Amazing Roundabouts – 1

Roundabouts in Europe are amazing things!

But first, what is a roundabout?  Depending on where you live they are also known as rotaries, traffic circles, Kreisverkehr (German), Rotonda (Spanish), or Rond-Point (French).  So I hope I don’t I need any more explanation than that!

According to Wikipedia, there are examples that date back to the 1700’s. But using the Google NGram viewer, I found the word “roundabout” first came into print around 1576.

But this is not a history lesson – it is a blog post!  The key point is that especially in Europe roundabouts are typically places for the villages and communities to install truly breathtaking artwork.

I took this snap of a roundabout just outside of the village of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, buried deep within the Savoie region of France:

This village is famous for Opinel knives, not for bicycles – but many bicycle races do pass through this village every year, so perhaps that was the motivation for this piece?

The Incredible Legacy of Vauban

Vauban left an amazing, amazing legacy all over France which you can visit today.

First things first.  This is Vauban:

Or, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauben,who was a military man in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in France, and he directed what at the time would be the equivalent of today’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  He travelled around the border of France, constructing fortifications that were truly mind-blowing.

Case in point: there is the small village named Brisach Neuf in Alsace, on the border between France and Germany, and he transformed it into an amazing fortified jewel, which unfortunately you can only truly appreciate from the air:

And indeed, you’ll appreciate this even more when you see the original map of the village and fortifications that he created:

In this arial photograph, if you look at the village center just north of the town square, this church he also created is visible:

But the amazing part is the not paved area of the village, but the extremely complicated jewel structure of moats and barriers and fortifications that surround the village,

With dozens upon dozens of underground bunkers like this one.

Covered pedestrian bridge in Alsace

Do you like to see people or do you like to see beautiful things?

The reason for this question has to do with the difference between North and South Europe.

In South Europe, you will see neighborhoods filled with people, sitting outside, talking, playing various bowling games or cards.  But you aren’t likely to see neighborhoods filled with modern embellishments paid for by the residents.

But in North Europe, particularly in the French Region of Alsace, you will see NO ONE.  Not a single person! But what you will see in these empty neighborhoods are some beautiful ornaments, such as this covered wooden pedestrian bridge that I photographed somewhere in Alsace:

Great inventions – 1

When you travel around to enough countries, you’ll often find that one country has an invention or system that is so stunningly good, you immediately wonder why other places don’t adopt it.

For me, the traffic light system in France is one of these incredible inventions.

The traffic lights in France have the usual red/yellow/green lights mounted high on a post, just as you’ll find in just about every country. But in addition, there are little red and green lights mounted lower on the pole, just at the eyeball height of drivers, as you can see here:

It means when you are stopped at a light, you don’t need to strain your neck or lean forward – you can keep your body in the driving posture and just look straight ahead at these little lights.


Dijon Mystery Houses

The French village of Dijon, nestled in the Bourgogne region of France, is not only famous for its mustard, but it’s a fantastic and large medieval city, filled with buildings dating back many centuries.

But it’s also the source of a real mystery for me.  If you walk around this huge town and admire the architecture, you’ll find that it is almost exclusively buildings made of stone.  But from time to time you’ll see something like this:

Or this

Which are wood “half-timbered” or Fachwerk houses.

Although these types of buildings are the de facto standard in Eastern France, Germany, and Northern Switzerland – why are are few of them here?  And why are they interspersed so spartanly in what are otherwise stone buildings?

It’s one of the many mysteries on my list that I hope to clarify someday!

Black Church

Probably not what you are thinking when you read the title.

Here is a snap of the famous Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Clarement-Ferrand, in the city of the same name, in France:

What’s absolutely amazing about this cathedral is its color.  Claremont-Ferrand sits in an area of France filled with volcanoes, and the cathedral is build with black lava stone.

It’s a pretty impressive sight!

Even more interesting than the church are the people, many of whom do not speak French, but rather a descendant of the old and nearly extinct Lang d’Oc language.

Cité de Carcasonne

Anyway touring around Southern France or travelling by car to Barcelona usually finds time to stop here, the ancient medieval UNESCO site known as the Cité de Carcasonne:

It’s a truly massive fortified city high on a hill, complete with moats

As well as impressive Gothic cathedrals

If you are here and have the time, to me a more interesting and more wonderful place is this site at which it’s been speculated that hidden proof was discovered about Jesus not being crucified, but rather moving to France with his wife, Mary Magdelene:


The Taunus is a hilly area just outside of Frankfurt in Germany. According to Wikipedia, this area is the namesake of the Ford Taunus automobile – that makes a certain sense.

But also according to Wikipedia, it’s also home to the Main-Taunus-Kreis, which is the second most densely populated rural area in Germany.  Think about it that phrase for a minute – it makes almost no sense at all!

Anyway, sense or nonsense, here is a scene from a village in the Taunus were a good friend of mine was recently married:

Bodensee: the lake with two faces

The Bodensee, also known as Lake Constance in English, straddles the border between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – and it’s also Europe’s largest lake.

But what many people don’t see are its two distinct faces. In fact, I never recognized this either, until someone point it out to me.

By and large, Germany doesn’t have great lakes, so the Bodensee has developed into the place for many Germans to vacation and own second homes: ritzy and glamorous. Filled with fancy restaurants and hotels.

