Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

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6 Things to Love About LA

I recently met fellow traveler Joel from Freedonia Post, who’s about to start his own round-the-world trip in July 2010. His posts are really fun to read, living up to his tagline of “The world’s most entertaining world travel blog.”

As Joel currently lives in LA and loves the city, I asked if he could dispel the myths about Los Angeles and persuade me to visit there one day. It’s now on my list of places to travel! See for yourself…

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To paraphrase something a wise woman once said “Los Angeles isn’t bad, it’s just drawn that way.”

LA takes a lot of heat for its traffic, lack of public transportation, smog, crime and cheesy tourist attractions. And a lot of it is well-deserved – Grand Theft Auto didn’t spring entirely from a programmer’s imagination.

It takes a while for a novice to discover what’s underneath all that, but if you look past the movie studios, Disneyland, night clubs and Rodeo Drive, you can find a wonderful adventure.

Here are a few things I’ll miss about Los Angeles:

The Weather

Lots of places are described as an outdoor paradise, but let’s be honest, many of those are covered in snow 50% of the year. And I hate snow with a passion.

Los Angeles may not be sunny every day, but it rains an average of 26 days per year. That leaves 339 days a year when you can enjoy the outdoors. You can surf in the morning, ski in the afternoon and top it off with an evening bike ride in the mountains.

The highlight: April – the hills are green, the skies are generally clear and the temperatures are ideal for any outdoor activity.

LA Hills

The Mountains

The Los Angeles area is a cyclist’s dream. Within spitting distance from the city, there are hundreds of miles of quiet mountain roads winding through the Angeles Forest, the Santa Monica mountains and dozens of other locations. These are roads you can ride for hours, and have fewer than a dozen cars pass by. It’s odd that few tourists ever get out to these areas, because they have some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen.

In the more urban settings, the terrain sparks amazing levels of creativity in architects and engineers who built hillside homes around Mulholland Drive and its canyon offspring. I question the wisdom of raising junior on stilts in the middle of earthquake country, but I bailed on my engineering degree after two semesters, so what do I know?

The highlight: views from any of the canyon roads above Malibu: Latigo, Sycamore and dozens of others.

LA Hills & Winding Roads

Griffith Park

One of the largest urban parks in the world, Griffith Park is wilderness smack dab in the middle of cityscape. Almost daily, you can see deer, coyotes and any number of other animals while hiking acres of trails. The Sierra Club hosts regular weeknight hikes through the park.

Attractions in the park include the Los Angeles Zoo, Travel Town rail history museum, Gene Autry museum of Western Heritage, pony rides, horse trails, a carousel and spacious venues to play, have family picnics or even practice your drums without annoying the neighbors.

The highlight: Griffith Park Observatory – beautiful views of the city, the Hollywood sign and the surrounding mountains. Also famous as a location in Rebel Without A Cause.

Griffith Park Observatory

People Watching

Forget about the Walk of Fame, watching tourists is the real attraction of Hollywood Boulevard, whether they’re measuring their feet against John Wayne’s at Grauman’s or taking photos with the guy wearing the homemade Spider-Man costume.

Highlight: Venice beach. Another great place to watch tourists and the very offbeat locals, along with arts, crafts and $3 t-shirts.

Random Encounters

If you DO want to see a celebrity, forget about going on a movie studio tour. You’re much more likely to bump into Jennifer Garner at Starbucks, Harrison Ford at the Brentwood dog park or any number of actors out for a morning hike in Runyon Canyon.

For the newcomer, you have to keep your eyes open because most people don’t expect to see actors sitting next to them. On the Universal Tour several years ago, an entire tram full of people busily scanned the backlot for stars, never noticing that Mel Gibson and his kids were on the same tram.

The other random encounter I enjoy is the discovery of locations used in television and films. The backlots are certainly interesting, but it’s those little places you happen upon that are much more fun. My childhood memories rushed back the first time I rode my bike past the Brady Bunch house in Studio City or hiked to the Batcave in Griffith Park. Here’s a little list of some random locations around LA and the films they were used in.

