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Monthly Archives: July 2014

These are photos I (Chris) took and posted on Facebook. The series was started in March of 2013. There is no theme – just something random and visually interesting. We gave each a title and noted where it was taken (to the extent we could remember the city).

This set of five photos, I think in retrospect, do not appear random – they are all somewhat spooky.

random photo #71 – crown – Thun



random photo #72 – cavity –  Jungfraujoch




random photo #73 –   hook   – Queens





random photo #74 –   curtain   – Barcelona




random photo #75 –   fence   – Queens





If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.


Towards the end of May, we visited the Loire Valley and stayed at a hotel with rooms that are built into caves. Here are some more examples of cave dwellings which have been modernized.  We found these homes just a few minutes down the road from our hotel, between Turquant and Saumur.

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Here are some more pictures of our hotel – the Demure de la Vignole … Beside having guest rooms inside caves (see earlier post here), there are other interesting features…

This is a view from our balcony  overlooking the hotel reception building. Notice the parking area situated under the cliff. Above the cliffs are vineyards !

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The ugly grey rock on the left is part of our dwelling, our bedroom is upstairs with the triangular windows. The gap between the grey rock and the new (chateau-style) stone building is the main (very narrow) driveway to the hotel parking area.

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The hotel’s fitness “center” is also situated inside a cave. The equipment is functional but overall it is a bit shabby.

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Sauna ? Did not try it.

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The most unique feature is the small swimming pool. This is the entrance to the fitness area and additional guest rooms.

cave hotel-29The changing area and shower have a Moroccan accent – quite common in France …

cave hotel-26 We had the pool to ourselves … bathing in the colored lights reflecting off the white cave walls.

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The rocks in the area are known as tufa, a type of limestone, similar to travertine.

cave hotel-31There was nothing special about the water, it was simply standard very lightly-chlorinated swimming pool water. The water was not naturally there.

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The rest of the B&B/hotel and common areas …

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Dining, reception areas

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Terrace (with frogs hopping about)

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View from the hotel front garden. The river Loire is just on the other side of the road hidden behind the trees.

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More from the area in the next few posts …



This is the first of a series of blog posts on our trip to the Loire Valley (Val de Loire).

The main purpose of this trip was to attend our friend – VC’s birthday party (actually as surprise guests) at E’s place in Orleans, France. Rather than flying up to Paris, we decided to take the car. By going this way we get to see more of the countryside and explore the Loire Valley at our leisure. We chose Saumur as a starting point on the West and slowly worked our way upriver along the valley until we reach Orleans. The Loire , the longest river in France, flows east to west into the Atlantic near St Nazaire, passing through cities like Orleans, Tours, Saumur and Nantes.

We split the driving from Lausanne to this region into 2 legs (stopping one night at Troyes). Our first two nights in the region were spent in this unusual hotel at Turquant, just outside Saumur.


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This small B&B/hotel – Demeure de la Vignole offers rooms and facilities that are built inside caves !  Our room is actually a small two-storey dwelling, the back of which are caves and the walls of the cliff.


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Looking out from inside the cave.


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The toilet and bathroom as well as an “entrance hall” is on the ground floor.


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A spiral staircase rises through a hole cut into the rocks creating a passage to the cave above.


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Our bedroom, “living room” and balconies are on the second floor.

This is the view from our bed.

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It did not feel claustrophobic, contrary to what we thought …


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Caves are naturally cold and humid and our room was equipped with a dehumidifier. There were stickers on all the thermostats around the unit to warn us not to adjust them as they were carefully set. We can imagine that if the humidity is not kept low, the environment would encourage mold to grow (as witnessed in our trip to a mushroom farm (see later post)).


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The place was spotlessly clean with no sign of insects or molds.


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View from our balcony, looking out towards the Loire river at dusk.


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Our room and balcony is next to the lighted spot next to the cliff on the right side.


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Historically, some settlers in this area has carved into the cliff sides and made dwellings out of the caves. According to Wikipedia,

A cave dweller or troglodyte is a human being who inhabits a cave or the area beneath the overhanging rocks of a cliff.

We became troglodytes for two days.

More to come about the hotel.



These are the photos I (Chris) took and posted on Facebook. The series was started in March of 2013. There is no theme – just something random and visually interesting. We gave each a title and noted where it was taken (to the extent we could remember the city).

#51  – marilyn – Paris


#52 – california delivery – on Interstate 15

California Delivery Service

#53 – dialogue – Freiburg


#54 – August 19 & Feiningers

Aug 19, 2012

random photo #55 – untitled – Freiberg



If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.

I enjoy visiting bookstores.

Several posts here are dedicated to the bookstores I have visited in other cities. For example, MIT Press bookstore in Boston and Livraria Cultura in Iguatemi, Saõ Paulo. This is my second post on a bookstore in Köln. The first one on Siebter Himmel is here.

Warning: there are only photos of books here, stacks and stacks of them !



This bookstore simply named Büchermarkt (book market) occupies at least three floors of this brick building on Breite Straße 79 , 50667 Cologne.




It may very well be a chain store and I just went to one of its branches. But this is one with the largest collection of art books I have seen recently. Very cramped and stocked with many different titles.




Near the entrance, they have the new and discounted books including many of the coffee table tomes put out by Taschen and Phaidon.





And then it is just wall-to-wall books. From fashion to fine art to film.




