Refinery weeds

I took this snap in the southeast Texas seaside town of Corpus Christi, just a few months before the Covid pandemic erupted. It shows a dead weed in front of one of the zillions and zillions of refineries you’ll find in South Texas:

Note added on 05.05.2021: My Dad just informed me, this weed is the dead remains of a so-called sawtooth cactus. According to him – and my parents lived for many years in Corpus – the neighborhoods around the refineries are increasingly becoming devoid of vegetation. There are the laws that regulate the nature of the refinery pollution – but then there is reality, which often differs considerable.

Habsburg Castle

There are castles. And then there are castles. This is the Habsburg Castle, and it definitely belongs in the latter category. Not because of opulence and gold – but because of the sheer historical significance.

Located not too far from my home, it dates back to the year 1000, and it marks the spot where the very powerful Habsburg Dynasty was kicked off and more or less controlled huge swaths of Europe for literally hundreds of years – so long, in fact, that inbreeding within the family gave rise to genetic mutations such as the famous “Habsburg Jaw,” simliar to the likes of Jay Leno and John Kerry.


Fierce Swiss dragon of death

You do not – under any circumstances – want to come across one of these terrify, menacing, deadly creatures in Switzerland – well, at least not if you are just a few millimeters tall. Because in fact this fellow is hardly bigger than my finger. I took this snap at the Habsburg Castle in the village of the same name, in Switzerland.

The amazing, mind-blowing subterranean stores of Bern

This is UNESCO-recognized city Bern in the Kanton of the same name, in Switzerland. There are many amazing, mind-blowing things in this snap that each deserve their own blogs:

In this blog I’ll focus on the amazing, mind-blowing subterranean stores. If you look to the bottom left, you’ll see half a woman with blond hair. That is not really half a woman – that would be silly! In fact, it is a whole woman, and this woman is standing in an entryway to a store located under the street.

This snap shows many such subterranean shops:

And if you get even closer, they look like this:

I don’t know much about the history of these subterranean shops, why for example people thought they were a good idea. I once spoke with a medieval historian (well, he was a modern historian, but his interest was the Middle Ages) and he said that the level of ground water had a huge impact on what we see today. So it is likely that Bern had a very low groundwater table – which would make sense because it is very high above a river – but that’s just a guess.

Beef Pho

Always start with the WHY.

A delicious bowl of Vietnamese beef rice-noodle soup.

Here is my first bowl of homemade beef pho, a Vietnamese soup, and it was DELICIOUS!

Like many Asian soups it’s traditionally eaten with a spoon and chopsticks, although to be honest this is a Chinese spoon and Chinese chopsticks.

But . . . how did the journey start?

Beef is expensive in Switzerland, in my view almost prohibitively so. But . . . if you are willing to buy very large portions at stores aimed at restaurateurs, you can get some terrific deals. So I started with 2.5 kg of Rinds-Entrecôte that I bought at a Swiss wholesale supermarket called Aligro, This piece cost around CHF 50, which seems like a lot of money, but I reckon I get get at least 10-12 meals from this amount, if not more, making it far less expensive than any meat I could find at the supermarket.

I then loaded a few thick slices of this into my new Ninja Foodie Multikocher, which is a combination air fryer, slow cooker, steamer, high pressure cooker. Since I have a small kitchen, my thinking here is that I could drastically reduce my cleaning needs – and so far, this has been indeed true. It is much easier to cook a wide range of things and clean up, than by using pots and pans and an oven, which no matter how careful I am, always seems to leave drips and drops and splatters on my cooktop.

I added water, an onion, two large broccoli stalks, plus authentic Vietnamese flavoring,

This is what it looked like after slow cooking for 12 hours.

I next assembled the ingredients – to be honest, many more ingredients than I’ve ever found when I was in Vietnam, but nevertheless tasty things:

Interestingly, the Swiss don’t have much of an appetite for some of these things, so I purchased the cilantro leaves at a Turkish supermarket, along with the exotic peppers. The rice noodles are from Thailand, not Vietnam.

