Pit-stop in Doha

So back in 2012 when I still worked in SE-Asia I made it a habit to fly back to Europe twice a year. Most of the time via Doha in Qatar – that would cut the otherwise excruciatingly long flight precisely in half. Besides, Qatar Airways with its home base in Doha is a phenomenal airline with the newest planes that they maintain to the highest standards. Service onboard is way better than most airlines I had flown with and so is their customer service. The list goes on.

Shame on me: I have never made it out of the airport. And I must have been there half a dozen times. The pull to Europe was just always too strong.

Nevertheless I wanted to share a few great pictures I took from the plane: Mostly the periphery of the city, refinery, desert, the sea and the airport.

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Approach to Singapore

Back in 2011 a short trip from the assignments in Southeast Asia needed to be taken. I had flown into Changi airport numerous times before but never was the light this great. Neither was the technology of cellphone cameras…

I just think the haze between the skyscrapers, the glowing light of the sun burning down behind the horizon, the ocean and the ships are just caught at the right time.

Here really just some snapshots – going into detail on Singapore would simply require some more posts.

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Bavarian Mountains

Just a few photos of a very short trip to Bavaria in August 2011.

These photos are taken at an alpine mountain hut in the Allgäu somewhere southwest of Munich. The Kenzenhütte as it is called offers food and drinks for hungry hikers as well as rustic accommodation for this who want to spend the night.

It is not accessible by car but from the small village of Halblech the hike is only about 3 hours. You can choose between an asphalt road or more windy hiking trails.

The whole region of Ostallgäu by the way offers great outdoors activities such as hiking, biking, sailing, skiing, ice skating and a whole lot of culture. The world famous “disney castle”, Neuschwanstein is only 15 minutes by car from Halblech.

Apart from that Füssen is about 20 minutes south-west on the B17. Füssen is a gorgeous medieval town that is, amongst other reasons, worth visiting for its century long history of violin and lute building since 1562. Just briefly why exactly this craft came to flourish in exactly this town: For one it was supported by the nobility and the clergy in the region. Secondly, the maple and especially yew trees are abundant in the surrounding alpine valleys. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly Füssen was built on the old Roman Via Claudia Augusta connecting Venice (in the south) with Augsburg (in the north), two great centers of music and the arts.

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Florida Keys

Located south of the tip of Florida, the Keys are a coral cay archipelago forming the southernmost tip of the continental United States; they also separate the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. The chain of over 200 islands is over 290 kilometres long and connected by the 42 man-made bridges called the Overseas Highway. The Florida Keys have a tropical climate with average annual high temperatures of 28,3°C, lows of 23°C, and total precipitation of circa 1000mm.

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This summer we took all 42 bridges down to Key West and would like to share some of the sights we discovered with the help of a veteran Keys-visitor and hobby fisherman. The practically turquoise Caribbean waters surrounding the coral islands are home to various great game species: In the flats and mangroves closer to the shores, there are tarpon, bone fish, and red fish which are often caught on a fly from flat boats. But venturing further out into the Atlantic, the game changes to mainly trolling for the big game fish: swordfish, sail fish with their spectacular tail walks, and of course the magnificent mahi mahi (or dolphin fish).

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Guided fishing trips can be arranged at literally any marina, with boat sizes varying drastically. A good place to start looking is always one of the numerous bars and grills where the captains hang out after a morning of deep-sea fishing–at the very least, the local wait staff is sure to know where or with whom to arrange a fishing expedition. The general atmosphere in the area is just very laid back and social statuses seem to  vanish with the burning red sunsets over the ocean. As our guide told us, you’ll never know if you’re sitting next to a bum or a billionaire in the Keys.

Here are some of our favorite–and very Keysy–places we visited on our trip:

Island Grill at Snake Creek

The Island Grill in Islamorada sits on a small waterway of the Atlantic just off of the highway. The fare is simple, but it’s a good spot to stop for a diner-like breakfast or lunch with pretty views of the water and, especially, the mangroves.

