Seven Gates to Jerusalem

I used to live on Lake Thun, and this was the view from my apartment:

Shortly after I moved here I read a book that referred to the “seven gates of Jerusalem,” which were apparently seven majestic castles that were found around Lake Thun.

Here is one of the castles, in the town of Oberhofen am Thunersee:

However, I’ve never been able to find the original reference in the book I read – or any other reference to this term.

To make matters worse, as far as I can tell there are only five castles, not seven: Hünegg, Spiez, Thun, Oberhofen, and Schadau.

But the mystery is still an interesting one: who coined the connection between these medieval castles around a lake and a holy city in a desert thousands of kilometers away?


Ornate Painted Medieval Houses

If you spend enough time walking around medieval German and Swiss villages, you’ll eventually notice that most of the houses are so-called half-timbered houses (with planks of wood separating the stuccoed exterior) but that a number of houses are painted in a very ornate and detailed style.

Here is one such house that I discovered in Olten, which shows both styles: the half-timbering at the top, and a large painted area below:

What I don’t know is the history of these houses.  Were they always like that right from the beginning?  Were perhaps ALL the houses like this, right from the beginning, and was it only recently that some of the houses stopped receiving this painted attention?  One of the many, many mysteries if you live in Europe!

Strasbourg’s Iron Man

In a recent post I showed a tram in Strasbourg stopped at the Place de l’homme du fer – which you can roughly translate as Iron Man Square.  If you are curious about how it got its name, just have a short look around and you’ll quickly see this man in armor hanging on the wall:

And he looks even more impressive close up:

This used to be the location of an armory, and the original coat of arms was hung up in the year 1740.  What you see here, however, is just a replica – fortunately, the original has been moved to a museum to be preserved.


Olten, situated along the river Aare, is very picturesque:

What’s very interesting  is how the occasional floods have left their mark on the buildings, as this snap shows:

On the day I visited it seems I was not alone to stop and enjoy the view.  A lone wasp took a short break from his busy day to relax, eat a savory spider he just caught, and admire the view of the river:

When backs are better than fronts – 5

Continuing the series, this is what you’ll see if you visit the Briner company, at least if you don’t fall asleep first, because in this industrial part of the Swiss city of Winterthur each building tries to outdo its neighbors in achieving the greatest architectural boredom:

But, if you don’t mind a bit of adventure you can walk around to the back of the building, where the building sits next to a railroad spur, and your eyeballs will explode when you see the amazing graffiti:

I didn’t want to photograph each artwork in detail, but I did want to provide at least one snap so you can see the amazing quality:

The amazing underground recycling cisterns of Switzerland

I’ve written about garbage in Texas and garbage in Switzerland.  I’ve also written about garbage in Germany.

So as long I was in a garbage state of mine, I wanted to finish by showing a very common sight in the Swiss canton of Zurich: a long row of very nice looking, very pretty smelling chutes:

They make it just about as easy and convenient as possible for residents to drive here and empty their recyclables into the appropriate chute.  From time to time, a truck will arrive, and a single driver / operator is all that is needed to operate a boom/crane to unload the cistern.

It’s also just as much fun to see the long list of items that are prohibited:

Incredible Carthusians

The Order of Saint Bruno, also known as the Carthusian Order, is the strictest order of Catholic monasticism – you can think of them as the Navy SEALs of monks.

I did some work in Grenoble, France, and this gave me the chance to drive by the most famous Carthusian monastery, in Chartreuse.

There is an erstwhile Carthusian monastery not too far from where I live,

and they still grow hops used for a local beer that they brew


When bad things become good things – 2

Continuing the series,  there is an unused building not too far from where I live, and the rock garden in front has been taken over by wild weeds.

The most amazing part is the diversity of the weeds (I stopped counting after spotting around 30 different plants) and how they seem to optimally fill their environment.

Probably almost everyone who drives by this place never stops to look – or if they do, only sees a lot full of weeds. It is truly amazing what wonderful things you can find if you just stop and look.

Natural spring

This is something you don’t see everyday.  High on a hill overlooking the Swiss countryside is a little pool of water, surrounded by cattails:

You can’t see it very well, but if you look in the middle and far down the hill you’ll see the Thur River.

In fact, and although I don’t show it, just behind me is a substantially higher set of hills. So as the groundwater slowly heads towards the Thur it takes a little break in this natural pond.

Things you see but you don’t see

Everyone will instantly recognize this snap of the Empire State Building in Manhattan:

But if you’ve got sharp eyes, you could in theory notice something else – but it seems nobody ever does. If you look closely, you’ll see that every building has a little tiny box on its roof.

There is a law in Manhattan that every building must contain a cistern of water on the roof that can be released and gravity fed in case of a building fire.

The truly amazing part is that nobody ever notices these little boxes until they’re told about them – but as soon as you know they’re there, you can’t help but see them!

What is a Texas Bar-B-Q?

Everyone’s heard the word barbeque, even if not everyone has tasted it. And everyone’s heard about Texas, even if not everyone has visited it.

But a Texas Barbeque is really something special.  The snap below is of the hugely famous Bill Miller Barbeque, and I’m told it wouldn’t be unusual to see Willy Nelson here – although I never have.

But the amazing part is what you don’t see.  These Texas barbecues generate so much heat and smoke, that as soon as you drive into the parking lot it gets a bit difficult to breathe.

For this reason, most people order their food in advance, and even if it takes just a few minutes to pick it up, you leave with your clothes deeply soiled with the wonderful barbecue odors.

That’s not gorse, you idiot, this is

I’ve written about trees in the heath and the Gorse of York.

But since my last blog just over 2000 readers have left comments that I made an egregious error!

I showed this picture and referred to it as gorse:

My dear readers, mea culpa. I did make a mistake ad attached the wrong picture!  You were right, that wasn’t gorse, it was heath.

This is the gorse:

Interestingly, there is some speculation that certain types of thorny bushes that grow in nutrient poor areas are in fact carnivorous: the thorns are not designed to retard animals but rather to capture them, so the remains of their dying carcasses can fertilize the ground.  Gorse seems not to be in that category, as the thorns tend to repel rather than hold trapped animals.  But an interesting theory nonetheless.

Tricky to get in, tricky to get out

The airspace in Switzerland is said to be the most complicated airspace in the world, but when you look at the overall chart of Europe, it is quite likely this is just a marketing statement:

Nevertheless, having flown with private pilots in many countries, here I am in the co-pilot’s seat and making a turn over Pfäffikon at the southern end of Lake Zurich, en route to ZRH.  For light airplanes engaged in private aviation, there is a 20 minute window during the morning in which the approach must be made.

The amazing garbage vacuums of Germany

I’ve written about garbage in Texas and garbage in Switzerland.

Here is the approach that I see more and more in Germany, as this snap in front of the Rhein River in the South German city of Konstanz shows:

The receptacle you see here is not a receptacle at all, but rather a chute over a huge underground garbage cistern.  Periodically a worker in a special vacuum truck will come by and use a huge boom to vacuum all the garbage out of the cistern.