But for the Swiss, on the other side of the lake, the Bodensee is one of the more boring lakes, as far as Swiss lakes go: not surrounded by breathtaking Alps, no sculptured coastline to compare with Norway, relatively flat and boring.  So the Swiss side of the lake never developed in that same way.

Here are some scenes of the Bodensee, taken from the ferry landing at Meersburg:

Wine is produced along the German side of the lake:

And in the summer, you can usually find a huge Zeppelin flying around, since Friedrichshafen is the home to the company that invented the Zeppelin.

Indian apartment essentials

During the time I lived in India, my apartment was one of the best ones I ever had. Not because it was huge, had three balconies, and was regularly kept clean by a maid and a gentleman who ironed my shirts.  Also not because it overlooked a small park, during the day filled with brightly colored birds and in the evening with huge “flying foxes.” But because of the infrastructure.

Here in my bathroom you can see my “Geezer” – a tank on the wall that heats the water only just before you use it:


(I’m not sure if this is where the expression “You old geezer” comes from or not, but it still confuses me why this highly efficient system is not in more widespread use, particularly in the U.S. where the homes are very big.)

Here you can see my water filter, attached to the sink.  It had a canister containing carbon, and a second canister containing an UV light. Thanks to this set up, I think the water I drank in India was probably the best, cleanest water I’ve had in a long time. Because of the low flow rate, however, it meant that I would practice my own “water management” – and I kept my refrigerator stocked with water that I would bottle myself from this system, ready to be used in volume if I needed to:

Here you see my washing machine. There was no real need for an intense spin cycle, because the air was so dry, no matter how wet they were, my clothes would usually air dry within just a few hours:

And finally the best part, my stove, fed by a tank of gas underneath the counter:

Once you get used to cooking with a real flame, it is hard to go back to induction, infrared, or electric.

When the wind blows

I didn’t see any rocking cradles, but anyway I took this snap just a few meters from a spot called Bodega Head, on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean, near Bodega Bay, California:

What you can’t see here, but what I find amazing, is that this tree is leaning almost 90 degrees to shoreline.  If I simply turn around, this is what it looks like behind my back:

So even though you’d expect the wind would travel perpendicularly to the shoreline, in fact the local geography and hills somehow influence the wind to run south, parallel to the coast.

(By the way, I am no expert on trees, but I suspect this is a Cypress tree.  Cypress trees are amazing – and I hope to write a number of photo blogs (PHOGS) about them soon!)

Because it is so amazing, here is a close-up of the tree:

Unbelievable hole in the ground – what were they thinking?!

A lone black crow sits on a sign and contemplates an interesting landmark at Bodega Bay, California, which is nothing more than a hole in the ground:

But unbelievably, this water filled hole – or more precisely formulated, this water filled hole sitting directly on the San Andreas Fault – was originally planned to be the location of the largest nuclear power plant in the United States.  Until, of course, sanity triumphed over business interests in the end.

You can read more about this hole on the sign:

Where the “exotic niche” is mainstream

On a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, I was shocked / surprised / stunned to see this advertisement on a public transportation bus:

Here’s a close-up of the advertisement:

Even within the IT community, there is probably only a small fraction of people who will understand this advertisement. And a tinier fraction than that who would be motivated to go find out more about this company.

So it is SHOCKING to see that a company expects enough value in paying for an advertisement like this. I don’t know the demographics of San Francisco, but it now must be one high tech city!

Across the Krishnarajasagara

What a mouthful!  But South Indian names are actually quite easy to remember, because they are like German: long agglomerations of short words.

I have no idea what it looks like today.

But back in the day (the “day” being around 2005) the Brindavan Gardens were a world-class sight to behold: a massive city garden with dozens and dozens of powerful water fountains, and in the evening, everything lit with intense colored lights.

Anyway, built along the Krishnarajasagara Dam in South India:

The gardens had so many fountains, there are not enough pixels in most cameras to capture them all:

And where there were no fountains, there were man-made rivers decorated with intense flowers and exotic trees:

And even some spectacular buildings:

I visited the park a few years later, and sadly, it had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair – not worth visiting at all.  But a trip out there is still exciting, because there is a nearby village Bylakuppe with relocated refugees from Tibet – and in fact, it is the largest settlement of Tibet people outside of Tibet!

Bangalore Gothic

Back when I lived in Bangalore, what I think was an IT guy turned his passion into this livelihood and created Bangalore Walks, a program of guided historical walking tours of Bangalore.  I was one of his first customers.

On one of his walks, after showing us where Winston Churchill likely lived during his time in Bangalore, we stopped to look at this house:

It’s nothing fancy – there are hundreds of examples in Bangalore – but he brought our attention to the scalloped rooftoop.  According to him, this style of roof is only found in Bangalore – and it is an architectural style he’s dubbed Bangalore Gothic.

I haven’t taken any Bangalore Walks recently – and I hope they are still as good as back in the day – and you’ll actually find my name on the official website!

Gateway to the Taj Mahal

In an earlier snap I showed the incredible Taj Mahal.  But the doorway you have to walk through in order to see it is equally if not more magnificent:

Here again, the secret to getting great snaps is to visit during the off season. This was the middle of summer, and the temperatures were blisteringly hot.

If you look closely enough at the little portal at the center bottom, you can see the Taj Mahal way off across the courtyard.

And just because it is so incredible to look at, here is another shot of the Taj, this time from a slightly different angle.