Why gold’s so expensive – ver. 2019.

Around a year ago, I told you on these here blog pages about an excursion I was given around a gold mine. Down we went deep into the bowels of the earth, where we were shown the whole process of beneficiation through which they extract out of every ton of earth a mere 7-8 grams of gold (which eventually find themselves in a .900 – ~20 karat gold bar).

Now, during that excursion, I recall how we were told by our guides how, though the mine we were in was really quite sufficiently modern, mechanized and automated, it still remained somewhat a ‘diet’ version of a gold mine. If we wanted to see a ‘full fat’ version, we needed to get ourselves… somewhere like this (which, a year later, is just what we did):

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Wonder – on a wander round Rwanda.

Hi folks!

And the news and tales from Rwanda go like this:

1. We’ve just opened a new office here! Our business is doing really rather well here, so we needed local specialists for the local market. Maybe we’ll need some for the neighboring countries too. For now though – our Rwandan office is on the fourth floor of this building:

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And now – gorillas!

Hi folks!

Back just before a busy business schedule in Rwanda the other week (more on that in a few days), we had a half-day spot of tourism scheduled. We’d heard great things about the Volcanoes National Park – those great things being gorillas! So we decided to get on over there for a look…

Gorillas! Large, muscular apes with black fur that inhabit the forests of central Sub-Saharan Africa. The males are huge, reaching body weights of up to 250kg, but they’re vegetarian, and also rather unaggressive beasts; that is – unless you provoke them, as our guides told us: 250kg of muscle and sharp fangs are not something you want to get angry. (Interestingly, on the Russian Wikipedia page for gorillas it states that ~ “if an enemy decides to bottle it and turn and run, the gorilla will catch him/her up and take a bite out of the back or bottom thereof. In some African tribes the most shameful of scars one can have are those from a gorilla: it means that the person ran from one; therefore he/she is a coward.”!

Our expert guides told us how wild-cat predators like leopards and also other powerful and fearsome thuggish beasts like buffalo tend to steer well clear of gorillas. Gorillas are just too strapping and brawny to mess with.

(Regarding their strength, I quote my travel companion, A.S., btw: “Woah! I just saw a young female who was slowly, calmly building up a nest (I think). She grabbed the branch of a tree some five centimeters thick and simply snapped it off without any effort at all! And that was a wee lassie”:)

Did you know that gorillas (and also chimpanzees and orangutans) are the closest species to Homo sapiens? We made a genetic split from them some seven million years ago. Apparently our DNA is just slightly different to theirs – by just two percent! That’s why they look so much like us the fitness trainers in our gym ).

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Rwespect to Rwanda!

Hi folks!

Well, I’ve sorted my pics from my recent Africa trip, so it’s time for a brief intro-report on my impressions of the Republic of Rwanda!

For an African country it’s rather a tiny one, toward the mid-to-southeast of the continent. With a population of around 12 million, area-wise it’s a little smaller than Belgium, which by some strange coincidence Rwanda happens to have once been a colony of.

Now, to someone who knows little about Rwanda, that’s probably where the similarities with Belgium would end. But it’s not the case! In fact Rwanda fairly amazed me by how much it differs from other African countries I’ve been to. Sure, there’s the inevitable poverty, but the differences are many. I’ll start with climate…

Rwanda is around 150–300km south of the equator, so yes, there’s plenty of sunshine every day. However, it’s about 1500m above sea level, so the climate is most comfortable: Not too hot, and not too humid either like places near the equator but down by sea level.

Another largely atypical feature: how the countryside looks – green, rolling hills, beautiful (btw: in the northwest of the country there are volcanoes and jungles with gorillas, and in the southeast – savanna with all sorts of interesting African wildlife).

Here’s the view of the Rwandan capital, Kigali:

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Istanbul’s new airport: humungous, ambitious – and delicious!

A new airport has opened in Istanbul! And about time too, for the former main airport had long since been overstretched but couldn’t be expanded because it’s in the city itself (it’s now used just for cargo, business and other unscheduled flights), while the national carrier has been impressively expanding its geographical spread of destinations around the globe. Woah: a quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that that geographical expansion is so impressive that it’s given Turkish Airlines the highest number of countries served by an airline – a whopping 121! The second highest is Air France, but way behind TK  with just 91. Turkish is also sixth in the rankings of most destinations (304 cities) served, with only international cargo and US airlines ahead of it (i.e., hardly the fairest of comparisons). It’s also tenth in the world on fleet size – again behind US/Chinese/postal behemoths (and Ryanair:). But I digress…

So it was logically decided some years ago that Istanbul needed a new, bigger airport hub – a grandiose one; therefore one was built on a greenfield site outside the city. It’s size is 6 x 4.5km; it has four (!) runways each four kilometers long; and a gigantic terminal some 800×400 meters (that’s the main building, not including all walkways to the gates). In a word three words: oh my ginormous!

Here’s the view from up top:

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German triangle.

