Sunday, June 04, 2017

Detour into some Canyons

It's been a busy couple of months (not entirely due to getting somewhat hooked on Factorio), so I didn't get around to posting. And now I'm just back from a Memorial Day trip into the slot canyons again, so I'm going to post a few photos from there.

This trip was a near-twin of the 2013 Memorial Day trip. Both trips took me to Cedar Mesa, and I did three of the same canyons: Cheesebox, Black Hole and Fry. This time the group was a bit faster, so we finished Black Hole early in the day. Also, camp was overrun by clouds of biting Cedar Gnats, which made hanging around the rest of the day an unappealing option. Instead we ducked into Duckett, so I got four descents in three days.

This photo is from Cheesebox Canyon, which we did first. We did a longer version of the canyon than the 2013 trip - the full west fork, instead of partial approach. I rather liked it, though it does make for a long day.

The photo is fairly typical of Colorado Plateau canyons - lots of banded sandstone and smooth curves. But I always like the subtle light, and sense of depth you can get from these kinds of photos. I also like the little reflection of sky in the water. It's usually tough to make this kind of shot work out due to the extreme variation in brightness, so it's nice when it does. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hohenschwangau Entryway

The previous post was the last long, article-style one for the Europe trip. They're kind of exhausting to write, which is part of why it took me so long to publish them, and I kind of wonder if anybody actually wants to read anything that long. I'm not sure I even want to read it! So henceforth I'll be going back to shorter "picture and a paragraph" style posts.

With that, a random photo of a lantern! I don't think there's any particular significance to this lantern. It's on the back side of Schloss Hohenschwangau, where the road enters the castle. Really I just liked the repeated lines of the ceiling and the light.
Full size in SmugMug

It's actually a very cool little part of the castle, down where the construct meets the underlying rock.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


This is Part 4 of our year-ago Europe trip. It contains two infinity times more castles than Parts 1, 2 and 3 combined.

After Dachau we had planned something a bit more whimsical - a trip down to F├╝ssen. Once again got us there with no problems, despite train track repairs and two transfers. With some positively idyllic landscape on the way, too. Fluffy clouds, rolling green hills, little farmhouses. The only way that gets more idyllic is...

Yep, there's the happy cows. This has gone from idyllic to positively picturesque. Quit it Bavaria, you're making the rest of us look bad.

After our idyllic overload, we arrived at Fussen, home of not one but two castles. Our first stop was Hohenschwangau, which goes back to the 12th century in one form or another. The interior of the castle is overwhelming - every surface is covered in historic murals and paintings. Sadly they don’t allow any photos inside the castle, because they want to sell tickets. It’s understandable – maintaining that place cannot be cheap, and they have to pay for it somehow. Still, it would've been nice to see without being shepherded from room to room in a group of 20 tourists.

After the tour I just had to check something... yep, still picturesque down there in the foothills. Nice job with the lake, as well. Keep up the good word, Bavaria.

After our first tour we had to get from Hohenschwangau over to the second castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein. Not pictured here: the several hundred foot depp valley in between. But we needed the exercise anyway.

The road up is narrow and twisting, so it's closed to cars. During the hike up the far side we ended up talking to another American couple. The guy told us about visiting the castles 20 years ago when he had been in the Air Force. Apparently that was before the castles were fully touristificated, so they would drive right up to the castle gates and camp on the lawn, then get a personal tour the next day. It's a bit of a shame - it would've been a better experience.

Schloss Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the Disney castle. But it had a bit of a bizarre history before that. Construction was started by King Ludwig II in 1886, long after improvements in artillery had made militarily useless. He built it because, well, he just really liked castles. This one was supposed to be his private retreat, never to be opened to the public. But construction of this castle and several others had inflicted so much damage on the state finances that they were opened to paying customers within six weeks of his death. Once again we were not allowed to take photos of the interior. However, the Wikipedia article I linked earlier has a number of nice photos. The entire thing is just ridiculously detailed everywhere – at one point the project employed 20 painters full time to do the murals and interior detailing. Anyway, that’s about it for the narrative. Pretty castles, we saw them!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A German Resort

This is Part 3 of our year-ago Europe trip. It's less fun than Part 1, and not as pretty as Part 2, but I think worthwhile.

