Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Cookie in a Pot" Experiment Aborted

I was given this lovely butter cookie in sun flower look stuck in a clay pot. A cute idea, but the cookie didn't look that delicious in it's plastic wrap.

So I decided to turn this into an experiment inspired by one of the DVD extras from Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" movie. I was curious to see when the cookie was going to become moldy. I placed it on a shelf at my desk in the office, and waited, and waited, ... I moved buildings and teams within the company and the cookie-in-a-pot came along as a fixture at or near my desk.

When I was cleaning up after the last move, I found it in an unopened moving box. 12 years later with no mold I finally aborted the experiment.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Vasona Branch Shakedown Session

Extra 3444 at the Packing House off Auzerais Ave in West San Jose
I participated in a shakedown session at Robert Bowdidge's Vasona Branch layout today. Since the layout hasn't operated for a while, the idea was to find bugs and gremlins in the layout. It performed quite well for my crew.

The Vasona Branch is one of the first operating layouts I encountered, and it still pulls me in the same way it did 10 years ago. On top of that, Robert is a great host with lots of knowledge of local history.

San Carlos Street viaduct
The layout has a unique mix of busy city switch jobs combined with the rural feeling of the Valley of Heart's Delight into the Santa Cruz mountains  in the 1930's. 

Apricot drying racks between West San Jose and Cambell
This was a very relaxed session with lots of chatting. The time went by very quickly and I think everybody enjoyed themselves. I certainly did.

At Wrights south of Los Gatos

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Aaaand back

Getting up at 5am for an 8:20am flight is so much nicer than 3am for a 6am flight. My mother dropped me off in Waiblingen, I took the 6:10am S-Bahn to the airport and an easy 40 minutes later disembarked less than 100 meters from the check-in counter. For now Stuttgart is still a small airport with short walks. Stuttgart 21 will likely "fix" that convenience.

Boarding was planned for 7:50am, but the inbound flight arrived only by 7:55am. My connection in Frankfurt just got a little bit tighter.

To my surprise we got out of Stuttgart with only a light delay and upon touch down the pilot hit the brakes very hard to catch the shortest path to our parking position in one of the most remote corners of the Frankfurt airport. Since my seat was in the middle of the airplane, I was one of the last people getting off. However, that meant I got to enjoy the ride in the second bus which was not only almost completely empty, but also faster at the terminal than the first bus.

After the usual US passport and security check nonsense I settled into my seat for the long-haul flight to SFO. Along the way I got to observe melting inland ice on the west coast of Greenland.

Isn't that Mount Shasta in the distance?

In the last turn before lining up for final approach into SFO.  Hi, Carl!

Almost home.

Friday, July 12, 2019

German Rain

You might have noticed by now, that after 20 years in California, I really enjoy rain. Today is no different,. Let's hope it won't be too bad tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Livraria Lello

Livraria Lello is a book store that became part of the Harry Potter craze after J.K. Rowling revealed that it served as inspiration for the Hogwarts library. I can certainly see how this store is inspirational, even if you are not a hard-core HP fan. I very much enjoyed myself during our visit. The whole store, including the stair case, the shelves, and the ceiling are beautifully adorned and works of art.

Of course the store is capitalizing on its sudden popularity, and I can't really blame them. You need to buy a voucher to enter the store. The 5 Euros per person can be applied to book purchases. While most books sold here are in Portuguese, they do have a limited selection in other languages, mostly English, some French, some Spanish.

Crowd management is a real challenge here. All photos in this post were taken within a few minutes after store opening with close to a hundred people waiting in line outside. I suspect that such photos are pretty much impossible otherwise during the high season.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Porto Sao Bento

Sao Bento station in Porto is famous for the tile-adorned entrance hall, but I do like this view from the entrance hall into the train shed, too.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Friday, July 05, 2019

Lisbon Tram 28

Of course, we rode the famous tram line 28 through Lisbon from one end to the other, and several times on shorter trips. The ride is definitely more fun if you have a seat.