The other week I pulled a three-day Russia-Germany triangle: Moscow – Munich – Berlin – Moscow. Though it wasn’t such a long-sided triangle, it all the same was a toughie, as so much was packed into my itinerary. However, I didn’t even manage to get myself to Munich itself, only having got as far as its airport. But then, Munich Airport has its own… brewery, so I wasn’t complaining ).

The brewery is right in the middle of one of the airport’s restaurants too – so that’s two unusuals already; I wondered if the beer was going to be unusual too…

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Libertas in monte.

Strolling around the City of San Marino, with its unassailable towers and fortress walls at the very top of a mountain, I figured it must have been a refuge against the medieval bandits, robbers and pillagers that once roamed Europe. However, it turns out that’s not the case.

According to legend, the beginnings of the first settlement here were established by a Christian stonemason in the 4th century A.D. during the period of persecution of Christians. He set up a humble home, started extracting stone, others joined him, a monastery appeared, and on and on it grew organically. Now, for around 1700 years there’s existed here this micro-state up a mountain. Down the centuries many tried to invade it, but no one ever succeeded. The details are rather interesting. Anyway, it’s physical impermeability to a large extent is the reason why it’s stayed independent. The country naturally cherishes this independence: you can tell by the way both its flag and emblem have the Latin ‘LIBERTAS’ (liberty) written large thereupon.

The first, oldest, tower at first was… a prison (keeping bad folks in as well as out!):

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San Marino – Europe’s third-smallest country, don’t you know.

Ciao folks!

Herewith, a tiny post on a tiny addition to my not-tiny list of been-to’s in the world.

As time goes by, my getting a +1 to my countries-visited list seems to become less and less frequent. Maybe that’s because I’ve been to that many – more than 90. Yes, perhaps. But with 206 countries currently in the world, it really shouldn’t mean I’ve much excuse to start slowing down with my new-adds, surely. There’s still plenty of countries to go.

For example, even in nearby (i.e., easily-accessible) Europe, I’ve a full six states left to go: San Marino, Slovenia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus and Moldova.

//… Six, that is, according to one definition of which countries are part of Europe. What about, for example, the countries of the Caucuses region? Are they in Europe or in Asia (or both?). If they are, then I need to add Georgia to my list of European yet-to-checks. I’ve been on its territory, but that wasn’t quite Georgia: it was the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (Batumi, 1981).

And I’m sure there will be other question marks within my list: some countries aren’t recognized by certain states. But I don’t want to get into that can of worms.

Aaaanyway. Back to my +1. It was the tiny teeniest of countries – one perhaps whose sovereign status you might not even have been aware of (as many Europeans aren’t:). So – drum roll – it was….. ah, you already know: it’s in the title to this post!. So much for the added drum-drama ).

San Marino is a microstate set in the Apennine mountains, surrounded completely by Italy. In a few words: unique, unusual, unusually awesome, unusually old, and unusually wealthy. Unusually beautiful too…

And that’s all I’ll say about San Marino. This is one of those posts… for the Instagram generation, perhaps: Less words – more pics!

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Formula Paris-E.

Bonjour folks!

Today’s post is all about Formula E. Just in case that term is a new one to you – the ‘E’ stands for ‘Electric’. And the ‘Formula’ – yep, that’s like just like with ‘Formula 1’. Combined – you’ve guessed it: F1 but with electric cars!

It was only a matter of time since the electric car came into fairly widespread use that they’d start being raced a la Formula 1. And indeed, already for four and a half years they have been racing – around large cities across the globe, garnering more and more attention as time passes. And finally, the other week, I found myself at my first ePrix – in Paris!

And we weren’t just spectating, we take part too; first, with our expertise: we protect the cyber-infrastructure of the Envision Virgin team.

Second: with our sponsorship: check out the panels each side of the driver’s head!

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Notre Dame – optimism, despite the harm.

Bonjour folks!

I’m a technical guy, so I get attracted like a magnet to different kinds of unusual and/or unique buildings. And that includes old – even ancient ones. Standing awestruck at the architectural/construction works of the ancient masters is something I do a lot. How did they manage that? How come their proportions are so exact? How come they had a grand vision and followed through to build massive masterpieces – which simply wouldn’t be built these days, even given the resources.

In Paris there are plenty of such constructions. And when in town I often tread the same path I always have, and could never become bored of it: Eiffel Tower > Pompidou Center > Notre-Dame. So it came as a bit of a shock hearing the news of the fire in the latter one late evening in northern Taiwan. The early accounts of the damage made me think it was all over for Our Lady of Paris. Of course it would be repaired and restored – but it wouldn’t be quite the same would it?

When I arrived in the French capital a few days later – I rushed to see the damage for myself. And was cheered up no end by seeing that things weren’t as bad as made out in the press. She’s still standing tall and proud! Sure, there’s plenty of damage – but not everywhere. I tried to get up close but it was cordoned off, so had to settle for inspecting the damage from a way off:

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