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Game Changer: the New Google Earth

I haven't used Google Earth for at least four months. Google Maps suited my purposes, and I liked aspects of its functionality. About a month ago, we got a new computer, which improved performance a lot and made working on this site a lot faster and easier (the old system was laggy as hell). This morning, I decided to try Google Earth again, this time on the new system. It turns out that they are offering a Chrome-based experimental version, no download involved. I gave it a whirl and, wow. See for yourself. The above is the neighbourhood of a property I am writing a review of: Near Pedrógão Grande - Large Farmhouse, Sweet Plot. Click on each image to trigger that view in Google Earth (except Venice, but you know where that is).

Below is a shot of my hometown, Vancouver:




I could do this all day.

The mapping is far from perfect, but it sure is getting better. It is amusing, though, to really zoom in and see the attempts of the algorithms to make sense of the data at a fine grained level. The results are kind of surreal, almost psychedelic. Here's a close-up of Porto:

Trippy, man!

Just for fun, a few other places I have visited:

Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the background

Pompeii ampitheatres

Abandoned military base, Fort de la Chartreuse, in Liège, Belgium. I sat and had my lunch on the roof of one building - see the spot marked with an "X." While I sat there, someone started playing a loud, amplified loop of a music box lullaby. I left in a controlled hurry.

Abandoned coal mine, Hasard Cheratte, near Liège. I spent a few hours there and was nearing the end of my stay. I was taking photos in the building on the left, marked with an "x," when someone started throwing debris on to the roof of that building. It sounded like roof tiles or something else heavy and breakable, smashing on the roof over and over, every ten seconds or so. It was unsettling. I left, again in a controlled hurry.

***Edit - July 03, 2020***

Ha! I just found my old livejournal for that 2005 trip. Here's the entry for the La Chartreuse incident:

Saturday, July 23rd, 2005. 3:47 pm - La Chartreuse In fact, the way into Le Valdor was so difficult, I wrote it off. Especially after talking to one of the guys behind the counter at the hostel, a local guy named Sebastian (and his coworker, Martin, from Quebec - both really cool guys), who told me about La Chartreuse. This is a very large abandoned military housing complex just a further 10 minute walk down the street from Le Valdor. He used to go in there as a teenager and do what teenagers do when they're running around in an abandoned military complex. As he described it, it was perfect.

I couldn't believe my luck. This morning I got up early, burned the CDs I had to so I could free up all my cards, got ready, and went down to talk to the morning guy on the desk. I wanted to know about buses to Cheratte, my planned destination for tomorrow. Not only could he help me with that, he also knew quite a bit about La Chartreuse. He agreed that it would be a fantastic place for pictures, but warned me that squatters had been in there for a while now. I should be careful. I thanked him, secure in the knowledge that 3 people who worked at the hostel knew where I was going that morning.

I couldn't resist giving Le Valdor a closer inspection on my way by. I knew from Henk that the only way in was through the parking lot of the neighbouring clinic, and at this time of day the gate was open. I walked in, camera in hand, and checked it out very closely, taking photos as I went. As I reached about halfway around the side of the building, I passed an official-looking guy in a blue collar shirt and tie. I said bonjour, he did the same, I gestured with my camera, and carried on. It was all bad - on closer inspection, the blackberry bushes on the other side of the fence looked daunting, the fact that I had just passed someone was bad, the fence looked flimsy and hard to climb. Not worth it. I turned around and walked out.

After ten minutes, I was making a left into a church yard. Behind the church was a steep hill covered in forest. Sebastion had shown me where La Chartreuse was on a large map, and also described the route. I forged up the path, and entered into some very lovely woods. I passed many dogs taking their owners for walks, and I could understand why - these were well maintained paths, the scenery was beautiful, it was an overcast but warm day. Perfect dog walking turf. The amount of dogshit about confirmed this.

A light sweat and a cigarette later, I approached a free-standing stone arch that straddled the path, on the other side of which was a kind of yard with benches and some sculpture, and the main gates to La Chartreuse. Through them, I could see some of the central buildings a good 400 yards away across a very large, overgrown compound lined with out-buildings; these main buildings were for the most part red brick, very clean and unadorned in their lines, 4 stories tall, with every window smashed out and some obvious holes in their rooves. To the left, I could see part of an older looking building, just as big. The gates were shut and locked, as I expected. What I didn't expect was the large, neatly lettered home-made sign that read, "ATTENTION - ROTTWEILER AU LIBERTE." Even my bad French could interpret that - Warning, Rottweiler at Large. Hm. If there were squatters inside, that would discredit there being some official security dog in there. Then again, the sign looked home-made - maybe its the squatters' rottweiler. But would the city (or whoever now owned the land) allow the squatters to put up such a sign? Maybe there wasn't any rottweiler, like people who put security system stickers on their house when they have none. I looked through the gates for a long time. I listened. Just still silence, but that meant nothing. I needed to think about it some more, and while I was thinking about it, I decided to look for the way in that Sebastian had told me about. If I couldn't find it, the whole thing was academic anyway.

