Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

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

Being Frozen in Stubai

When you think of a glacier, you probably already think “cold.” But of the many days I’ve spent at glacier ski areas this year, none were colder than this past Sunday and Monday at Stubai. The temperature was about –15 to –20C (that’s 5F to –4F) on Sunday, and in the evening the winds picked up. Monday the wind chill must have been way below –20C, even though the temps warmed up a few degrees. Check out the snow being blown from the peaks:

Wind at Stubai glacier

Now, don’t get the impression it wasn’t FUN! This was one of the best ski weekends I’ve had this year (from 18 days snowboarding so far). The snow was perfect for carving, and off-piste there was about a foot of powder.

Steep and deep at Stubai glacier

For those wishing to travel to Stubai, don’t expect huge nightlife. The nearest big town is Neustift im Stubaital, and it’s nothing like Mayrhofen, St. Anton, or Sölden for nightlife. We stayed in a small Pension in Milders, near Neustift. “The Farm,” the big apres-ski place in Milders, had a total of 3 people at 9:30pm (and they were all smoking). However, BIG PROPS to Restaurant Steinadler, which we found was non-smoking. That’s very rare for Austria. Besides that, the food was fantastic. Here was my Cordon Bleu (which also came with a salad plate and a side of cranberry sauce):

Restaurant Steinadler Cordon Bleu

I had a surreal experience there. I dropped my fork, and as I looked around for our server (maybe 7 seconds later), there she came – with a new fork. Apparently she had heard it from the other room, and recognized the difference between fork and knife hitting the ground. Amazing!

Pensions (= Bed & Breakfasts) vary quite a bit throughout Germany and Austria, but in my experience you’re guaranteed a decent bed and a simple breakfast for a bargain price. Our pick in Milders was okay, but a few features might turn off some travelers. Ask yourself: what percentage of today’s Americans would physically be able to sit down on this toilet!?

Tiny bathroom

The next morning we went back out for more adventure on the slopes. It was a windy day, but once we were on the slopes (wind at our backs) it was great. I figured out the settings on my bindings and boots to let me carve like crazy on my Virus Xtremecarver, leaning all the way over so my nose was almost touching the snow on every turn. And the views were fantastic!

View from Stubai glacier

Check out this distant mountain formation which looks like a bowl full of clouds:

Bowl full of clouds at Stubai

Getting to Stubai

  • See this Google Map for the location of Stubai; you’ll find Neustift im Stubaital along the road leading to it. Note that it’s 16km or so from Neustift (the nearest large town) to Stubai.
  • Pensions (= Bed & Breakfasts) are a great place to stay. Usually the proprietors are very friendly and helpful. Often the room is fantastic for the price; although sometimes it’s a bit lacking in one area or another. Occasionally you find “WC im Flur” which means a shared bathroom in the hall, but you’ll often save €5-10 a night for such a room.
  • I highly recommend the restaurant Steinadler in Milders. Non-smoking, fantastic food, friendly service, and psychic at bringing replacement forks. From the card I picked up there, I found they also have a Pension with a quite reasonable room rate (€24 per person for double room with breakfast; even cheaper in the summer at €20). Google map here. Milders is a cheap taxi ride from Neustift central, in case you’re there on a weekend and want to try for bigger nightlife than “The Farm” apres-ski in Milders.

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 5:12 pm.

4 comments

Weekend in Singapore

During a long business trip, I was able to escape to Singapore for the weekend.  On the way there in the car with a colleague we saw some crazy stuff, like mopeds driving on the Malaysian highways at night with no lights (cars whizzing by with a differential of 100 km/h… nice!).  Luckily they drove in the shoulder to avoid guaranteed instant death.

The only hotel my company allowed in Singapore was the Swissotel Stamford.  Not bad, as it’s the tallest hotel in South Asia and has a great view!  Hotel guests can to go the top floors for free, while tourists have to pay a bit.  The view at night was amazing, although with my mini Canon SD1000 I couldn’t get the greatest night shots.

View from Swissotel The Stamford

View from Swissotel The Stamford

This shot wins the prize as “most vertical viewing angle onto a cathedral”

View of St. Andrew's Cathedral from Swissotel The Stamford

View of St. Andrew's Cathedral from Swissotel The Stamford

From a balcony near my hotel room, here is a view of the Esplanade theaters, also known as “The Durian” to locals.  The spiky exterior looks a lot like this legendary fruit, which smells like rotting flesh, and tastes… well… let’s just say “interesting.”

