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TechnoTourist’s Engineering Expeditions

Want to travel the world, but don't have time to leave the office? TechnoTourist is here to save the day! Tag along while TechnoTourist visits famous engineering feats around the world. TechnoTourist will also investigate fascinating technologies that help to preserve and discover incredible travel locations. Maybe you could use TechnoTourist's insights to help you plan your next travel itinerary, or escape from the stresses of everyday life!

Vacation Destinations for Engineers

Posted July 17, 2014 9:13 AM by SavvyExacta
User-tagged by 1 user

What are your summer vacation plans? TechnoTourist has compiled a list of some destinations of engineering interest that have been featured on the blog in past years. Please add your suggestions in the comments!

USA:

Europe:

Other:

11 comments; last comment on 07/22/2014
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Castell de Bellver - Mallorca Spain's Circular Castle

Posted November 02, 2013 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

Bellver Castle, or Castell de Bellver, is located in Palma de Mallorca and dates back to the 14th century. This particular castle is unique because of its round shape, the only one of such a design in Spain.

Circular Design

Bellver Castle was built from 1300 to 1311. The structure combines many defensive elements with palatial design:

  • Two-story castle in a circular shape
  • Hilltop location with 360 degree views of the ocean and surrounding mountains
  • Moat surrounding the structure
  • Three small towers connected to the main structure
  • A fourth large tower, called a keep, connected by a bridge
  • Open courtyard with well or cistern at the center
  • Various rooms off the courtyard with gothic arches

The sandstone used to construct the castle was taken from nearby rock quarries. The four towers face the four points of the compass with the largest tower, the keep, facing north.

Uses of Castell de Bellver

The original purpose of the castle was to serve as a summer home for the Kings of Mallorca. The castle did not see much battle action; it resisted two sieges during the Middle Ages.

The castle was first used as a prison in the 14th century and that was also its primary function during the War of Spanish Succession and the Spanish Independence War. It served as a political prison as recently as the mid-20th century.

Today the castle is a museum. Some aspects of the building have been modernized: for example, glass now fills some of the arrow slits. Modern conveniences like handicap access ramps and restroom facilities have been added.

Still, the castle is well-maintained and largely mimics its original design. Etchings made by prisoners can be seen in the walls. The views from the top of the castle are stunning. For the views alone, the castle is worth a visit. The fact that you're taking in such views from the top of the castle is just the icing on the cake!

True castle enthusiasts can even purchase a Bellver Castle Model Kit.

Read about my visit to Barcelona.

Resources:

Castell de Bellver - Museum d'Historia de la Ciutat

Wikipedia - Bellver Castle

North South Guides - Mallorca Bellver Castle

Destination360 - Castell de Bellver

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Barcelona and the Influence of Antoni Gaudí' (Park Güell, Sagrada Familia)

Posted October 11, 2013 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta
Pathfinder Tags: Gaudi Park Guell Sagrada Familia

My travels brought me to Spain a few weeks ago. Barcelona is a port city that was revived by hosting the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. But 100 years before those Games, the city's architecture was influenced by the work of Antoni Gaudí, who made Barcelona his home. You can read more about Gaudí at the Gaudí House Museum website, but Wikipedia has even more information.

Gaudí's designs are known for incorporating his passions of architecture, nature, and religion. He began implementing modernista, neo-Gothic, and naturalist designs in Barcelona in the late 19th century. Eusebi Güell, a Catalan entrepreneur, commissioned many of Gaudí's works.

Here are some of his most famous and recognizable designs in the city of Barcelona.

Park Güell

Gaudí began work on Park Güell in 1900 and continued through 1914. The space was originally intended to be an upscale housing development in a park setting. The housing plan failed after two structures were built. Today the area is a municipal garden. It's very unique! Mosaic art and whimsical walkways flow throughout the park. Built on a hillside, a series of ramps and staircases wind their way to the top. The park was intentionally designed without roadways to minimize intrusions.

Casa Batlló

image credit - barcelonatouristguide.com

Casa Batlló was constructed from 1904-1906. This well-known house has a unique façade. Gaudí did not like straight lines and so incorporated other design elements into the house:

  • The balconies are designed to look like masks
  • Colored ceramic fragments tile the front
  • The roofline is arched and resembles a dragon's back

Casa Milà

Constructed from 1906-1910, Casa Milà is another house with unique design elements:

  • The top of the house is meant to look like a snowy mountain
  • The chimneys are shaped like medieval helmets
  • The façade and balconies were inspired by waves and seaweed

Sagrada Familia

Construction of the Sagrada Familia began in 1882. Gaudi's involvement began in 1915; the church is his most famous work and will not be completed until at least 2027. After Gaudi's death in 1926 (he was struck by a tram), construction has continued to his specifications despite some difficulties. Gaudi primarily used models, rather than blueprints or plans on paper, to communicate his design. Many of his models for the Sagrada Familia were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.