We headed out of Munich on the excellent transportation system to an old tourist town. (Side note: I highly recommend the website and DB Navigator app.) I probably have relatives there, who my parents actually visited about 40 years ago, but I didn’t find that out until I was already back in the states so I didn't try to look them up. We didn't spend much time in town anyway - we were there for the museum.

The locals are not entirely thrilled to be hosting an international museum of Nazi atrocities, but such is the fate of Dachau. We got weather more fitting for visiting a concentration camp than a resort day - solid gray overcast, cold breeze and lots of crows. Although we were aware of the camp in a general sense, nothing really compares to visiting in person. There's a psychological weight to the place that doesn't come through in a book. Obviously I can't do it justice in this little post either, but I want to put up a few of our photos anyway. I would encourage anyone to go visit - it's not a fun experience, but I think it's worthwhile.

The camp had psychological tricks right from the start. The words in the front gates (above), “Arbeit Macht Frei”, translates as “Work Will Make You Free”. The camp was initially billed as a work camp for slackers and deficients, so the implied promise was to set them free if they worked. That was, of course, a complete lie. It was never a straightforward extermination camp like Treblinka or Auschwitz, but neither did they set anyone free. Around 40,000 people died there, mostly from a combination of maltreatment, overwork or disease.

Inside the gates is the main assembly area of the camp. Here the inmates would stand at the end of each day for roll call. If somebody was missing, or the guards were just feeling malicious, they would keep them standing there for hours. In some cases they would stand there all through the night, during winter, in thin clothes. It was not uncommon for inmates to drop dead while standing there.

This is an aerial view of the camp after the war, showing some of the 32 barracks. In the aftermath of the war so much of the country had been devastated that it was used to house families for a time. They were all torn down eventually, but there are two replicas there now. Each building was originally designed to house two hundred prisoners. When the camp was liberated it was massively overcrowded, with some building holding up to ten times that amount – two thousand people living in one of those buildings.

Naturally the camp was surrounded by guard towers, barbed wire, and ditches. The grassy area outside of the path was considered off limits – stepping off that side of the path was would get an inmate shot. Suicide by guard was not unheard of, though less popular than I would have guessed given the conditions.

When the camp first opened they would send the dead inmates to be cremated in the nearby town. But as the number of inmates increased and the treatment deteriorated they had a growing number of bodies. During the early years it was supposed to be just a work camp, so they had to come up with excuses for the number of dead bodies. Eventually they couldn’t do it anymore, so they built their own crematorium. The ashes were buried on site. They don’t know how many people were buried here, but probably in the thousands.

They would also sometimes execute prisoners by firing squad, typically in a few places like this execution wall.

Memorials have been built for most of the major religions.
I don’t have photos for it, but I was surprised to learn that the SS jailers lived right outside the camp. In fact many of them moved their families into a small town that was within site of the fences. I cannot even fathom how you could walk home from that to your family. I suppose it shows that humans are amazingly flexible - not always in the most best of ways.
Visiting the Dachau museum was a powerful experience. Not fun by any means, but worthwhile. It’s one thing to read a book or watch a documentary about what happened there. It’s quite another to stand in the same room where they piled the dead to the ceiling, see the ash pits, and walk the grounds where such things were allowed.

A map of Nazi concentration camps. All the dots are camps, even the little ones. They just called out the larger ones with larger labels. Dachau was the first of them, and served as a model for the other work camps.

They have since installed a sculpture in the yard, a stark thing depicting broken bodies stuck in barbed wire.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Munich, With Sleep

Part 2 of our Europe trip, which I promise contains more pictures and fewer words than Part 1.

