Category Archives: geography

Bone Records: Soviet-Era Bootlegged Music on X-Rays

bone-record-1

During the Cold War, Soviet Russia was a very restrictive place. The media was heavily censored, foreign radio and television station waves were jammed, books that criticized the Soviet regime were banned, and playing western music that was deemed morally and culturally depraved was prohibited. At the same time, dissident activity was rife. Banned literature and underground publications were reproduced by hand and the documents passed from reader to reader. Even music was bootlegged.

Read the rest

Cat Ladders of Bern

Cats love climbing, and they certainly need no human help to navigate precarious-looking structures. But in the Swiss city of Bern, cat owners are extra concerned of the wellbeing of their pets. All around the city you will see structures built specially for cats to climb. They look like fire exits, but of a more dangerous kind, attached to the outer walls, creating a path from the upper floor balconies or windows down to the street.

Switzerland-based graphic designer and writer Brigitte Schuster chronicles this unique phenomenon in her new book Swiss Cat Ladders.

bern cat ladders

Read the rest

Buchette Del Vino: The Wine Windows of Florence

A unique architectural curiosity found only in the Italian city of Florence are tiny decorated openings on the outside walls of many sumptuous palaces. They are about the size of a cat door, but are located below the level of the waist. The openings are blocked by a wooden or iron door, and many doors have knockers.

For many centuries, a surreptitious trade of wine was conducted through these tiny windows. A customer looking to buy wine would knock on the door, whereupon the cellarman or porter appointed by the owner of the house would open the door from the inside. The customer would slip a few coins into the hands of the cellarman, and in return, he would hand the customer a flask of wine.… Read the rest

Qinngua Valley, Greenland’s Only Forest

Greenland is actually quite white and blue, due to all the glaciers that cover the world’s largest island like frosting on a cake. But near the southern end, sheltered within narrow fjords, there is still some greenery left.

South of Tasersuag Lake and east of Tasiusaq Fjord, oriented north-south, is a valley about 15 kilometers long that contains the only natural forest in Greenland. Qinngua Valley is protected on either side by tall mountains nearly 5,000 feet high that shields the valley from cold winds coming off the interior. The sea itself is 50 kilometers away. This creates a warm climate favorable to trees such as the downy birch and gray-leaf willow. The lack of strong winds allow the trees to stand up straight. Some of … Read the rest

Sergei Krikalev: The Man Who Went Up a Soviet And Came Down a Russian

mir-space-station

Late in the spring of 1991, Soviet cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Anatoli Artsebarski, along with Britain's first astronaut, Helen Sharman, blasted off into space towards Mir, the Soviet space station. Sergei Krikalev’s and Anatoli Artsebarski’s mission was to relieve the existing crew of the space station, while Helen Sharman was onboard as part of the British Juno program to conduct experiments on life sciences. Sharman returned back to earth together with the crew of the previous mission eight days later, leaving Krikalev and Artsebarski circling around the earth conducting repairs on the ailing space station. Five months later, Anatoli Artsebarski went home too, but Krikalev didn’t mind—he was trained for long-duration flights. Two years earlier, Krikalev had spent 152 days aboard Mir. He did not know … Read the rest

What a 7-Year-Old Russian Boy Doodled in The 13th Century

novgorod-bitch-bark-onfim-1

Fifty years ago, a trove of manuscripts written on birch bark was discovered in the Russian city of Novgorod, situated some 200 kilometers south of Saint Petersburg. Birch bark was frequently used in the old days as a replacement for paper, which was—until a few centuries ago—a valuable commodity. Birch trees were widely available and could be easily cultivated. In fact, Novgorod is surrounded by birch forests, whose bark was used for centuries by the locals for writing since it was soft and easily scratched. Thin pieces of birch bark was almost as good as wood-pulp paper, while requiring nothing to manufacture.

Read the rest

Mauritania’s Iron Ore Train

mauritania-railway-4

At one million square kilometers, Mauritania is not a small country, but a very small percentage of it is habitable. The rest is covered by the sands of the Sahara. Towns and settlements are separated by vast stretches of inhospitable desert. Roads often have to make detours hundreds of kilometers long just to avoid the drifting sands.

The mining town of Zouérat in northern Mauritania is one such isolated outpost. With a population close to fifty thousand, Zouérat is not a small town either. Yet, Zouérat’s only connection to the city of Nouadhibou, the country’s only major shipping port on the Atlantic coast, is via a railway. This railway, the only one in the country, serves as the lifeline for one of the world’s poorest nations, … Read the rest