"The Durian" concert hall

"The Durian" concert hall

The Botanic Garden is a fun attraction to visit.  Just be sure to bring your suntan lotion as you’ll be out in the heat for quite a while.  I loved the orchid exhibit; Singapore is well-known for orchids, and with good reason!  Here’s an artistic shot: you can see a bit of wildlife along with the orchid.

Orchids in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Orchids in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Sentosa Island has a lot of tourist attractions, though I mainly went for the view (just some hours before departing).  I arrived at Sentosa Island via cable car (you also have fantastic views from the car!); it departs from the HarbourFront Centre.

View of Singapore from Sentosa Island

View of Singapore from Sentosa Island

Sentosa island also has a replica of the original Merlion, which is the symbol of Singapore.  You can pay to go up to the top and get a nice view, although I didn’t have time for that.

The Merlion on Sentosa Island

The Merlion on Sentosa Island

Surely there’s a lot more to see and do in Singapore, and it’s definitely on my list of places to visit again.  But I hope these great sights will get you started, give you the bug to buy a plane ticket, book a hotel, and fly there.  Have fun!

Getting there:

  • Public transport in Singapore is good, but many people have a car (it’s somewhat of a status symbol).  Taxis are quite cheap compared to the west, and many locals use them regularly.  If you find that you are far from an MRT station or bus, I recommend to just get a taxi rather than walk several kilometers in the sweltering heat.  You’ll get to the next attraction sooner, and not be wiped out for the rest of the day due to overheating.
  • Even if you’re not staying there, go up to the top of Swissotel The Stamford for a great view!
  • Here is a Google maps link to Singapore Botanic Gardens. In my opinion, the orchids are by far the best part.
  • Google maps link to Sentosa Island, showing HarbourFront Centre and the Merlion.  Here’s the Sentosa page about how to get there; take note that the cable car is unfortunately closed for renovations until mid-2010.
  • Eat at No Signboard Seafood at the Esplanade: I sat outside with a colleague and had an excellent Chilli Crab!
  • East Coast Seafood Centre is another place to have great seafood.  I had a Chilli Crab there as well, at Jumbo Seafood.  Sooo tasty!

Posted 7 years, 4 months ago at 12:00 pm.

5 comments

First tracks of the season at Hintertux Glacier!

Snow fell in Munich in mid-October this year. Now the glaciers are open, and my favorite Austrian glacier ski resort has excellent conditions: Hintertux glacier! The resort is only a 2h drive from Munich in good weather/traffic conditions. Austria cleans the roads quite well, so is even possible to reach if it has recently snowed (though the final bit of road is a bit steep and windy; you could take a bus for the last several km if nervous about this).

There are three sections at Hintertux:

  • Top 1/3 = down to Tuxer Fernerhaus
  • Middle 1/3 = down to Sommerbergalm
  • Bottom 1/3 = Talabfahrt (exit to valley)

When I was first at Hintertuxer Gletscher this year in mid-October for 2 days, only the top 1/3 down to Tuxer Fernerhaus was open. This includes the glacier section that’s open 365 days a year, right near the top.  This past weekend (Nov. 7th), the next 1/3 was also open down to Sommerbergalm, although it was a bit icy with thin cover in parts.  Let’s see how it is this weekend, as I plan on going again.

Here’s a view of the slope on the back side, the “Schlegeis Gletscher” area:

Schlegeis Gletscher view

This slope on the back usually gets bumped up rather quickly, but is great snowboarding if you are there early(or on a quiet day…).

Here’s a view from the exit of Gletscherbus 3, the cable car that takes you to the very top at 3,250m (10,660′):

View from Gletscherbus 3 exit

For those who read the earlier post about pictures of my snowboards, I’ve now tried out the Virus X-Treme Carver Premium 162… this board rocks.  It holds well on ice and carves like the piece of fine engineering it is.  I have yet to test it head-to-head against my F2 Speedster SL 158, but my impression is that the Virus board suits me better.  My sliced fingertip can also testify to the sharpness of the Virus factory edge… watch out!