Having gotten some much needed sleep, we ventured out into Munich the next day. We had planned this day only very loosely, figuring we might not be too ambitious after the flight. We had some places we generally wanted to see, but no particular timetable.

Our first stop was the bakery closest to our hotel. Sadly the photo above is not that bakery. It is a bakery in Munich though, so that's pretty close!

Our normal morning fare is bagels, but we had no luck at all communicating that concept to the staff. We ended up just picking something out of the display case - a little squarish piece of bread that seemed similar. Then we tried to get some cream cheese but apparently this is an unknown concept as well. But they redeemed themselves with the butter - no stupid little cup of faux-butter but rather a quarter stick of buttery goodness.

It turned out that our bagel-like object was some kind of magical bread that must've had the approximate caloric content of an entire turkey. We each at a little 6 ounce chunk of bread… and then literally forgot to eat lunch. After that Wendy took to calling it “Dwarven stout bread.”

After that we wandered around town a bit, ending up in a local market. They had a brass band playing, which apparently does not preclude beer drinking. We stayed for a while and ended up talking to a group of tourists from Minnesota because they saw my Anoka State sweatshirt.

Then more wandering to several churches and buildings in the area.

Finally, back to the Neue Rathaus to see the Glockenspiel – basically a mechanized merry-go-round that reenacts scenes from local history.

By midafternoon the Dwarven stout bread was wearing off, so we headed out the famous Hofbrauhaus. It’s probably the classic beer hall, dating back to its origin as the royal brewery of the Kingdom of Bavaria. It’s actually still owned by the Bavarian state government, which says something about their priorities. They do a damn fine job of it too!

Like many of the restaurants in Bavaria, it’s basically a big room full of communal trestle tables. So we walked in, found a nice looking table and asked the occupants if we could sit there. In our ignorance we didn’t realize that it was a “Regulars” table, with a sign and everything, so tourists weren’t supposed to sit there. But they said we could, so we got a prime seat right in front of the band. The regulars at the table were all dressed in classic Bavarian outfits, and had wooden spoons that they played along with the band, and occasionally on the each other’s asses (see photo!) We got a big pork knuckle with potatoes, and a big stein of beer. Yep, pretty much a Bavaria overload.

After that we headed off to the Englischer Garden. It’s a pretty huge garden, sort of a Central Park style setup. The major difference is that the surfing is much better than Central Park.

It’s not the best surfing in the world, but then Munich is not very close to the ocean so I guess you take what you can get. It is quite popular. There doesn't seem to be any official organization, but the unspoken rules are quite effective. There's a line of people on the shore waiting to use the wave. Each person uses it for a short time and then washes downstream so the next can take a turn.

So that was about it for the day. But a few other random photos…

Home Alone, Munich edition


Wendy’s maiden name translates as “Strength of the Wild Boar”, so we had to get a photo with this awesome boar sculpture.

So… Bacchus spitting endlessly on some poor kid? Sure, why not, sounds like a great fountain!

Big bike!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Europe 2015 Trip

So yeah, we went to Europe! Um, about, 5 16 months ago. I'm lazy, deal with it. Anyway had been 7 years since our trip to Peru, which was out last time out of the country, so it was time. I’ll just note ahead of time that part of why I’m writing this is to remind myself of the whole experience, so it might be overly detailed and a bit boring. Too damn bad, it’s my blog. Feel free to just look at the pictures, I won't be insulted.

Our first stop was scenic… Iceland!

Well, actually just the airport. Honestly it was not my favorite airport ever. That might have been related to the dense overcast, driving wind, rain, 40 degree temperatures, and firsthand experience we got with that weather while slowly stepping down a staircase on the tarmac. Also, the bathrooms are far from the gates. Really far. I suspect that they actually ran a tunnel to Heathrow so they could share bathrooms, but they keep it a secret because they want to keep selling flights. Ah well, I needed to stretch my legs anyway.

