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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Photo credit: Larry Lamsa/Flickr
An architectural oddity found only in the US state of Vermont is the so-called “witch window”. These are normal portrait-style windows, but angled diagonally so that its long edge is parallel to the roof slope. They are installed in the upper stories in the gable-end wall of the house, and are usually found in old farmhouses.
According to the locals the windows were installed to prevent witches from flying into the house, because apparently witches can’t fly through an angled window, which might physically be true, but one might wonder why all the windows of the house aren’t angled. Surely, a witch would need only one vertical window to enter the house, and there are plenty of vertical windows to use. There … Read the rest
Funiculars are an odd mode of transport, but at the same time, they are one of the most energy-efficient one. The system consist of two counterbalanced cars attached at the ends of a long cable that goes up a slope and over a pulley and then comes back down. So when one car goes up, the other comes down. The weight of the two cars counterbalances each other, so that only a minimal amount of energy is required to pull up the ascending car, which is usually provided by an electric motor. Some historic funiculars made the system even more energy-efficient by using water as the motive force.
Funiculaire Neuveville-St.Pierre, the world’s only poo-powered funicular. Photo credit: Norbert Aepli/Wikimedia
The building that houses Bolivia’s legislative assembly in Plaza Murillo, in central La Paz, features a clock above the entrance that looks like a mirror image. The positions of the numerals on the clock face are reversed, and the clock itself runs anticlockwise. The building, which was erected during the 1920s and was originally intended to serve as the headquarters of Bolivia's central bank, featured a regular clock until 2014, when the clock was reversed to better reflect the “southern-ness” of the Bolivian people.
“Who said clocks always have to run the same way? Why do we always have to be obedient? Why can't we be creative?” asked Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, who seemed especially pleased with the idea.