When bad things become good things – 3

Continuing the series, it is interesting to find examples where things themselves do not change after decades or even centuries, but how these things are perceived changes. Usually, the trend is in the negative direction: a mobile phone is better than a rotary dial telephone. But sometimes the trend is in the positive direction.

And that‘s when bad things become good things.

For a long time throughout history, parts of Switzerland had a very challenging, difficult life for the residents – as anyone who has read the novel Heidi or seen the movie knows.  Cheese was predominantly a staple that allowed people to survive over winter – and I am quite confident they‘d rather spend the winter eating other things, if only they could.

Nothing about the cheese itself has changed, but now that Switzerland has become affluent, the cheese made high in the Swiss Alps (Alpkäse) has become trendy, as this poster for a „cheese tasting“ shows.


Florentine Cobblestones

Or rather, cobblestones in what has become known as the Florentine (or Belgium) pattern:

No strange sight to anyone living in Germany, France, or Switzerland – but I‘ve often wondered why people would take time to do this?  I have not been able to find any documentation – but my own personal guess, based on other things I‘ve read when studying this, is that a non linear pattern like this holds up especially well against regular linear traffic, such as would be caused by horses and carriages.

I took this snap in the amazing city of St. Gallen in Eastern Switzerland.

Refining in Texas

The United States is the largest producer of oil in the world, and Texas is the largest producer of oil in the United States.

So if Texas produces a lot of oil, it makes sense that it would have a lot of refineries – and it does.

Interestingly, refineries in Texas are often huge polluters. The refinery operators often have excellent contacts with the local politicians, so it is very common to read about things like an accidental release of toxic gases that occurs once per month like clockwork.

Anyway, here is one huge refinery near Floresville, Texas:

Normally I do no post-processing of my snaps except for cropping, but in this case Google helped me to assemble multiple shots into a single panorama.

Nagold tree – 3

Continuing the series, here is a nice tree next to the mighty Nagold River in Germany’s Schwarzwald:

The German words for river (Fluss) and creek (Bach) really confused me when I started to learn German.

I love Germany, so don’t misunderstand what I have to say, but Germany has no rivers like in any other country, such as the Nile or the Amazon or the Mississippi.  The German equivalent of river, or Fluss, such as the Nagold River shown here, would be a creek in any other country.  And the German equivalent of creek, Bach, would be such a tiny little stream it probably wouldn’t be named! In fact, German has one level below this: Bächle, which I guess in any other country would probably be referred to as a little puddle.

Little Alsace in Texas

Texas is an amazing, amazing place. Not a lot of people know this, but it was founded by thousands upon thousands of European immigrants that settled here in the early 1800’s, bringing their language with them and creating miniature villages of how they lived back home. There were Irish villages, Norwegian villages – sadly, most of these are now just ghost towns (but you can visit them, if you know where to look).

But a few of these European villages do not just survive but thrive. Depending on the village, here you will find Americans, born and raised in these villages, that do not speak English as a first language, but rather speak Alsatian or French or German or – believe it or not – Schwiizerdüütsch.

Castroville, a tiny village just outside of San Antonio, was founded by Alsatian and Swiss settlers, and a significant number of the old timers are Americans who actually speak English as a second language to their native Alemannic.

As you head into town, you’re greeted by an authentic Alsatian bakery, selling authentic Alsatian baked goods, in an authentic half-timbered house no less!

While visiting this village with my father and I had the honor and privilege to meet Connie, a 90-year-old native speaker of Alsatian and Allemanic – and I could confirm, she spoke fluently and would be right home in Alsace or even Switzerland! In fact, she was kind enough to take my father and I on a tour of Castroville, where she shared her memories growing up here in this Texas community where there were essentially few or no English speakers.

In fact, she and her father wrote the very first ever American / Alsacienne foreign dictionary!

There are plenty of other historic buildings, including a Catholic church. This is what it looks like from the outside:

And this is what it looks like from the inside:

But the highlight has to be an authentic half-timbered house that came from Alsace itself; it was taken down piece by piece, sent to America a few years ago, and re-assembled in the village by handworkers from France:

I hope to return to Texas soon, and visit a unique French village, where the number of Americans who have French as their first language is shrinking fast.

Underwater Art

Lake Zürich, known to the locals as Zürisee, has such clean, clear water that it is certified to be drinking quality.

Gazing down through an almost unbelievable three meters of this fresh Zürisee water off the pier at Burkliplatz is a work of street art, or perhaps in this case underwater art is a more fitting term:

I‘d love to be able to explain this to you – or share my theories about what the artist intended. But sadly, why this German expression (Kopf hoch – or keep your head up) has been positioned next to a number of other concrete blocks remains a complete mystery to me!

FAKE: Bumblebee on iridescent flower

This one is not far from the truth, but it is still a fake: it’s what Google did to enhance a snap I took of a bumblebee, hard at work gathering his lunch in September, in Zürich:

Just for the record: the photos I post are never in any way retouched or enhanced or changed – except for cropping.

But in this series of blog posts entitled FAKE I publish some rather interesting images I have enhanced in some way.

Bass Pro – the Disneyland of outdoor sporting stores

Anyone not familiar with America is likely to also be not familiar with Bass Pro Shops – an store that sells outdoor sporting goods.

Well, the term store is not the right word – mind blowing wonderland is more appropriate.

And the term sporting goods is the right word either – massive collection of boats and four-wheel-drive-vehicles and tents and guns and more guns and even more guns is more appropriate.