Highlight: My favorite random encounter is a tough one to track down – the ecological disconnect of a flock of parrots that calls the area around Pasadena its home.

Snow-capped Mountains

The Mix of Cultures

Los Angeles culture is like a smoothie made with a broken blender. Part of LA’s struggle and its charm is that the cultural topography doesn’t really blend together throughout the city.

Dreams cross cultural boundaries, so people from other cities, other states and other nations all gather in LA, bringing bits of their homes along with them. Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, K-Town, Chinatown, Thai Town and more surround the downtown area with a wide variety of cultural experiences.

Because of the historical ties to Mexico, Hispanic culture is prevalent throughout the city. The best places to experience it are Olvera Street, and for a special treat, you can check out a traditional Mexican rodeo in Pico Rivera.

Highlight: Mariachi Plaza, where dozens of professional mariachi musicians gather to be hired to play at restaurants, parties and community events.

If all that doesn’t offer you enough adventure, then keep this in mind: other areas of the country may do civil war re-enactments, but where else can you re-enact a high speed car chase of your very own?

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Thanks again, Joel! If readers enjoyed this article, please check out Freedonia Post for more.

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 10:23 am.

13 comments

Climbing Zugspitze: Germany’s highest mountain (Part 3)

In case you didn’t see Part 1 and Part 2, that’s because they were published quite a while ago. I’ve been busy with snowboarding, and decided that this final post & video about a summer hike would anyway fit better once spring arrived.

After crossing the Höllentalferner glacier, we continued climbing up the wall for a long time.

Dave and Bunky climbing Zugspitze

As we neared the top this beautiful view greeted us:

Nearing the top of Zugspitze

Here’s the Eibsee, which we could also see briefly from the train on the way down.

View of Eibsee from the climb up Zugspitze

Now, for the final video. High-def views over the Höllental and everything beyond!

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Watch “Climbing Zugspitze: Part 3” in HD on YouTube. A big thanks to Danny Galixy for letting me use some of his fantastic instrumental music for these three videos!

We made one slight error, in that we planned to hike back down. But the ascent went slower than expected with our acrophobic friend, so we took the train down instead. That would have been no problem, except that we’d left some sleeping bags and shoes at the hut, planning to pick them up on the way down.

So… after arriving back to the car in Hammersbach, Scott and I did a lightning-fast hike up the bottom section of the mountain. This time we chose to go via the Höllentalklamm, a gorge with a river, instead of the longer (but fee-free) Stangensteig. When I say lightning-fast, I mean the signpost said 2 1/2 hours, and we did it in 1:15. Our Smartwool shirts were soaked with sweat!

In the end I’m glad we did this bottom section twice, because the Höllentalklamm was gorgeous! You walk up narrow staircases cut into the rock, with splashing waterfalls and scenic views everywhere. I’d recommend if you are hiking up and down, to go up Höllentalklamm and down Stangensteig to take in both scenic routes.

IMG_4103_sm

For the full details about the hike, where to stay, where to rent gear, and all that – check out Part 1 of this series. The end of that post has all the hard facts listed in English for your Babelfish-free understanding. Part 2 of the Zugspitze series is all about the via ferrata sections (where you’re clipped to the steel cables on the cliffside) and the glacier.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and seeing what Zugspitze is like. Let me know if you have any questions I can answer about the hike or the mountain! I’m happy to help fellow English speakers figure this baby out, because almost all the information out there is in German (grin).

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 6:34 pm.

9 comments

Carving up the Glacier

While a volcano melts the glacier in Iceland, carvers are cutting up the Austrian glaciers on raceboards! Here’s Lowcarver this past weekend, riding his Virus snowboard at Hintertux…

Lowcarver at Hintertux

Below is a gallery of the best carving photos from Hintertux (and a couple of a friend who skis). I can’t wait for Carving Masters in just one week at Soelden! Hopefully I’ll get great shots and video of lots of carvers there.