The entire complex is ringed with the most serious brick wall I have ever seen. 20' high in places, probably 6' thick, maybe more. Crumbling and falling apart, becoming slumped and rounded, blurred, coated with ivy and other growth in many spots, but still a formidable obstacle. Sebastian had told me to just keep going left around the outside, and eventually I would come to a spot where the wall had crumbled enough to climb over. I started following the wall, climbing through bushes and over fallen trees, past an outer wall with a passage built inside it, past small buildings now reduced to ivy-draped brick pillars, and finally came to a steep little hill where the wall made a much sharper that 90 degree turn, a very acute angle, almost like the bow of a ship. There the ground lifted up to almost wall-level, there was a further cement ledge, and then a run of chain-link fence with curls of barbed-wire on top. Mounted on the fence was another sign warning of the alleged rottweiler and another no trespassing sign. I walked into some serious bushes and small trees, following the fence, and came to a section where the fence was cut away. I hoisted myself up onto the cement lip, scrambled up the bank, and I was in.

But I couldn't proceed. The rottweiler sign rattled me too much. I needed more information about it. I picked my way back down, fought my way back to the path, and returned to the front gate. As before, there were a couple of people with their dogs. I approached one young guy with some kind of energetic mastiff, discovered he spoke no English, and had a short talk with him about the sign. He said he didn't think there was a dog, that he walked his dog here all the time and had never seen one, but that there were squatters, and that the area was dangerous. I thanked him, returned to the opening, and went back in.

I was on a path in the deep woods. Trying to be smart, I dug the wee roll of packing tape out of my day bag and wrapped a hunk around a tree so that I could find the exit again easily. I was on a path in the deep woods. To the left lead nowhere, a gulley, but the right turned up a dirt road, fairly recently used by at least one car, from the looks of it. I approached a large brick building that reminded me very much of a farmhouse built by overenthusiastic farmers. It was very long and very, very ruined on the inside. The staircases had fallen down inside the stairwells, every pane of glass was reduced to a few splinters in the frames, and everywhere inside a thick layer of plaster and brick dust.

This was the first in a long series of buildings, all of them challenged in height by the trees that had grown up beside them (and in some cases into them). Storage buildings, cavernous garages with a rich forest inside where the roof had fallen in, long and low brick latrines, and finally a building that looked like the ones I had seen from the main gate. I knew I was getting close to the middle of the compound.

I had been proceeding very slowly, cautiosly, and as silently as I could up to this point. Now that I had reached the front corner of the building, I stopped completely and put every ounce of energy I had into listening and looking. Nothing. No movement beyond the slight waving of branches in the trees and no sound except the distant hum of traffic, the cries of the magpies and pigeons, and the distant yapping of a small dog. I crept forward, looked to my left and saw a glass-littered set of stairs that lead inside. I went up them, and slowly made my way to the top floor. On the way I explored, naturally, and snapped pics like crazy. Completely gutted, broken glass and drifts of dust and debris in the corners and snaking across the floors, juvenile spray tags, sophisticated spray tags. The super-structure itself felt like cement, very solid, and I could detect no sagging of the floor nor bulging of the ceiling. The stairs were also very secure and felt like cement. It was just a shell that had been stripped clean and was now slowly disintigrating. The walls inside revealed layer after layer as each one had fallen off at some point in the past and dropped to the floor. It felt like Beruit; the only thing missing was bullet holes.

About 60 photos later, I emerged onto the roof, a small tiled area, now covered with crispy moss, with an amazing view of the whole complex. Of course, having an amazing view of the whole complex means that the whole complex also has an amazing view of you, if they happen to be looking in that direction. I decided to risk it for a few minutes, took some photos, and then found a lower-profile place to sit down; still with a view, but less of me against the sky, if you know what I mean. I'd brought a beer with me, and a hard-boiled egg, so I cracked them both, tucked in, and just sat there enjoying the peace and quiet. A couple of smokes later, and I thought this would be an ideal time to do some writing in my journal. I wasn't too many lines into it when music came drifting up from the immense courtyard below. Amplified music. Amplified music-box music, the tinny little melody you get when you open the lid of the jewelery box and the little ballarina starts slowly spinning around. Over and over. It must have been quite loud at the source, because I could hear it distinctly from where I was sitting, over 4 floors above. I stopped writing, put the book away, packed up, and left. By this time I had spent over 2 and a half hours in there, I was almost out of card space, and completely freaky horror-film-like music was the excuse I needed to make my way out. A few more pics as I went, the music stopped finally once I was around 7 minutes down the path, and I was away.

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