The View From Your Window Contest: Winner #180


A reader writes:

You’re killing me … lots of clues, but I’m still clueless. Left-hand driving, which is mostly in tropical countries, except for UK and Japan, and this doesn’t look like either to me.  I can’t read the signs, but they seem to be in a different script.  Maybe Thai, but vegetation doesn’t look Thai. I thought about New Zealand, but the train in the background doesn’t look like any of the images I found for “New Zealand Trains.” There’s a KFC, but where isn’t there a KFC? I tried to figure out who made the air conditioners on the roof.  Looked like an “O” logo.  There is a company called O General that sells AC units in India, but couldn’t find any units that looked like those. White is the most popular car color worldwide, so that’s no help.  But cars look relatively new, which says prosperous country.

I’m going with Japan.  Let’s say Matsumoto, because I like the way it sounds.


Charleston, West Virginia? I don’t even know why I’m bothering. It just looks like Charleston, but I have no idea what building the picture was taken from. But, then again, those look not unlike windmills on the mountain. Massachusetts, maybe? No, that’s definitely Charleston. The building in the foreground looks like the kind of federal office building that Robert C. Byrd so fought for.


I think it’s somewhere in Tasmania.  The cars drive on the left, so it’s a former British place, and it looks like it’s just rained in an otherwise dryish region, and the light looks like it’s in the Southern Hemisphere.


Ok, the photo indicates that this was taken 2013-11-04 at 10-13-38 PM. I would think that only the Northern European countries are in play – Sweden, Finland, Norway as they would have sunlight at 10pm at night in November or so I think. I also think the tip off is the fir trees.  I searched Google images for bridges in all three and the closest I came was the Vousaari Bridge in Vousaari, a suburb of Helsinki. So I searched, and boy does Helsinki have a lot of bridges and waterways, but I can’t locate the spot of the photo. I’m just fishing for closeness points.

I’m also think that this could be Canada as well. There’s an American style pickup in traffic heading towards the water, but given a lapse in any other clues, I’m sticking with Helsinki.

Actually, “2013-11-04 at 10-13-38 PM” is just the timestamp of the screenshot of the original image, something we do to bypass the meta data that would reveal the exact geographical coordinates. Another reader:

You people are ruining my weekends.

I get a few right and think, OK, I’ve got this figured out now. Last week’s was bad enough, but this week is awful. There are so many clues I thought I would find it in five minutes flat. Instead we can’t even agree on what country it’s in and I am probably off by several thousand miles again.

We argued over hemisphere. I say the tree in the middle is starting to bloom and the white car in the alley in the foreground is parked on the left, so it must be the Southern Hemisphere – Australia or South Africa. The housemate says no; it’s a tree starting to shed its leaves and the two people you can see are fairly well bundled up, so it’s fall somewhere in the northern half of the world. The visible cars are sold pretty much everywhere in the developed countries. I said, well, there’s a KFC and an elevated railway, so how hard can it be? I booted up Google Earth – if you go into the “more” section on the menu and click Transportation, you see a zillion highway numbers and bus stops, but railroads are nice black lines. That’s a big help when there is a railroad track or three visible. I found if you do a search for “KFC near [name of any city, country], Google Earth will put pink dots on the map of the entire world, each of which kfcrepresents a KFC store. For the city you name, it gives you selections A-J on a page, with as many pages as necessary to name them all.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia says that “As of 2012, there were over 18,000 KFC outlets in 120 countries and territories around the world. There are 4,600 outlets in the United States, 4,400 in China, and 9,000 across the rest of the world.” That is a lot of pink dots to check. It turns out that lots and lots of them are near railways and hills. It’s an older sign they don’t use any more in the US and some countries, and you use four-year-old photos, so the store may have closed.

We looked for other clues – that weird white scalloped wall, the hills, possibly wind farm on top of one hill,  the tower you can see past the top of another, elevated railways, weird traffic signals. We tried to figure out what those installations wall of the brick building in front are – they look like pipes for some kind of heating system? I have decided there is not nearly enough information on the web about rooftop air conditioners; I think those are made by LG, but they sell them all over the place. There are no satellite dishes visible, so I looked for places they might be banned. Nothing paid off.

I thought it was Australia, because they seem to use the bucket on a short pole the most, and those strange short traffic signals show up in a few towns. So my guess is Brisbane, because I fell in love with it looking at photos of the bays and beaches and rivers and birds.

My first job was at KFC in 1972 – I negotiated a salary of $1.60 an hour, way more than the other fast food place in town, Jack in the Box, would give me (only $1.35). We spent a lot of time seeing how far we could slide on the greased kitchen floor after closing, and I sliced off the end of my finger cleaning a machine. Good times. I wouldn’t eat chicken for several years after that, and now I hate them again. Your fault.

Another gets the right country:

While I can’t identify the exact location in the city, I’m sure it’s South Africa and have a pretty good idea it’s in Pietermaritzburg or somewhere else in KwaZulu-Natal. Firstly, the diagonal lines at the intersection on the left side of the picture and the left-hand drive on the car on the street in the bottom middle. Also, the deciduous trees on the hill mean it has to be somewhere that gets cold enough for them to lose their leaves.  But you also see air conditioner condensers, therefore it’s a place that gets cold in the winter and warm in the summer.  It’s also somewhere where you have security concerns (note the walls and gates on the edges of all the buildings. Based on the terrain I’m going to guess Pietermaritzburg.

