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.

Sighting of the top secret AURORA spy plane over Switzerland!

OK, I don’t know if it is or if it isn’t, but here’s a snap I took with my mobile phone in Bern, pointed east towards Geneva and France:

What you can see in the center are tiny bits of contrails – in fact, there were many more of them but they started to disappear by the time I could get out my mobile phone and take the snap.

These “doughnuts on a rope” are the tell-tale signature of something called a scramjet engine.  And the only suspected vehicle thought to sport a scramjet engine is the top secret Aurora hypersonic spy plane.  Did I find one in the skies over Switzerland?

Interestingly, although the existance of the Aurora hypersonic spy plane has never been confirmed by the U.S. government, in fact scramjet engines are very well known. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a top program for aviation engineering, and a good friend of mine told me a story about them testing a scramjet engine in a large hangar – in which a dog was accidentally locked into the hangar. After the test they discovered the dog, dead – but the amazing part is that all his bones were liquified by the intense sonic pressure waves of the scramjet engine.

The incredible Wülflinger Unterführung – DISCOVERED!

Here is it, a tunnel steeped in great mystery and known to extremely few people, located at the train station in Winterthur, Switzerland:

Even many residents who’ve grown up in Winterthur and have spent their whole lives here do not know that this incredible place exists!

You may ask, what is it?

The platforms at the main train station in Winterthur all have exactly two access and egress points – except for Platform 6/7.  Platform 6/7 also has the usual two exits – but in addition, at the very far end of Platform 6/7 there is an exit that is only known to people willing to walk the hundreds of meters to this end of the platform. It is not visible from the platform – and it is not documented anywhere. In fact, its existence is very conspicuously hidden!

When was it built? I don’t know – but I expect very few people know.

Why was it built?  I don’t know – but I expect even fewer people know.

How many people use it?  I don’t know – but I expect very few people use it. It is otherwise invisible and totally hidden to the public.

But . . . inside the tunnel there are AMAZING WONDERS that I have photographed and will be sharing in upcoming blogs!

Basel Herbstmesse – 4

These look like ants. But if you look really closely you will see they are not ants – they are people of the Swiss city of Basel:

You might ask how I came to photograph these ant-like people of Basel.  During the Basel Herbstmesse there is a big tower that has a big elevatable platform. You board the platform when it is at the bottom:

This is the platform en route to the top:

And here’s what it looks like when the platform is at the top. To the people in the platform, their fellow citizens below look like ants – but remember, they are not ants, they are the people of Basel!

Marco Polo was here – maybe, just maybe

This is the famous Italian explorer Marco Polo,

I have not researched this personally, but I read somewhere that at one point he stayed in the Swiss city of Bern, in the area known as the Matte:

This is the area where farmers would bring their produce in the middle ages to be sold in the city of Bern, so interestingly the merchants of this area developed their own language, Mattenenglisch, that was not understandble outside of their community, so they could keep their negotiations a secret. There are many such examples of dialects created for this purpose around the world.

Petronas Towers

This is a snap looking up at the Petronas Towers buildings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:

They are nice towers, to be sure. And underneath the towers is a very nice indoor shopping center filled with many fabulous restaurants.

But for a long time Malaysia has tried to portray these towers as one of the world’s tallest. This is far from a true statement, as anyone with experience with tall towers knows just after standing under them and looking up.

The Grand Lisboa Casino – beautiful on the outside but terrifying on the inside!

It’s located in Macao.

Chinese casinos are scary, intimidating places. When I first entered one, I was not sure if it was a casino or a conference of snipers and assasins. For the casinos are filled with intense looking ultra-affluent Chinese people sitting silently at the various gambling tables, never moving more than the required muscles for hours at a time.  Nothing even casually reminiscent of Las Vegas.

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.


My feet on the ladder of death

Or it could very well be the ladder of death, if you fall off.

Here is a picture of my feet on said ladder, and as you can see the drop is many thousands of feet below:

This is along the world-famous Hindelanger Klettersteig, a mountain route through the Alps of Southern Germany, where you don’t even want to think about coming unless you have the right equipment and know how to use it. Interestingly, this was my first such expedition, so I didn’t have the right equipment (I had to borrow it) and I didn’t know how to use it (but I learn fast).

And where you can get some very impressive views if the weather is nice:

Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Today it is one of the busiest streets in the world, but when I visited many years ago it was still quiet – it was unempty until at least noon, and you’d have to struggle to meet any foreigners there at all.

Interestingly, while visiting Shanghai as I scientist I was followed on at least two occasions by the Chinese secret police (actually, nothing unexpected since I had a background in nuclear physics, and the Chinese goverment made no secrets about following nuclear physicists whenever possible). And (as many, many people over the years have asked me) this is where my path first crossed with a man I only know as Mr. Tradecraft.

This was back in the days before China was open to the west: for example, all incoming flights had to stop in Beijing, where the passengers would get out and pass through immigration, before re-boarding and heading to Shanghai.

Another interesting story is that I shared a train cabin with a team of business leaders from Motorola, who at the time had no footprint in China and were considering opening their first factory there. So unknowingly I may have helped contribute to their business decision!

Cubbon Road Cows

Good cows, bad picture – I hardly think it’s possible. Here’s a snap of a few cows enjoying a quiet moment outside of Bangalore’s Cubbon Park.

Although it happened rarely, it did happen from time to time: cows are herd animals, so if given the chance they will spontaneously come together and form a herd. That’s OK if you are in Moneta, Wyoming, population 6.  But it ain’t so OK when you are in downtown Bangalore, and the cows stop traffic for over six hours.

Train operators

I don’t remember where I took this snap exactly,

but it was a few years before I joined the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB / CFF / FFS) so in many ways it was probably a harbinger of things to come!

I guess they didn’t get many American tourists here, because they invited me in and allowed me to watch them doing their operations!