Mysore Market

Today the city it’s officially known as Mysuru, after a movement that has seen the “Re-Indification” of many names in India (Bombay / Mumbai, Calcutta / Kolkata . . . you get the idea).  Anyway, this picture I took just outside of the Devaraja Market is still one of my favorites:

In most every South Indian market I’ve visited, the stalls selling colored powder seem always to be right in the front:

It’s been a while since I’ve visited – and to be honest, I am not sure if the market is still there today. I remember reading a few years ago that part of it collapsed.

Cannes is just plain wierd

As an American I was eager to visit Cannes, since we hear so much about this famous French coastal town.  On the one hand, if the weather is nice there are a few pretty views here:

But by and large, the impression I got was that it was for the ultra-affluent who had a need to show other people who ultra-affluent they were.  For example, the beaches are about as totally unspectacular as you can get:

But, I did find one thing that appealed to me: a church dating back to the Middle Ages, now almost inaccessible by foot, having been almost completely buried in what are now back alleys and fully enclosed by hotels:

Achter Lok

In German I call them “Achter Loks” – but probably nobody else does.  In English, the closest translation I could think of might be “the eight train.”

These Re 460 locomotives are a common sight for anyone in Switzerland:

The reason I call them Achter Loks is that all the main design parameters all have to do with the number 8:

  • They have 8 wheels
  • They weigh 80 tons
  • They have around 8000 horsepower

The other cool fact I always remember: when a fully loaded train pulled by one of these locomotives brakes from high speed to a stop, this one braking event uses about the same amount of energy that a family of 4 will spend in one month – and that gives you a good glimpse into just how important electrical energy is for the Swiss Federal Railways.

One cool feature is that these locomotives all have names – and although I don’t like to brag, I started an Internet project to photograph each of the 100+ locomotives.

Home of blue jeans

Just as the villages and towns of central and northern Europe are filled with ancient buildings dating back to the Renaissance, the villages and towns of southern Europe are filled with ancient buildings dating back much further, to the Roman empire.

Here is a Roman building, still in wonderful condition today, at the heart of the town of Nimes in Southern France:

It’s here in this town (Nimes) that the fabric used for blue jeans (denim) was first made famous.

The famous “ossuary swallows of Verdun”

You’ve probably never heard of the world-famous “Ossuary Swallows of Verdun” – but I predict in a generation you will!

Very recently a huge and impressive ossuary was erected on a hilltop in Verdun, as a memorial to the tragic lives that were taken in World War I.  The ossuary looks incredible from a distance:

It also looks incredible close-up:

It looks even more incredible inside – but since it is a religious site I chose not to photograph the inside, which includes a chapel.

But back to the swallows.  The entrance to this huge building is open, and a huge flock of swallows seems to have taken advantage of this as their new home.  As you walk in and out, supersonic sparrows travelling faster than the speed of sound buzz by your head almost too fast for you to see them.

They are easy to spot if you look out over the cemetery,  since the skies are filled with them:

It took me about 30 tries with my mobile phone camera, but last I was able to capture one of these hypersonic birds in flight:

You can see the little fellow racing out of the building, just to the center of left and towards the bottom.



Seven unusual houses near Appenzell

You’ve probably read my post about the artwork of Swiss artist Udo Rondinone, Seven Magic Mountains.

Well, here’s Seven Unusual Houses!

While driving around the beautiful countryside near Appenzell, I spotted a huge field with seven identical houses arranged neatly in a row:

OK, I think I can safely rule out the “seven dwarves retirement community!”

Now if this were in the U.S., particular in a place like Texas, this would be easy to explain. Whole villages and towns (complete with banks and schools and train stations) were created by private companies and offered at low cost to European immigrants, to encourage (or exploit) immigration to new areas.

But here in Switzerland?  This is something I really need to research!

What motivated me to stop and take this snap was not the houses at all, but the rather unusual crucifix – typically they tend to be stone, but this one was gilded:

When blog passions collide

If you’ve spent any time reading my blog, then you’ll know about a few of my blog passions. These are Hidden Canals, erstwhile important public works projects that today are slowly slipping into away from our perception; Great European Cathedrals, of which the greatest are generally in the tiniest towns and villages that no tourists ever visit; and Unknown French Villages, unknown by all but the locals, never visited by tourists, and yet holding amazing treasures.

So you can imagine my joy when I stumbled across this site in Chalon-en-Champagne, no less than a hidden canal, next to a great European cathedral, in an unknown French village.

The Hidden Courtyards of Zürich

Every summer tourists flock to Zürich, the most expensive city in the most expensive country in Europe. And they walk around and they see the sights.

But most of them do so quite unaware of some real wonders that Zürich has to offer, namely, hidden courtyards.

Just off of the Bahnhofstrasse shopping district, you couldn’t be blamed for walking past this opening, hardly glancing inside, and thinking it was a driveway.

But in fact, if you walk through, it is one of Zürich’s best-kept secrets: one of the many, many hidden courtyards, filled with huge trees, park benches, and historic water fountains, some of them dating back to the Middle Ages:

How can wonders be so quickly forgotten?

