them all: the giant glass bubble encasing the Gare Central in Strasbourg:

I don’t want to exaggerate and provide fuel more more atrocious bubbles in France, but this example show above is, in my opinion, truly magnificent.

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.