The Sagrada Familia is unique in many aspects of its design and is intended to imitate natural shapes. In fact, it's supposed to look like a forest, and it does when viewed from a small park across the street. At completion it will have 18 towers.

Three facades of the church depict different parts of the Bible. Gaudí completed the Nativity façade before his death. This video shows what the finished church will look like. Improvements have come along more quickly since 3D design software, modern cranes, and lifts replaced mechanical tools and wagons!

1 comments; last comment on 10/11/2013
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The Secrets of the Mojave Desert – A Land of Wonder and Mystery

Posted July 20, 2013 12:00 AM by johngower

The Mojave Desert, located in southern California and Nevada, is the smallest of the North American Deserts. The Mojave is bordered by the Colorado River to the east and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. The mountain range's rain shadow effect creates the Mojave's arid climate, with the desert averaging annual rainfall totals of between 2.23 and 2.5 inches a year - mostly in the winter season from October to March. The Mojave is classified as a "high desert" with an elevation between 2,000 and 5,000 feet. The desert's temperatures vary widely depending on location; the Mojave is a cold desert in the northern section and a hot desert in the southern. Temperatures plummet as low as 8 degrees Fahrenheit in January and exceed 119 degrees in August.

The Mojave contains a unique series of dune fields, the largest of which being the Kelso Dunes. These monumental mounds of sand are up to 600 feet in height, containing eolian sand deposits with a high content of quartz and feldspar. These dunes, sprawling over 45 square miles, are a relatively small part of a sand transport system that includes nearby Devil's Playground.

The Mojave Desert ecosystem places extreme stresses on its inhabitants - extreme temperatures, extremely small amounts of precipitation, lack of shelter or shade. Because of the unique biome, many of its plants and animals have adapted with strategies to survive its stresses. Mojave plants - including brittlebrush, creosote bush, Joshua trees, and sagebrush, among others - tend to have shallow root systems that allow for quick absorption of rain, spines and waxy leaves to help retain water, and thorns which protect their retained moisture from opportunist predators. The singularity of the ecosystem makes for distinctive plants - for instance, the Mojave is the only place that the Joshua tree is found in the world. The Joshua tree, a large, woody monocot, is itself is a glimpse into past eons as a plant that bridges the gap between grasses and more vascularly complex flora.

Animals have likewise adapted to the Mojave's harsh conditions. Desert tortoises, for instance, can store up to one quart of water in their bladder, to be re-circulated through their body in small amounts. Tortoises - and many other animals, including coyotes and rattlesnakes - burrow into the sand to avoid the sun's heat. Tortoises can spend as much as ninety-five percent of the their life underground.

The US Geological Survey has determined that the Mojave's climate is far from static, with precipitation increasing since the early 1970s. Changing weather patterns are likely going to affect the Mojave's vegetation, and possibly cause the desert's borders to shift over the next few hundred years.

Editor's Note: John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website dedicated to helping you save money with financial tips on everything from travel to online stock trading reviews.

Image Credits: http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/ecoregions/51308frame.htm, http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/tecopa-lake-bed-mojave/

4 comments; last comment on 07/24/2013
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TechnoTourist Visits China: Shanghai

Posted July 04, 2013 9:00 AM by SwissMiss
Pathfinder Tags: China Shanghai travel

Shanghai is the last city that TechnoTourist visited in China. With one of the largest populations in the world, Shanghai is a global center for commerce and culture. Though Shanghai is overflowing with modern entertainment, visitors can also enjoy the rich history that the city has to offer. This week TechnoTourist will describe three major historical sites in and around Shanghai. Also check out TechnoTourist's adventures in Beijing, Xi'an, and Guilin.

Jade Buddha

In Xi'an, I visited the Da Ci'en Buddhist Temple. In Shanghai, I visited the Jade Buddha Temple. This temple was founded in 1882 for the purpose of storing two jade Buddha statues that were brought to Shanghai from Burma. Unfortunately, the original temple was destroyed, but it was rebuilt in 1928. The temple now also contains a large reclining Buddha statue that is made of marble.

The Temple of the Jade Buddha has many structures, but the three main sites to see are the Grand Hall, the Jade Buddha Chamber, and the Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings. The Grand Hall contains many statues, including the Three Golden Buddha. The Jade Buddha Chamber contains the 1.9m-high sitting Jade Buddha, the namesake of the temple. It costs a little bit extra to see the sitting Jade Buddha, but it is well worth it. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed.

The Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings was my favorite part of the temple. It contains statues of the East King, South King, West King, and North King. The kings protect Buddhism and the temple itself. Each king performs different duties and holds a different weapon. Respectively, the kings: offer music with a deadly musical instrument, promote kindness while holding a lethal sword, keep watch over society with the company of a dangerous water-spouting dragon, and provide blessings while holding a magical storm-conjuring parasol.

