Valencia, Spain, is the home of the majestic Valencian language – although  most people know its dialectical form, Catalan, somewhat better. And deep in the Valencian countryside sits a hill, and high on the hill sits the medieval village of Morella. The village dates back to Roman times, and in fact it is surrounded by ancient Roman aquaducts:

It’s one of those difficult places to capture photographically, just because it is so big and impressive. But what I remember the most was thinking what it must have been like for the Romans living here, raising their children in the hopes they become great Roman Legionnaires, warriors, fierce gladiators, or lion hunters.

Today, the situation with children is a bit different: the swords are gone, none of them has slaughtered a wild animal, and instead these children are sitting and playing Nintendo.

My passion when I travel is to identify those local things, well known in a place but unheard of outside of it. In this part of Spain, this would have to be flaons,

The amazing roundabouts in Barcelona

If you’ve ever spent time driving around Europe, you’ll notice a few trends that depend on geographic location.  One of those trends is that, the farther south you drive towards Spain, the more lanes the roundabouts will have.

Roundabouts in Northern Germany is likely to have no more than a single lane.

Roundabouts in Northern and Central France are likely to have two lanes.

Roundabouts in South France are likely to have three lanes.

But once you cross into Spain all bets are off, and as this snap shows, the roundabouts can have many, many lanes:


L’Albufera de València

Geologically speaking, these things are not uncommon. A river or estuary that empties into a saltwater sea will sometimes form a lagoon. Over time, the sediment causes the lagoon to become a closed lake, and the water changes from saltwater to freshwater.

That’s what happened here, just south of Valencia in Spain, not too long ago, in the 17th century, L’Albufera de València:

Today it is a wonderful, relaxing place to visit – especially in the warm Spanish evenings.


You can see a wonderful old map I discovered hanging in the local village bar.

The small villages are connected to the lake by a series of narrow canals:

By the way, the astute reader will notice that I wrote L’Albufera de València, which is the Valencian language version of the Spanish La Abufera de Valencia.  My Valencian friends tell me that Catalan, although somewhat more well known, is a dialect of Valencian.

Were medieval cities planned?

It seems unreasonable to think that the streets in medieval cities were somehow planned. But when I travel through medieval cities, I can’t help but notice the large number of small streets that are optimally laid out to frame a view of the large, central cathedral.

This one is Santiago de Compostella, in Spain (from which you can see the Cathedral of St. XXX):

This one is Mulhouse, in Alsace, France (from which you can see the Cathedral of St. Etienne):


And this one is Paradeplatz, in Zurich, Switzerland (from which you can see both the Grossmünster and Frauenmünster cathedrals):

Is this just coincidence – or are these cathedrals and towers visible because they were designed to be visible?

Prime Meridian in Spain

The Prime Meridian is the universal definition of 0-degrees longitude  – but did you know that until recently, there were different prime meridians in use, such as the Greenwich PM and the Paris PM?  I only learned this a few minutes ago, when posting this picture I took on the AP-2 highway, near Candasnos Spain between Zaragoza and Barcelona:

You can see the Cypress trees on both side of the arch, which are a well known sight in southern Europe.

It is wonderful that the Spanish would build an arch – but it is a bit sad they didn’t also add a turnoff, so that you could stop and enjoy the moment less fleetingly.

The final resting place of three Apostles?

These are the famous Apostles, Saint James, Saint Peter, and Saint Thomas:

Technically, I am referring to Saint James, son of Zebedee, since there is a second apostle also named James. The Spanish people call Saint James by a different name, Santiago, and he is buried in a cathedral I visited in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela:

Saint Peter is probably the most famous saint, having been killed not just by crucifixion, but by crucixion-upside-down, in this Roman square that I visited, now known as Saint Peter’s Basilica:

But I’m not sure if anyone really knows where Saint Thomas is buried.  According to the locals, Saint Thomas travelled to India and eventually reached Chennai, having died and been buried somewhere quite close.  There is a famous church I visited there, known Saint Thomas Mount:

Saint Thomas is known as the Patron Saint of India – but unfortunately there is some dispute as to whether these claims are true.  I hope they are true, because it would make the people who believe them very happy.

So by coincidence and not by plan, I’ve visited what may be the final resting place of 25% of the twelve Apostles.

Convergent evolution vs. design patterns

In biology there is the concept of convergent evolution:

“In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.”

In software engineering there is the concept of a design pattern:

“In software engineering, a design pattern is a general repeatable solution to a commonly occurring problem in software design. A design pattern isn’t a finished design that can be transformed directly into code. It is a description or template for how to solve a problem that can be used in many different situations.”

During recent trips to both Spain and Texas, it made me first realize that both convergent evolution and design patterns are describing something very similar.  Have a look at this:

Spain is filled with Spaniards, and as everyone knows Spaniards are very tiny people. So until recently they drove very tiny cars. But recently Spaniards are getting bigger. I took this picture in Spain, which now seems to be representative of how Spaniards park their cars:

Texas is filled with Texans, and as everyone knows Texans are very big people indeed. But in recent times, Texans have been getting even bigger. I took this picture in Texas, which now seems to be representative of how Texans park their “dualies” (as they call pickup trucks with dual rear tires):

Convergent evolution (biology) or design pattern (software engineering) – you be the judge!

Hannibal in Salamanca

This is Hannibal:

And this is Salamanca, in western Spain:

The cathedral somehow looks a bit tilted, so here is a second photo to assure you that it is not tilted. It also shows the Roman Bridge, which (unbelievably!) was built in the first century AD:

I believe this is the first city that I’ve ever visited that was originally conquered by Hannibal.  Needless to say, I could not find any elephant footprints anywhere, although if you have sharp enough eyes, you can see some storks:

World’s most dangerous market?


Or at least it could be, if you make the mistake of saying Hola instead of Kiaxo as you enter. For this market is nestled deep within the tough, unforgiving village of Zarautz, deep within the tough, unforgiving Gipuzkoa region of the country of Basque.

The tough, unforgiving people here speak Basque. The Basque language has no known connection with any other European language, and many scholars believe it is descended from what the Neanderthal humans spoke long ago. Filled with hard, explosive sounds such “k” and “x”, it is more appropriate to a people with massive jaws used for crushing nuts.  Some words (such as love, or kxxittkxakkatxtaxkta) are used so seldomly they are difficult even for the locals to pronounce; other words (such as softness, compassion, generosity) have no local equivalents.

But I not only survived my visit but also thrived: I bought a wonderful, fresh-smoked sausage from the local market, which unfortunately then required hours to extract the fat from between my teeth. My jaw was never designed for crushing nuts.