Getting to Hintertux

  • If going by car, you will need to get a Vignette – the Austrian highway toll sticker which you put in the upper left corner of the windshield.  10 days costs a bit over 7 Euro, though you can also get a 2-month-pass or 1-year-pass if you’ll be skiing very often.
  • Hintertux on the map: it’s basically at the end of the road running through Zillertal / Mayrhofen.  Exit from the A12 is Wiesing.
  • If you want a fantastic restaurant after your day on the slopes, I recommend the Alte Hütte in Madseit, at the Alpinhotel Berghaus (Madseit 711, A-6294).  The grillteller with 3 kinds of meat, browned potato wedges, and all-you-can-eat salad bar really hits the spot.
  • Lodging: I can highly recommend this Pension (Bed & Breakfast) right across from the Alte Hütte: Mehlerhof has a very rustic look, but well-equipped and quite new interiors.
  • Weather warning: if it’s cold and snowing in Tirol, Hintertux will have some of the worst weather in the Alps.  High winds, whiteout conditions, and fog/clouds on the slopes.  So be aware: if the weather is poor, this resort may be your worst choice.  This snow forecast website has excellent data for Hintertux by altitude.

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 11:36 am.

5 comments

Hiking at Lenggries

Lenggries is a fantastic destination near Munich for hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter, and riding the gondola anytime (if you don’t fancy sports). The main touristic peak is called Brauneck (1556m), although there are many other hikes in the area. Let me just say: the scenery is fantastic at Lenggries. Rarely is there such a great mix of panoramas and paragliders, even in the Alps!

What I love about Europe is the amazing things you see by coincidence in just one day. I have to split this day into two posts, because we happened upon so many beautiful sights and awesome events. Paragliders, plane flybys, mountain sunsets, moonrise over the trees, and finally a medieval fire show after dark… how could it get any better! Read on to find out more…

View from the path up Brauneck

View from the path up Brauneck

The gondola takes you to the Panorama-restaurant near the top of Brauneck, although we hiked there. Service was slow, but the food was fantastic and the views were even better. Here you can see our goal in the distance: Latschenkopf, at 1701m.

View toward Latschenkopf from Brauneck

View toward Latschenkopf from Brauneck

Here’s a beautiful panorama of paragliders circling on the thermals. I can’t count how many layers of mountains one can see from the Panorama-restaurant!

Paragliders over the Alps

Paragliders over the Alps

This is one of my favorite fall dishes in Germany: pumpkin cream soup, or Kurbiscremesuppe. They really know how to garnish, too! Lecker… I also recommend Obatzda, a kind of soft cheese you eat with a pretzel.

Kurbiscremesuppe - pumpkin cream soup with tasty pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil!

Kurbiscremesuppe - pumpkin cream soup with tasty pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil!

Just a small hike up from the Panorama-restaurant is the actual peak of Brauneck, where many paragliders launch:

Paraglider takeoff from Brauneck - I walked down the slope a ways to get this shot

Paraglider takeoff from Brauneck - I walked down the slope a ways to get this shot

Here’s a short YouTube video of a paraglider takeoff:

YouTube Preview Image

Leaving Brauneck, we headed toward Latschenkopf, and went on a small side path. (photo with polarizing filter)

We took a short path that involved some scrambling... there were easier ways than this.

We took a short path that involved some scrambling... there were easier ways than this.

After a long ridge hike without so much climb, we reached Latschenkopf. Note, there are also opportunities for Klettersteig (rock climbing) along this ridge. Plus an old Junkers (a German manufactured plane) did a flyby of the ridge.

If I'd only had the tele lens on... haha.  Beautiful view of layered Alps behind the plane!

If I'd only had the tele lens on... haha. Beautiful view of layered Alps behind the plane!

At one point on the way to Latschenkopf, I stopped and took tele photos of all the crosses I could see from where I stood. There were SEVEN. Why this obsession with putting a cross on top of everything? It’s quite opposite from the US. Just watched a funny clip on The Colbert Report about a lawsuit in the States regarding a cross that was erected in a National Park as a war memorial. Well, you won’t have that kind of BS lawsuit over here in Deutschland.  Here’s a (rare) self-portrait:

Cross at Latschenkopf - the Germans like to put a cross at the top of everything.

Cross at Latschenkopf - the Germans like to put a cross at the top of everything.