Tram 28 travels through a fairly diverse set of neighborhoods, up and down the hills, threading through some impressively tight spots.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Ascensor da Bica

Lisbon has several elevators connecting the upper neighborhoods with lower-lying areas. Most of them are from the early 20th century and part of regular transit operations, so a 24 hour / day pass is valid on these lines.

We took the elevator for fun, like apparently most other passengers. Locals seem to take the bus, which runs more frequently and goes farther, not just up the hill.

Riding the elevator with its creaky, wooden passenger compartment is an experience I was happy to wait 10 minutes in line for. However, had the line been much longer, we would have skipped it.

At the top near Largo Calhariz.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Tram 25

Lisbon, Rua de S. Paulo

Sunday, June 30, 2019


I had no idea that there is a flying equivalent to the well-known leafcutter ants: The leafcutter bee. Megachile is the largest genus of bees. They are typically solitary.

During breakfast today, we got to watch one build its nest in a pot on the breakfast table. Every 5-10 minutes it brought another neatly rolled up leaf piece, flew a round on the patio, and deposited the leaf in its nest.

Since the bee was so busy building its nest, it didn't disturb our breakfast activities at all and was good fun to watch.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Berlin - Neckargroeningen

Morning departure at Berlin Hbf. Obviously we had a great time in Berlin. A couple hours later we're approaching Erfurt at full-speed: 300 km/h

Group photo with our ICE 3 train set upon arrival in Nuremberg.

Oh, you prefer the train without the people? There ya go.

I like the look of this class 185 in blue "Bahnland Bayern" livery.

Intercity 2068 is ready to depart Nuremburg for Stuttgart Hbf. While these new train sets are nice, their failure rate seems to be still relatively high.

Despite an 8 minute late departure from Nuremberg due to "technical problems with the train", we arrived on-time in Stuttgart Hbf.

35 minutes later we disembark U12 in Neckargroeningen. Back home again.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten

Bhf Zoologischer Garten served as Berlins main station for long-distance trains from West-Germany while East and West Berlin were separated by the wall. The amount of traffic passing  over the Stadtbahn and through this station with its only 4 tracks was impressive and there were routinely reports in the press how this station was bursting at the seams.

Today Bahnhof Zoo is not quite as busy any more, since a lot of traffic as moved to the new and nearby Berlin Hbf station. However, one can still see a variety of modern regional and long-distance equipment here, e.g. this class 442 regional train.

To my surprise I didn't see an ICE here today as we waited for our train, but a DB Intercity led by a class 101 locomotive and a PKP Intercity led by a class EU44, which is the polish version of Siemens' ES64U4, came through the station.

Speaking of ES64, the area around Berlin hosts the two dozen ES64U2 rostered by DB as class 182, which is the same model as the famous Austrian "Taurus". These versatile and fast locomotives are wasted on regional trains  with bi-level cars like this RegionalExpress.

Our ride to Luebbenau today is a Stadler-built bi-level EMU of Ostdeutsche Eisenbahn GmbH (odeg). Yet another example how German regional rail traffic has been rapidly changing in the last few years as new operators enter the scene and are generally required to provide service with new modern equipment as part of their operations contract.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Anhalter Bahnhof

The Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin is legendary. Not much of it remains today, but it gives a glimpse of its former splendor.

The S-Bahn station has pictures of the station over time. Here's an inside view from the 1880's.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

At Night in Berlin

We had tickets for the Reichstagskuppel timed for 10pm, which allowed us to stay in the cupola until closing time. We ended up hanging out up there almost by ourselves. It made for a very nice and almost peaceful atmosphere.

Friedrichstrasse and Fernsehturm from Reichstagskuppel
Of course we tried to take photos of Brandenburger Tor at night, too ... just like everybody else. However, except on the first day of our visit the Tor was fenced off in preparation for an event the coming weekend. Nevertheless, I got a couple nice shots.