Here is what some of it looks like from the outside (the huge collection of over 20 boats are behind me and not visible in this photograph):

Inside the store, this snap does not even show 20% of what there is:

There is not only an archery section, but also an indoor archery range where you can freely try out any of the gear:

Sadly, this Bass Shop lacks the usual indoor gun range, as well as the private room that have historical antique guns costing tens of thousands of dollars – and usually, my favorites, big bore elephant guns used if you want to shoot real elephants!

But this one still has plenty of guns on display – and many, many more locked in a safe (tip for experts: if you are looking for a particular make and model of gun, always better to ask. Could be they will have it, but not on display at the moment!):

What’s really terrific is that the people working in the gun area are usually older, retired gentlemen, and even if you are not a serious buyer, they are happy to let you handle any guns of your choice – and they’ll spend hours with you, just chatting about firearms:

This Bass Pro shop also lacked an indoor hunting area where – and I am not kidding – you can hunt wild stuffed animals using a laser equipped rifle. Sorry, no laser hunting here, but I’d say well over 200 stuffed animals all over the store:

Now, I’ve never see a Bass Pro shop where you can actually fish – but there are plenty of fish and in fact an entire indoor waterfall:

So, if you are planning a trip to the United States, I highly recommend you see if there are any Bass Pro shops near to where you are going to go!

World’s most stupidest train

Sometimes, I see things that are dumb.

Occasionally, I see things that are really, really dumb.

But every once in a very rare while, I see something that is so incredibly, mind-bogglingly stupid that I really makes me question how something so ludicrous could even be thought of by mankind, much less implemented!

And here is one of those things, a little train that runs back and forth in Terminal A of the Detroit International Airport.

Here is what it looks like from the outside:

And, not being able to resist trying out something so incredibly stupid, here is what it looks like from the inside:

Now here comes what the famous magicians Penn and Teller call The Reveal, when I tell you why this is so stupid.

Many large airports have little automated trains – actually, one of the first was probably the train at the Dallas Fort-Worth airport, which I remember from back when I was a little kid.  Airports are huge but with well defined stopping places, so a train is an ideal way to get around.

But in this case, the train only plies Terminal A, from Gate 1 to Gate 70.  That is not a big distance to walk – with the rolling  floors, I think I required no more than about 7 minutes to walk / coast the distance.  But worse that than, this train has only three stops: at Gate 1, at Gate 35, and Gate 70. Plus the train is elevated.

So that means for anyone wanting to shave off a little time from their gate-to-gate journey . . . no way they can do this!  They have to schlep their luggage up to the platform, wait 5 minutes for the train, then take it to somewhere where, unless you are lucky, walking will be required anyway.

I could think of no usecase in which this train would save anyone any real time – and in fact, most of the people riding it seemed to be like me: curious folks with a four-hour layover and plenty of time to kill doing stupid things. And I could think of no usecase in which this train would benefit the mobility limited.

My best guess: this was a project intended to channel public money to the right private parties, such as the company the makes the train.

When them cotton balls get a rottin‘

South Texas is famous for its cotton fields. Here the cotton is ready-to-pick:

It really begs the question: what happen if it rains?

The old western song made famous by the Bluegrass musician Bill Monroe tells „When them cotton balls get a rottin‘, you can‘t pick very much cotton.“ So presumably it is possible for cotton to rot.

But after a rain shower, do farmers worry about how much moisture the cotton has before harvesting?  Is the water content somehow tied to the price?  This is in fact the case for feed corn: the higher the water content, the lower the price.

The lonesome expanse of sea-side Texas

Not only does Texas have one of the longest coastlines of any entity in the world, but in fact – like most of Texas itself – it is an empty coastline.

Here I am standing deep within the Padre Island National Seashore (itself at over 100 km long, the longest protected stretch of beach in the world) watching the thunderstorms brewing in the distance.

I‘d say the nearest human to where I am standing now is over 25 miles away. This is one reason that keeps drawing me back to Texas, time and time again.

My artwork is completely fresh out-of-the-camera and unretouched in any way. This now definitely belongs to one of my all time favorite snaps.


Thunderstorm over the Gulf of Mexico

I took what I hopefully believe you‘ll agree is a magnificent snap on a recent holiday in Texas. I‘ve waded out into the water at the North Padre Island National Seashore. As usual, none of my artwork is re-touched or enhanced in any way: this is a color snap from my iPhone 8, and I did not even need to crop it.

If you look closely you‘ll see a few seagulls in the sky.

Milan Panoramic

Taken with the famous Duomo di Milano at my back, the Galleria is on the left:

Interestingly, this hidden cathedral behind me, which you cannot see in this shot, is the largest cathedral in Italy, the third largest cathedral in Europe, and the fourth largest cathedral in the world! You can get a sense of just how big, when I simply turn 180% and take this shot:

Bad Canstatter Volksfest

Although the Oktoberfest in München is by far more well known, the Bad Canstatter Volksfest in Germany has the unique charm that it’s almost as big as the Oktoberfest, but is attended only by the locals.

Here’s what I thought was a pretty snap of a beer hall I took early one afternoon:

Believe it or not, it is attended by several million Germans – real Germans, not tourists – and it is world’d second largest beer festival.

You don’t see this everyday

In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen anything even remotely close to this:

Sadly, I was in a hurry to catch a train, but there are many questions I’d like to ask. Number one among those: how important is it to keep the stick vertical?  I assume a tube with such a high aspect ratio between its length and diameter is in great danger of bending.

Update on September 6: He was out there again today, so I stopped to talk with him and he showed me the device. He also demonstrated it will NOT bend! It‘s made out of an extremely heavy, extremely thick PVC plastic, and it‘s attached to a compressor that pumps water to the top.