Now, on the way back we took Panoramaweg. Actually, I do not recommend this if you’ve parked at the gondola, as we did. After reaching the bottom, we had to walk another 4km (2.5mi) along fields and roads (in the dark) to get back to the car. I don’t know the total distance, as unfortunately the maps all list walk times in hours instead of distance in km/mi. BUT I suspect it was about 15-20km total for the day. Up Brauneck, across to Latschenkopf, down long and winding trails on the Panoramaweg, and another few miles back to the car.

We took the long Panoramaweg down, passing many huts along the way.

We took the long Panoramaweg down, passing many huts along the way.

Now, there’s still more: the nighttime photos! That will be a separate blog post up in a few days. I promise you, the medieval fire-twirling photos (taken with a long exposure on the Nikon D90) will blow you away. If you want to be notified when the post is up, sign up via email or RSS with the orange links on the left sidebar.

Getting there:

  • Plan your hike here at the Brauneck website (summer hiking list, unfortunately just in German)
  • Print a summer hiking map here.  We took 9 to Brauneck, 2 and 3 to Latschenkopf, then 3, 4, and 10 down to the bottom.  You can see the long, flat path from Draxlstuberl back to Alte Mulistation — I don’t recommend this way!  We walked from 11:15am until 7:30pm with maybe 2-3h of breaks for food + photos.
  • Park at the Bergbahn lot where the gondola starts: Google maps link
  • Stop at huts along the way for tasty food and drinks.  I recommend a Radler (half beer, half lemon-lime soda) to keep your hiking strength up without having too much alcohol.  It’s not considered wimpy in Germany: Radler is a nice way to get a taste of beer mid-day without too many ill effects.
  • Eat at the inexpensive and very tasty restaurant, Jägerstüberl (also Jaegerstueberl, hehe).  It’s right near the gondola, you’ll see it from the large parking lot at the base.  I had a huge steak (12-16 oz) for about €14.

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 11:34 am.

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Lantau Peak – Day Trip from Hong Kong

Lantau Island is a fantastic little patch of green nature in Hong Kong.  In fact, you might be surprised how much greenery there is in and around the city — hiking and trees are never far away.  I took the gondola from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping, a small touristy village of ice cream shops and souvenir shops (no one lives there).  Here’s a shot on the way up:

A view down the Ngong Ping 360 cable car route

A view down the Ngong Ping 360 cable car route

The tourist office gave me directions to Lantau Peak and said it would take about 1.5h.  I bought an extra bottle of water at 7-Eleven and headed out.  Past the Wisdom Path is where the trail begins.

On the way to the trailhead I went past Big Buddha.  I think it is billed as “the largest outdoor bronze seated Buddha in the world.”  That’s a lot of specifications.  I am the most famous American fantasy novel author who plays Ultimate Frisbee and lives in Munich.  Anyway, one can climb up almost all the stairs to the base of the Buddha for free.  To go inside where there is some kind of museum, you have to pay (sort of).  They are very clever, since paying to see a holy monument is probably prohibited.  Instead, you must buy a lunch at a nearby restaurant to enter the Buddha (for overcrowding reasons).  I didn’t hear any rave reviews about the museum, so I saved my HKD.  But it was very cool to see, especially from above with my 70-300mm zoom lens (after I was on the Lantau Peak trail):

Big Buddha from high above. Can you spot the tourons?

Big Buddha from high above. Can you spot the tourons?

Continuing along the trail there is a fantastic view of a reservoir with turquoise-blue water:

Shek Pik Reservoir, on the way to Lantau Peak

Shek Pik Reservoir, on the way to Lantau Peak

I should point out that at this point, I was damn hot.  The trail is basically just stairs built out of stone for 90% of the way.  The ~500m climb from Ngong Ping to Lantau Peak is akin to walking up stairs to the roof of a tall skyscraper, only you don’t have air conditioning.  The day I hiked, it was well over 30C, very humid, and full sun.  Here’s a short video showing just how hot I was — I could barely talk properly.  The clouds near the peak saved me from losing another 0.5L of water through my pores:

YouTube Preview Image

At least I was nearing the top.  Just a few more rises to go along the ridge…

Near Lantau Peak, almost in the clouds

Near Lantau Peak, almost in the clouds

Finally I made it, and was greeted by fantastic views of Ngong Ping, Big Buddha, the reservoir, and the Hong Kong Airport.  There is a storm shelter up there too, in case you are caught in bad weather; though I would strongly suggest to avoid being up there during a thunderstorm.