Another gets the right city:

Boy, these things are hard. It looked a lot like the highveld on a winter afternoon, and then I spotted the Voortrekker Monument in the distance, making it Pretoria, South Africa or its surrounds. I think, based on the relative location of the sun, this must be near Unisa, close to an on-ramp to the highway, but my Google Street View skills aren’t hot enough to pinpoint it exactly.

Pretoria it is. An aerial view:


Another gets the right building:

Having lived in South Africa, I immediately recognized the purple jacaranda tree in the background, which Johannesburg and Pretoria are famous for.  The “robots” (traffic signals) also had a distinct South African appearance.  When I zoomed in, I also saw the modern-looking passenger train in the background – which I assumed must be the Gautrain.  These clues made zeroing in on the location fairly easy. The picture was taken from the Manhattan Hotel in Pretoria, South Africa (or Tshwane, the official name for the municipality).  The hotel is located at the corner of Scheiding Street and Thabo Sehume Streets in the Pretoria CBD.   The picture was taken from a window on the backside (southside) of the hotel.  I would guess it was from the 5th floor (6th floor in US numbering).

Another visual entry:


Another reader:

The poles (or “reeds”) of Freedom Park helped orient me. Freedom Park, by the way, honors people who died during South African various conflicts, going back centuries, including people who died in the struggle against apartheid. It’s the Rainbow Nation’s answer to the nearby apartheid-era Voortrekker Monument, which used to monopolize the view (and still kind of does).

Another adds, “I’m a historian, and I found a crazy archive of sorts in the Voortrekker museum’s vaults.” Another looks to the nearby rail station:


The elevated platform on the left side of the photo, which appears too slim to be a highway, immediately indicated to me that this is a view of the Gautrain track (a mass rapid transit system that was completed in 2012 and connects Jo’burg and Pretoria). I searched Gautrain stations on Google, and the one in Pretoria, with that unique wave-style roof, immediately stood out and told me that I was on the right path.  A little playing around on Google Earth helped me to find the specific building, which is the Manhattan Hotel located on Scheiding Street.

Another zooms in on the hotel:

I have a suspicion that the scalloped roof of the railway station will be immediately recognizable to residents and visitors of the city, but I did do this the old-fashioned way and hopefully that will count for something! I started out noticing the left-hand traffic, limiting this to a few likely candidate countries.  Too spread out to be the UK, and the brick made it seem unlikely to be India.  Australia?  South Africa? Japan? Realizing the two people walking at the bottom of the picture were black, my attention immediately turned to South Africa. Googling “South Africa traffic lights” revealed the same shape seen on the road on the left as confirmation. The rail station with its unique-looking roof seemed to be the best clue, so looking up images of different rail stations in South Africa led to a perfect match with Pretoria.  A bit of orienting from there and we have the Karos Manhattan Hotel, 247 Scheiding Street, Pretoria, South Africa.  I would guess the 6th floor, from the window highlighted in the attached picture:

vfyw Pretoria window

The correct floor is actually the 7th, which about a half-dozen readers guessed. Of them, two readers have previously gotten a difficult window view (“difficult” defined by having 10 or less correct guesses) without yet winning. To break that razor-thin tie, we counted the total contests each of the two readers have participated in. The following reader has 8 contests under his belt. Money quote from his highly-detailed entry this week:

I should note that I have tried, hard, in MANY of these contests. I occasionally get the right country and I once got the right city (mostly by luck). But this time I KNEW I was close, really close. At this point, I literally heard angelic music and noticed a bright glow in my bedroom. I found this distracting, so I turned down the volume and brightness on my laptop and carried on.

But the following reader ekes out a win this week with a total of 10 contests. Money quote from his extensive entry:

Worthy of note is the presence of 40 to 70 thousand jacaranda trees, which had led me to consider the southern hemisphere for my search. Pretoria in South Africa is popularly known as The Jacaranda City due to the thousands of jacaranda trees. Interestingly, the jacaranda are considered an invasive species, as they were imported from South America, and are no longer allowed to be planted.

I have previous correct submissions of Depoe Bay, Waterton, Sierra Vista, Finca Magdalena, Hiangyin, North Ballachulish, Fayetteville, and Lima, Peru.

And now Pretoria. For the record, here are the exact details from the photo’s submitter:

Monday, 4 Nov, 2013, at 6 p.m. Room 707 (facing south), Manhattan Hotel, 247 Scheiding St., Pretoria, South Africa. The jacaranda trees are blooming in town, but I don’t think you can see any in this pic. The global “access programs” groups of the Clinton Health Access Initiative are here for an annualish meeting. An inspiring bunch of people, and generally a lot of fun. We’ve been to Jo’burg and Dar es Salaam before (as well as Goa, India and stateside in Boston, NYC, Chicago).

I know Andrew doesn’t have much love for the Clintons, but I hope he realizes what a huge impact the Clinton Health Access Initiative has had on getting anti-retrovirals to the people of Africa and SE Asia. As we move on from ARVs, we discussed some exciting new initiatives in our meetings in Pretoria.