For more on Hintertux, please see this earlier post with info of how to get there.

Photos were taken with a Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR lens, and a circular polarizing filter.

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Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 11:27 am.

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Sleeping Shipboard at -17C

One degree Fahrenheit.

That’s how cold it was when I arrived to Stockholm in January on my frequent flyer flight.

I’ve written a guest post about my experience at Go Backpacking, highlighting the Vasa Museum (a recovered ship that sank in the 1600’s) and the Absolut Eisbar at the Nordic Sea Hotel. Here, I’ll share a bit about the fantastic lodging I found in Stockholm.

af Chapman Hostel in Stockholm

You wouldn’t think that sleeping on an old ship in -17C weather would be a good idea. But the Hostel af Chapman was remarkably comfortable. Yes, you heard right – a hostel! For a mere €23 a night, I had a bunk on a restored 1888 ship in a 6-bed room. The showers were hot, there were large lockers to secure my bag (if I’d brought a padlock), and the room was so warm I left my sleeping bag unzipped. By far the most amazing hostel I’ve stayed in.

In the background of the af Chapman you can see the Södermalm district, where Garlic & Shots is located.

af Chapman Hostel and Stockholm View

These photos were taken with my Canon SD1000 pocket camera (yes, that’s right!), using CHDK software and a mini tripod. Exposures of 10s and 3.2s, respectively, at ISO 25.

Getting to the af Chapman & Skeppsholmen:

  • Check out this Google map of the location. I took the public transport to Kungsträdgården T-bana and walked from there. There is an on-shore bunkhouse in addition to the ship. I haven’t seen the rooms in the bunkhouse, but I highly recommend trying out the ship – how often do you have the chance to sleep on an 1888 steel full-rigged ship?
  • I would highly recommend you try to visit Sweden in summer instead of winter, unless you are part polar bear or your skin is laminated Thinsulate and Gore-Tex.
  • For more on what sights to see in Stockholm while you’re staying at the af Chapman, check out my guest post at Go Backpacking!

Have you been to Sweden? Do you have any recommendations of what to see on my next trip there?

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 4:03 pm.

2 comments

What is this Sauce of Death?

Blair’s Death Sauce is one of my favorite hot sauce brands. It’s got real flavor, despite being very hot (which hardly any chili sauce can achieve). The sauces range from warm (Sweet Death) to outrageous (Ultra Death – see YouTube clip) to the hottest food ever: pure capsaicin extract.

I plan to bring a bottle of Death Sauce with me on my round-the-world trip. Which kind should it be? Currently I’ve got these babies sitting around:

Death Sauce Collection 1

I was debating about Salsa de la Muerte (Spanish-speaking export version), After Death, or perhaps Stronger than Death. I don’t want to bring one so hot that no one can do more than taste a drop on a toothpick. Of course, if Blair could comp me a bottle of Golden Death (and could get it into Europe despite the volcano), I’d gladly share the newest member of the family with those I meet around the globe…

Hot Sauce lovers, Chiliheads, lend me your taste buds… which sauce do YOU think I should take around the world with me?

Death Sauce Collection 2

For those interested in how the photos were taken, see the setup below:

DSC_9232_sm

The first picture featured here was taken with a red gel on the off-camera strobe with the umbrella. The second was taken without gels. In both cases I used a “puffer” on the camera’s flash to soften the light.

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:44 pm.

2 comments

5 Most Critical Items in my Backpack

Alright, you could argue that underwear or a sleeping bag should be on this top 5 list for a round-the-world trip. But we’re not talking about the basics here (clothes, laptop, camera, toothbrush). We’re talking about packing the items that could easily be overlooked – those things that half the backpackers I meet are going to see and immediately wish they’d brought. So, what are they?