Hong Kong Airport from Lantau Peak

Hong Kong Airport from Lantau Peak

After ten minutes enjoying the view, I headed down.  At Big Buddha I bought a 700mL Powerade, which I finished in about 5 minutes.  I drank another 500mL bottle of water at the 7-Eleven in Ngong Ping.   And this was after consuming almost a liter of water during the hike itself.  The clerk declined to let me lay down in one of their freezers.  D’oh!

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, although I like to push myself.  I would recommend this day trip to anyone; just fine-tune your itinerary based on your fitness AND the temperature.  i.e. Skip hiking to the Peak if you’re there with small children and it’s 30C+… there’s plenty more to do around Ngong Ping that’s not so extreme!

Getting to Lantau Island:

  • Take the Tung Chung Line to its terminus at Tung Chung Station.
  • Walk to the Ngong Ping 360 gondola station, and buy a cable car ticket.
  • You can save if you bundle your ticket with attractions in the (tourist trap) village of Ngong Ping.
  • Walk to the Big Buddha and other points of interest like monasteries.
  • If you are up to it, hike Lantau Peak (approx 1.5-2h up, 1h down; ~500m vertical climb).

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 12:00 pm.

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Hiking at Wendelstein

For a fantastic day hike near Munich, try out Wendelstein.  A friend and I started at Osterhofen and made it to the peak in a few hours (1,047 meters of height gain).  Although I’ve only hiked the Osterhofen trail, there is a similar trail from Bayrischzell, and a longer one (1,329 meters of height gain) from the town of Brannenburg.  We departed on foot from the gondola station at Osterhofen, where there was a nice map.  The view from the parking lot is very scenic:

Wendelstein from Osterhofen

Wendelstein from Osterhofen

Along the way we passed the Bergcafe Siglhof.  On the way down we had some tasty Bayrisch food there; I can recommend the Obatzda (a kind of cheese you spread on a big soft pretzel).

Huberhof Hochkreut, near the Siglhof cafe

Huberhof Hochkreut, near the Siglhof cafe

It was easy to follow the signs; we didn’t make any wrong turns.  One amusing sight that I didn’t snap was an elderly couple who had obviously taken the Seilbahn up and decided to walk down.  His smooth-bottomed leather shoes weren’t gripping too well on the damp trail, and her one-inch heels weren’t exactly the wisest choice either.  After a couple hours of hiking we got a nice view from the top:

View from the top of Wendelstein

View from the top of Wendelstein

Watch out for the local wildlife while eating at the restaurant near the top.  This little sucka was trying to eat my plum cake!

Hungry crow, plum cake, beer, and snow-capped mountains. Nice combination!

Hungry crow, plum cake, beer, and snow-capped mountains. Nice combination!

For the infirm and those with small kids (also for the lazy…), here’s one of the other ways to get up to Wendelstein.  Note that it doesn’t go to the actual peak, but a hundred meters or so below it.  Still a great view, even if you don’t choose to follow the sidewalks to the top.

Wendelstein train as it nears the top of the mountain

Wendelstein train as it nears the top of the mountain

One last note about hiking the mountains in Europe: most of them have gondolas to the top (think ski season), so you’ll hike for hours and find people at the summit who got there in 15 minutes with zero sweat.  It’s sweet to see old ladies making their way around the peak restaurant on a cane, but it can be frustrating.  If that bothers you, don’t hike at Wendelstein where there are both a Seilbahn (gondola) and Zahnradbahn (mountain train) operating.  The good news is you can get a great meal and a beer at the top.

Here’s a gratuitous photo of chickens doing the tango, near the Bergcafe Siglhof:

Expect to see chickens as you hike. Oh, and cows, too… right on the trail.

Expect to see chickens as you hike. Oh, and cows, too… right on the trail.

Website of the cable car and train operator: http://www.wendelsteinbahn.de/

Towns: Osterhofen for the Seilbahn, Brannenburg for Zahnradbahn.  Alternatively you can hike from either of those, or from Bayrischzell (and a few others I haven’t named).  You should be able to get there by car or train (BOB), though as a car owner I can’t help much with the train connections.  Google maps is your friend.  Have a good trip!

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 5:40 pm.

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