Yu Garden

One of the most beautiful places I visited in all of China was the Yu (Yuyuan) Garden. The name translates to the 'garden of happiness'. In 1559, Pan Yunduan thought to build a garden to comfort his elderly father Pan En, who was a government official during the Ming Dynasty. Much like other historical places in China, the Yu Garden has suffered extensive damage since it was originally built. The garden that visitors see today is a restoration from 1956.

The Yu Garden contains several pavilions, halls, rockeries, and ponds. There are endless opportunities for beautiful pictures, no matter what the weather is like. To me, one of the most interesting features of the Yu Garden is the Exquisite Jade Rock. Standing at about 3.3 meters, the rock is a natural oddity. If water is poured over the rock, the water will flow out of all of the rock's 72 naturally-formed holes. They also say that if incense is burned below the rock, smoke will emerge from each hole as well, which must be quite an amazing sight.

Tiger Hill Pagoda

The last place I visited on my trip to China was a city called Suzhou, which is about an hour and a half west of Shanghai. It was there that I saw the Tiger Hill (Yunyan) Pagoda. The legend behind the name of the scenic location states that an ancient king was buried on this hill, which had a different name at the time. Three days after the burial, a white tiger appeared on the hill looking as though he was the protector of the tomb.

The pagoda is located towards the top of the hill. Originally completed in 961 AD, it is a 48-meters-tall brick structure with seven octagonal stories. The tower has a very noticeable 3.5 degree lean to the north due to an unstable foundation that was originally half rock and half soil. It is nicknamed the Leaning Tower of China, though it was constructed more than 200 years prior to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In 1957, the Tiger Hill Pagoda was reinforced with concrete to prevent further leaning.

I hope you enjoyed following the TechnoTourist to China. Be sure to comment if you have been to any other great Chinese attractions.

References

Jade Buddha

Yu Garden

Tiger Hill Pagoda

1 comments; last comment on 07/05/2013
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TechnoTourist Visits China: Guilin

Posted June 27, 2013 9:00 AM by SwissMiss
Pathfinder Tags: China Guilin Li River tea travel

So far TechnoTourist has seen Beijing and Xi'an. This week, TechnoTourist describes Guilin, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Li River Boat Tour

Guilin is situated on the west bank of the Li River, and is known for its unique karst scenery. It is definitely one of the most naturally spectacular places I have ever seen. While I was there, I was lucky enough to enjoy a 3 hour cruise on the Li River where I could enjoy the cone-shaped hills up-close.


The southern area of China is one of the few places in the world where one can see a rare example of karst topography. The hills were formed several hundreds of millions of years ago when the Guilin area was a gulf. The salty water wore down the limestone layers which eventually produced the shapes that exist today. As the earth's crust moved, the limestone peaks emerged out of the water.

China is very proud of Guilin's unique landscape, and even though it was raining during my visit, I was thrilled to see the very scene on the Li River that is depicted on the 20 yuan note. During the river tour, our guide pointed out many famous hill formations. Many of the hills formed shapes that roughly resemble animals, like Elephant Trunk Hill. I also spotted the shape of a cat standing happily in the scenery. Some of these formations had their own legends behind them, like the Nine Horses Painted Hill. It is said that the nine horses came from heaven down to earth in secret. As they drank the clean water of the Li River, a man wanted to paint a picture of them. This scared the horses, and they ran into the cliff where they will remain forever. If you can see all nine of the horses on the hill, you will have a very successful life. Unfortunately for me, I could only spot five.

Tea Research Institute

The next stop in Guilin was to the Tea Science and Research Institute, which was the royal tea garden during the Ming Dynasty. The plantation contains 250 different tea plants. The main tea plant is called Camellia sinensis. White, green, oolong, and black tea all come from this plant. All of the 42 tons of tea that are produced each year are picked and processed by hand.

The way the tea is processed and harvested plays a role in the end product. White and green teas are harvested earlier and undergo very little processing. Oolong tea is fermented for 30-40 hours. Black tea is fermented for 70 to 80 hours. There are six classes for tea quality. The quality grade of the tea depends on how many leaves are picked with the top needle of the plant. For example, one needle with one leaf is the first grade of green tea. With more leaves, the quality goes down.

In addition to learning about the tea manufacturing process, we participated in a tea tasting ceremony. Tea tasting is not like tea drinking. It is supposed to be an experience. During the ceremony, the guide demonstrated the proper technique to use while tasting tea. Hold the tea cup with the right hand. If you are a man, place the left hand in front of the cup with the palm facing inward. Females place the left index finger underneath the cup for support. Next, smell the tea and bring it away from the lips. Always taste tea in three sips; any fewer than three and the drinker will seem wolfish to others. We were also introduced to a floral tea made from the osmanthus tree. Many believe that this tea can improve skin complexion, and may help rid the body of excess nitric oxide which has been linked to diseases like cancer and diabetes.

References

Image Credit

Guilin

Editor's Note: See these photos full size on Facebook or Google+.

2 comments; last comment on 06/28/2013
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