Dave's 5 Critical Items

1. Sleep aids

I’m not talking about pills; with 10 long-haul flights I’m definitely going to be tired enough. But I might want to sleep at odd times of day, or when some dude (or woman?) in the hostel bunkroom is doing his best impression of a Husqvarna. So the eye covers and earplugs are critical. Air France eye covers have long-lasting elastic. Silicone earplugs are comfy.

2. Lighting

Sure, a mini Maglite might be nice, but then I have to hold it. Why not get an efficient LED light that straps on my melon? Then I always have light wherever my head is pointed, which often coincides with where my eyes are pointed. The Petzl Zipka has a retracting string and multiple brightness settings.

3. Insect Repellant

I’ve heard that some of the places I’m going might have more insects than Munich (which has close to none). Think: Peruvian rainforest, the Hawaiian islands, and the jungles of Malaysia and Thailand. I’ll take 50% DEET lotion, please. Probably hard to find in Peru, but I can replenish it in Hawaii if I run low. Maybe I’ll be wishing for a mosquito net too, but let’s see.

4. Merino Wool Sweater

From my brief time testing out Smartwool & Icebreaker so far, this non-itchy, fast-drying, warm-when-wet material rocks. I think this sweater is going to be my favorite garment out of the 20 pieces of clothing I bring. Yeah, 20 sounds high, but that’s counting individual socks – hah!

5. 18-200mm Lens

Not everyone brings a D-SLR on their travels, but anyone interested in real sunset photos, action shots, and wide angles does. For my D90, I just substituted the Nikon 18-200mm VR for two other lenses (18-55 and 70-300), saving myself over a pound of weight. Plus I won’t have to switch lenses and get sand in my optics. And there’s only one place worse than your optics get sand… uhm, yeah.

What would you bring?

I want to make sure I’m not missing out on any critical items. What would the 5 (or 4, or 2) most important items in your pack be? If you’re out traveling now, tell me what you are most thankful you brought.

This list might change after the trip. Maybe my mini-umbrella doubles as a boat that keeps my camera above-water during the next Machu Picchu flood, or the 50’ clothesline saves my last Powerbar from being eaten by a bear in the wilderness. Perhaps I meet the Merino whose wool comprises my Icebreaker shirt, and I bring him home as a pet. So, I reserve the right to update this list in August when I’m back… stay tuned!

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 11:38 am.

20 comments

Surfing in landlocked downtown Munich!

Eisbach Surfing in Munich

For the surfers I met briefly today at the Eisbach in Munich: the gallery of my best photos is below, after the YouTube video. Val from Killians (hope I remembered your name right), I didn’t find any pics of you – but I can certainly meet up sometime and try to take a few! I live right near the Eisbach. Just leave a comment and I’ll email you.

Photos were taken with a Nikon D90 and the 18-200mm VR lens.

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Go to YouTube to watch the video in HD!

Getting to the Eisbach Surfers’ Wave:

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Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 11:21 pm.

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What’s a gram worth?

As I get ready for my backpacking round-the-world trip, I’ve become very weight-conscious. Okay, backpack weight, not my weight… haha. One important piece of hardware for me is my D-SLR camera, a Nikon D90. Until now I’ve had two lenses: a lightweight 18-55 VR for everyday use, and a 70-300mm VR for zooming and sports.

For the lightest traveling, I decided to simplify to one lens. Several makers have 18-200 lenses but they all have drawbacks; in the end I went with Nikon’s own lens, with the drawback of “highest price” (~$700). For a great summary of the lens, see Ken Rockwell’s review of the Nikon 18-200 VR. After trying out the lens I agree with Ken: it’s well worth the extra cost to avoid the problems with brands like Sigma. See the photo below to compare the size of all three Nikon lenses: 18-55 VR, 18-200 VR, and 70-300 VR.

Nikon Lens Comparison 18-55, 18-200, 70-300

Here are the Nikon lens weight specs, where you can see the advantage of the relatively light Nikon 18-200 VR lens compared to carrying two others. All weights (from my kitchen scale) include a UV filter and lens caps (both ends).