Soon enough we were crammed back into cattle class for a few more hours, and then arrived in Munich. I had heard that the best way to avoid jet lag is to not sleep on the flight so that you can adjust quickly when you get there. It seemed sensible, so when we finally landed in Munich I had been awake for about 24 hours straight. It was mid-day, but I really just wanted to find the hotel, drop my backpack, change clothes, and take a nap. I whipped out my copy of the trip plan, which conveniently organizes our whole trip for distracted and exhausted travelers, and looked up our hotel.

Whereupon Wendy says, “Oh no, that’s not the hotel. I changed it.”
I was nonplussed. ”You changed it but didn’t put it in the trip plan?”
She said, ”I thought I updated the plan, but I guess not.”
“Well, that kind of misses the point of the trip plan, but OK. What’s the new hotel?”
”I don’t know.”
”You don’t know... OK, where is it?”
”I don’t know.”
”Would you recognize the name?”
”So we have a hotel somewhere in Munich, but the only thing we know about it is that it’s not the one we have written down?”
”Great. That’s just great.”

Cue the giant facepalm. Regrettably there is no photo of that. I will say it took some effort to remain calm at that point. For lack of better ideas we hopped a train to Marienplatz, the tourist center of town, and spent the ride trying to figure out where we were going to stay. Thankfully there was an Apple store right at the Marienplatz train station, and we were able to use their free wireless to get into Wendy’s email account. After much dinking around she was able to ascertain that our hotel was… the one written down in the trip plan. So all of that running around and stress was pointless. Cue the second giant facepalm.

At this point we were both hungry, and I was feeling in need of a drink to drown the shame of our inauspicious start. So we plonked ourselves down at the touristy restaurant right in the middle of the plaza. This is when Wendy’s love affair with Bavarian cuisine began – it’s all meat and potatoes! I tried to out-Bavarian her by ordering beer and sausages. I think we both won.

The Marienplatz has the New Town Hall bordering it. You can tell it’s the new town hall because it’s only 107 years old. Really it’s just a baby, it might get up and wander off at any time. The actual German name for it Neues Rathaus. It amuses me to no end that they keep the politicians in a “Rat Haus.” I also has a mechanical glockenspiel in the tower - basically the 19th century version of a Disney ride. Thankfully they did not play It's a Small World on repeat.

That night we walked around near the river, and happened into a street festival with a number of bands and vendors. Surprisingly, all of the music was sung in English. In between songs the bands would talk in German, but then always sing in English.

We were lucky enough to wander up to one of the churches just as a Gothic choir was about to start singing. So we sat and admired the church, thinking that now for sure we’d get some classic German music. Nope, they sang in English too. You’d think it was an English language music festival! Anyway, after a bit of wandering about we headed back to home base for some real sleep.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Utah Socks

One of the unavoidable downsides of canyoneering in Utah is the sand. There’s just no avoiding it. All my canyon clothes have a slight red tinge to them. Typically it’s not too bad, except that of course you end up with dunes of the stuff in your shoes, and thus lots of sand ground into your socks. I generally rinse mine out in the tub before subjecting the washing machine to that abuse. Here’s the results of rinsing a single pair of socks in the bathtub.

That’s pretty ridiculous, right? You’d think they were made of sand, which I guess they kind of were before the rinse.

Despite that, there’s still more sand in those socks. You never really get it all out. So I have a couple pairs of sacrificial Utah Socks that take the abuse so that other socks may remain clean-ish.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mesa Creek Trail

Partway up the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway is the Mesa Creek Trail (that’s #505, if you’re wondering). We decided to take a quick side hike up the trail to see what we could see. At first we saw some mud. Then we saw a guy setting up for a wedding.

Then we saw a lot of mud, and some dogs. So overall, a pretty good side trip!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Cloudy Fall Day

So, back to September. After wandering around Wining in Palisade, we headed up to the mountains to see some leaves. Of course it was cloudy, snowing, and generally unpleasant. But it actually turned out to be a good day for photos.

And hey, some bonus photos of Wendy & I standing around!