And after adding them all together, we arrive back at the beginning.

A delicious bowl of Vietnamese beef rice-noodle soup.

Only in Switzerland

OK, probably not only in Switzerland. But certainly in Switzerland.

An automatic vending machine at the main train station in Gstaad that sells so-called “Alp-Cheese,” a very special type of cheese that is by law required to be made from the milk of cows that graze at very high altitudes in the Swiss Alps:

It’s on my to-do list to explore this topic further. From what I have been able to gather, there is an altitude defined by law above which the cows are required to graze; I’ve also read that the Swiss government pays a bonus to the farmers (per cow) as an incentive for them to keep this industry alive.

Venison farm

OK, I don’t know if they call it a venison farm. But that’s what it is:

I’m not sure why – quite probably due to the meat lobby – but deer meat is very uncommon in the US compared to Europe.

What I find interesting about this shot is how the deer like to remain so close to one another, and how the stag deer (shown on the right) is actually on the edge of the crowd, maybe in order to better defend them?

In addition to farmed deer, the area of north central Switzerland where I currently live is filled with wild deer. I see a few every single morning when I take my daily 10 km Nordic Walk in the nearby forest. Generally they are quite tame and usually they’ll let me walk right by them without running away.

If you want to learn more about photography, check this out!

Just finished the most difficult but also the most rewarding course I’ve taken in a long time: Photography foundations: composition.

Regarding the why – I really enjoy photography, but I have no formal training. I see something I like, and I take a picture with my little point-and-shoot. I’m not interested in lenses and apertures and f-stops and all that. So for a long time I looked for a course that would focus on content, not on technique. This course is it!

Regarding the how – it is a self-learning course available from the LinkedIn platform. You have to pay for a subscription, but then you have access to many hundreds of online courses.

Here are the learning objectives:

  • Looking versus seeing
  • Understanding when and why to use black and white
  • Analyzing lines
  • Arranging the elements into lines and shapes
  • Working with perspective and symmetry
  • Changing focal length, camera position, and depth
  • Dividing rectangular frames into thirds
  • Weighting the corners in square pictures
  • Composing photographs of people
  • Composing landscape photos
  • Working with light: direction, texture, and negative space
  • How to shoot color
  • Guiding the viewer’s eye

Here’s the contents of this course:

  • Understanding composition
  • Seeing
  • Composition fundamentals
  • Geometry
  • Shooting best practices
  • Balance revisited
  • Light
  • Workshop: finding light
  • Color
  • Guiding the viewer
  • Workshop: foreground and background
  • Layers
  • Post-production
  • Workshop: exhibition

It’s a rather long course (5 hours and 29 minutes) – I spread it out over several weeks because there is literally too much material to digest. I’d study a chapter and learn something, then spend a few days thinking about it and trying things out with my camera.

Final thought: these are one of those courses that I’ll probably come back to again and again – and that’s a nice feature about LinkedIn, after you take a course it is still available and you can go back and watch the videos as often as you like!


The signs at Landquart – 3

Continuing the series, here is the sign you see when you approach the outlet mall by car:

I tried looking up the village of Landquart, because the name is interesting and I wanted to know more about its origin. Sadly, according to this source, no information is given other than Der Herkunft des Namens ist fraglich. This village is located in the middle eastern area of Switzerland known as Graubünden, and – even though the country is very far away – here people speak various dialects of the Romanian language, known collectively as Romansch.

Belfort building

As artistic a snap as I thought I could take of a building in the French village of Belfort, in the region known as Bourgogne-Franche-Comté,

Yes, if Bourgogne sounds familiar then it probably is: it’s the original French word that is translated as Burgundy, and it’s where the French wine of the same name comes. Belfort itself is an interesting place with many historical sights and an often-flipped past; at times it belonged to Germany.