Lens Weight (g) Weight (oz)
Nikon 18-55mm VR 300 10.5
Nikon 18-200mm  VR 628 22
Nikon 70-300mm VR 805 28

The difference is quite a lot when you consider I’d be carrying both the 18-55 and the 70-300 lenses for a total of 1.1 kilos! By choosing just the 18-200, I easily halve that (especially after chopping the 70-300mm lens pouch and lens hood from my packing list). Ultralight travel photography, here I come, with the best Nikon lens for the job!

If you’re interested in purchasing the 18-200mm VR, please consider using this Amazon link: Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II to help support my travels.

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 2:54 pm.

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Sexy new look

Until now, the blog has used the standard format of post-after-post on the front page. Not anymore! Armed with my ability to hack (but not write) code, I’ve set up a nice new front page. Check it out!

AND – you may notice the URL is different! I’m splitting the photo & travel blog off from my fantasy novel website http://daviddouglasbooks.com and making it a standalone domain, http://traveldave.com!

  • I’d love your feedback on the new look. Is there anything you’d suggest that I change? Some particular widget or improvement that would help boost my blog into the stratosphere? I would gladly hear your ideas, just leave a comment below.

Lastly, here’s what I was up to lately, besides blog editing. Taken at Hintertux on the infamous carver-piste #11; it was snowing. I’ve got at least one more snowboarding session planned before I depart for tropical climates on my round-the-world trip!

Dave Carving

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Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 12:52 pm.

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Around The World Update

As my regular readers may remember, I’m doing a trip around the world this summer! Here’s an update of the itinerary:

May 08-May 17 Peru
May 18-June 02 Hawaii
June 04-June 18 New Zealand
June 07-June 11 Side trip, NZ to Sydney
June 19-July 04 Japan
July 04-July 27 Thailand
July ??-July ?? Side trip, Thai to Malay/Vietnam?
July 28 Return to Munich

If you’re in any of these spots at the same time, let me know, perhaps we can meet!

World_Map_DavesTrip

So, what’s left on my to-do list? A LOT, believe me! I need malaria tablets, zip ties, luggage locks, DEET bug repellant, a few more vaccinations… and I have to learn a bit of Spanish and Japanese.

What can you expect from the blog while I’m on this trip? I’m not 100% sure yet, but here are some of the ideas I’ve been kicking around:

  • Short post with a photo-a-day (delayed slightly due to spotty internet access)
  • Tales about a bottle of Blair’s Death Sauce I’ll bring with me (haven’t decided what flavor)
  • Mini-reviews of the places where I stay: mostly hostels
  • Descriptions of hikes and other sights I see (maybe after I return from the trip)
  • Anything else you’d like to see or hear? Leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

I’m also interested to get any special tips you might have about the countries I’ll visit. To give you some ideas, I’ll start with a few of my own hot tips from the last year:

  • Hong Kong: Sushi One has half-price sushi after 10pm. And it’s some of the best sushi I’ve ever had, with a huge selection of a la carte items I’d never seen before!
  • Taiwan: In the town of Hualien, near Taroko Gorge, there’s a huge restaurant with fantastic (and cheap) food. It’s full of locals, and it was super-tasty. Probably a taxi driver could find this full-city-block restaurant:

http://twhl.inbegin.com/html/front/bin/ptdetail.phtml?Part=chfood0025

  • Austrian Alps: Fantastic skiing can be had during the pre- and post-season at Hintertux Glacier. For the non-skiers they have a very cool limestone cave at the Spannagelhaus, and an Ice Palace cave at the very top of the mountain. The limestone cave (and probably ice palace as well) are open all year round, in case you’re a summer visitor.
  • Vienna: You must see the Iron Man near Vienna’s Rathaus (city hall). There are hundreds of thousands of nails pounded into this wooden statue and pedestal.

http://traveldave.com/index.php/2010/01/ironman-lives-in-vienna/

Happy traveling on your own vacations, and hope to see some of you along the way!

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 2:24 pm.

4 comments