Even more liberal art and cultural books upstairs. I read somewhere that Cologne produces most of the TV shows of Germany. There is probably a sizable population of media types to keep such a bookstore alive.





There is a “balcony” where the two floors are connected by a double height space.




Without this double height space, it can feel very claustrophobic.




There is another floor… a narrow wooden staircase leading up …  I have found the out-of-print section. There are some Artists’ books (Künstlerbücher) on display here.




There was a desk and a storekeeper at the top who asked me to leave my bag at the entrance. This place really felt like a library – the smell of old books. There were no price tags on the books here.




Art books are full of pictures. I can spend days in here even I do not read German.


These are the photos I (Chris) took and posted on Facebook. The series was started in March of 2013. There is no theme – just something random and visually interesting. We gave each a title and noted where it was taken (to the extent we could remember the city).

By the way, this post is out of sequence with respect to the photo #s but the photos have not been posted here previously.

#36 – W49th – New York


#37 – 出淤泥而不染 – Erawan Museum, Thailand


#38 – shiny street – Lausanne

gold brick road-1


#39 – light puddles – Munich

pools of light

#40 – prizes – Yverdon-les-bains

horse 1.

If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.

I visited two very different bookstores in Cologne. Located in the Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel), see our earlier post about the area here.

Siebter Himmel means Seventh Heaven.


It was quite a surprising discovery since I had no idea of what it was supposed to be when I first walked in.


Is it a bookstore, a gift shop or … ? Well, a bookstore and lifestyle/design store.



According to their web site here :

 Our book and Design Shop “Seventh Heaven” was born from the belief that book and design can be connected to a special shopping experience. In a total of seven themed worlds, we satisfy your curiosity about unusual products, your right to quality and your desire for personal recommendations. … Expect the unexpected. Let yourself be inspired. Welcome to the “Seventh Heaven”.



It is a small shop with a deep and narrow footprint but they have managed to create several distinctive spaces within it. Quite a feat.

7heaven-9Mannequin on a swing !



Most of the books are in German.


They further subdivided into thrillers into political, nordic and regional.


Siebter Himmel is one of the best lifestyle-themed bookstore I have seen.


Glad that they did not have a coffee bar inside, just because every other bookstore already has one.


They sell clothings and music as well as design objects.


Every city should at least have one such bookstore !  See my earlier posts on some bookstores in Sao Paulo here  and here.


My next post is on a more traditional bookstore, also in Köln.


Continuing with my exploration of the Belgian quarter of Cologne (see earlier post here), I came across this unusual combination of enterprises on Brüsseler Strasse 74-76.


The shop floor is divided into two halves, the front is a laundromat while the back is a retail store.


The two businesses share the same entrance.


So one pass the washing machines and dryers before getting into the skateboard and street wear shop.


This combination makes a lot of sense. I am not sure if they are both owned by the same business Rock On but their web site is here.


While the customers are waiting for laundry, they can peruse the merchandise of the store. The demogrpahics also make sense in that those who use a laundromat are likely to be interested in skateboard and paraphenalia.


There is also a waiting area near the entrance where one can ignore the retail activities in the back. One can read the papers and pick up leaflets for concerts and parties here.


But could the arrangement of the two businesses be reversed and give more exposure to the retail shop ?  Just like supermarkets that place eggs and milk, the necessities in the corner furtherest from the entrance.

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I (Chris) wanted to visit Köln because it is another big city in Germany (No.4 by population). I liked Berlin (No. 1) and Munich (No. 3) and wanted to see more urban life in Germany. You will see it in the next few posts.

Köln is a very compact cityas far as tourists are concerned, because most of the sights are clustered around the main train station and the cathedral (Dom). The train station and the Dom are both next to a bridge that crosses the Rhine.


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Here’s my theory: Köln is big enough of a city where a critical mass of like-minded people congregate to form a neighborhood with a distinct identity/culture.  New York has enough people to support many such neighborhoods – e.g., East village, Astoria, Harlem, etc. Alright, I sound too serious or am just stating the obvious here.


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Any way, Cologne has the Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel) which is situated within the inner city boundary and within walking distance from the main streets and pedestrianized shopping areas (on the other side of the Hohenzollering).


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The best way to characterize the area is that it is the Greenwich Village of Cologne. Brüsseler and Antwerpener strasses.


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At the heart of the Belgian Quarter is the Brüsseler Platz, or Brussels Square, dominated by St Michael’s Church, built around 1910.


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Here are some of the businesses in the area.

Madam Miammiam cakeshop

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Monsieur Courbet record shop

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RockOn cafe (?)

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One of the main streets of Köin – Aachener strasse – forms the southern border of this neighborhood and is lined with restaurants.


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I had lunch here. Herr Pimock – bar food, friendly, casual.


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Filmkunst 27 is probably the best looking video rental shop I have visited. Initially I thought they sell Apple products and software but no …

Did rental service not disappear a decade ago?  This shop seems to specialize in hard-to-find, cult movies – all titles are sorted by the movie director and grouped according to the country of origin.


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This cafe (Salon Schmitz) and its sister eatery (Metzgerei Schmitz) next door on Aachener strasse are best known for the ambience, the artists and the art it showcases.

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I had dinner here – on the edge of the Belgian Quarter – Colina at Flandrische strasse, the steaks are recommendable.


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More pictures about the shops in the area to come.