It amazes me that some incredible things – well known to everyone at the time – are too easily forgotten and left for the archaeologists and accidental discoveries centuries later.

In one of the central plazas in the northern Swiss town of Winterthur you’ll see this:

It looks like a boring picture of a boring plaza, at the corner of which sits strange (but boring`) gray metal object, about the same size and shape as a garbage can.

And that’s what most people probably think that it is.

But they’d be wrong!  In fact, this is an observation portal built above a set of huge underground water cisterns. Apparently, I was told, these water cisterns were only very recently discovered while installing a new water fountain in the plaza.

If you peer down the portal and activate the light switch, it looks like this:

I still haven’t done any research of my own into this topic.  I was told that there were regular wars and fighting during the Middle Ages for as long as there were the Middle Ages. This culminated in a war between the city of Winterthur and the city of Zürich – and these cisterns were created as an emergency defensive measure, deep within the Winterthur city walls, so that the inhabitants could have access to water during times of siege.

When you think of Switzerland, a shortage of drinkable water is the last thing you’re likely to think about – and that shows how different our lives and experiences are today from those that went before us during the Middle Ages.

What other wonders are buried beneath Winterthur, awaiting accidental discovery?

Gabriel in Zürich – The true backstory

If you’ve read my post about Historical Jewry in Zurich, I might have left a few details out. Here’s the “backstory” as told by my father of Uncle Eddy Speaks Up fame:

Gabriel felt uneasy in Zurich at the best of times.  The Swiss have made it clear that he was not welcome. But he was back.  Worse, he was about to enter the old Synagogengasse and he didn’t much care for company. And yet here, in the evening mist, was someone else, pretending to read the plaque that told of the old pogroms there and holding a cell phone camera.

Gabriel’s hand went under the black slicker he wore and gripped the Beretta in the small of his back.  Standing in the shadows was a figure, quite tall and seemingly bald, he held a baseball cap to as to get closer to the plaque that marked the end of the alley. No one went to Synagogengasse, not even Jewish tourists.  Gabriel hoped that this was a coincidence, and that his cover wasn’t blown. No one was supposed to know he was in Zurich.

This was not a time for caution, and against his better judgment he had to move.  He slipped up quietly behind the stranger, pulling the Beretta, and jammed it into his ribs.  “If you want to live”, Gabriel said, “tell me who sent you.”

“Hey, man, quit the gun stuff”, said the stranger.  “I’m Ken, and I live here in Zurich”.  Gabriel’s eyes narrowed: “You have a slightly American accent – Ken.  If that’s your name.  And why take a picture of the Synagogengasse plaque?”

The stranger pushed the Beretta away from his ribs, and said: “the pictures are for my blog, you moron.  I travel all over the region – France, Germany, Italy – take interesting pictures and publish them in my blog.  This is a little known Jewish relic in Zurich and I wanted to see it.   I was trying to read the plaque when you came sneaking up, you jackass”.

Suddenly, it made sense to Gabriel.  “Wait a minute.  Ken —  blog — Zurich.  You’re Mr. Tradecraft’s friend Ken?”   “That’s right”, said Ken, now uneasy at the mention of the seldom-spoken name.   “I’m sorry.”, said Gabriel, “I’ll just slip away quietly and leave you to your reading.  Have you heard from Mr. T, lately?”

Ken looked at him, and made a what-a-dumb-ass-you-are face. “When Mr. T wants you to know where he is, he’ll call you.”

Bubble Architecture – 2

In a recent post I’ve talked about a trend I’ve seen – particularly in France, but France is not alone – to enclose historic buildings in glass facades.  I call it bubble architecture.

If done right, it can compliment the existing architecture.

If done wrong, it can be an ugly eyesore, as this example in Chalons-en-Champagne shows:

In this case, several streets were enclosed in glass and turned into an indoor shopping center.

As global warming continues to slowly increase just under the threshold where it would have triggered immediate reactions from us, humans will slowly begin to adjust their environment in subtle ways. In 50 years, it is likely the entire city center will be enclosed in a dome, and we humans will have barely noticed how this “new normal” will have come into being. Like a frog being slowly boiled in water.


Bulgarian Cathedral

You can’t make a trip to Sofia without seeing this incredible church, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral:

It’s a fairly modern cathedral, as far as cathedrals go – built around 1870 I think. This was always one of my “jumping off” points for long walks around Sofia, where the ancient and glorious architecture could still be found after hiding for a few generations under Communist neglect. In a generation from now, I predict Sofia will be one of the greatest European cities.

Shimoga and Jog Falls

Probably anyone who’s spent enough time in Southern India will wind up here one day – since it is India’s second largest waterfall:

It might be different today – in fact I hope it is different today – but many visitors would climb down the rocks, and I was told a lot of them have died trying to do this.  You can see how treacherous and slipppery the rocks are likely to be:

But as usual, for me the real fun was not seeing the waterfall at all, but rather experiencing all the wonderful Indian villages in Western Ghats in and around the area called Shimoga:

I never took any pictures of the pineapple vendors – but pineapples are grown in this area, which is the first time I’ve ever seen an area where they grow.