Lorelei Cabana Bar

The Lorelei is a casual bar and restaurant in Islamorada that serves food and drinks all day in classic Keys style: no frills, live music, unpretentious people, and a great view of the back bay. The sunsets are beautiful here, especially with a cold one in hand.

Morada Bay Beach Cafe

Morada Bay sits right next to the Lorelei and is one of the more upscale options for dinner and drinks on the Keys; that being said, you can still show up in shorts and a t-shirt for dinner. Set under twinkly lights and palm trees, tables are scattered over a deck and the sand-covered backyard overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. There’s often live music and always a bevy of little kids running around and playing on the sand. It’s a great family spot and one of the most beautiful spots to watch the sun go down. Plus, the food and cocktails are quite good!

Sparky’s Landing

Sparky’s is a Keys classic on Fat Deer Key for all-day dining or drinks with live music and a great view of a marina. Come here less for the food (though it’s not bad) than the atmosphere, which is fun, lively, and full of locals. Also worth a visit for the large fishing boats in the marina. Bar staff will be able to point you to the captains of the boats for a fishing trip.

Louie’s Backyard

Amid the raucous bars and dining spots overrun with tourists in Key West, Louie’s is a high-end dining spot with a great view of the ocean looking south toward Cuba. The food, especially the fresh fish, here is excellent, and so is the service. Sit outside on the deck if it’s a nice day, though the inside also has a nice atmosphere with views of the water. On the lower deck, there’s a nice bar to sit if you’d just like a drink.

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Valle Maira

While studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piemonte some classmates and I took a day trip to the Maira Valley in the western alps. It was April, and it was a very interesting experience to see how from the bottom of the valley ascending up the road, we would not only travel a few hundred years back in time but also back to the last winter season. It was spring at the bottom of the valley and the end of the road it seemed we were back in January.

The Val Maira is an alpine valley that stretches about 60 kilometers from east to west in the Italian province of Cuneo in the region of Piemonte. It is also part of the Alpi Cozie in the border region of France and Italy. Settlements as far back as 4.000 years have been found in the valley, however, today it has the highest rate of rural depopulation in the whole alpine region.

From Dronero at 622 meters the valley climbs aproximately 60 kilometers following the Maira river up into the mountains. At the end of the valley in the east are the 3,389 meter high Chambeyron and the 3,166 meter high Sautron peaks. Because the lower valley is extremely narrow, the upper parts of the valley are only accessible on foot paths during summer. Hiking trails from the French side over 2,600 meter high are practically the only way to access the upper and wider glacially formed parts.

Many of the inhabitants of the Valle Maira speak (besides the official Italian language) a dialect of occitan, a gallo-romance language that formed in the medieval times. Originating from the south of France, occitan is still spoken in several Piemontese valleys, the Val d’Aran in Spain, and the south of Italy.

Mid-Valley in Stroppo: Lunch at Lou Sarvanot

Featured in the Slow Food Guide, Lou Sarvanot offers traditional occitan fare from largely local suppliers. The valley is especially famous for its high quality cheeses from raw milk.

Chippera: End of the Road

Chiappera is the highest part (1,600m) of the commune of Acceglio and the end of the paved road up the valley. The whole commune has a total population of 160 inhabitants and many of the buildings are neglected due to the migration into the cities over the past century. Already in early November the snow starts building up and usually does not start to melt until March or April, which makes for an extremely short growing season.

Elva: Above the Valley

Elva is a commune in a side valley of the Valle Maira at an elevation between 1,100m and 3,100m above sea level. The total population was 97 in 2015. The first settlement was Roman, as is proven by an engraved stone in the village’s church wall. This church is particularly important to the whole region because the frescoes in the choir are among the most important works of clerical art in the Piemonte. The œuvre depicts the life of Mary and originates from the end of the 15th century and is attributed to the French-Flemish wall painter Hans Clemer .

Aldein / Aldino

Aldein (Aldino in Italian) is the poster child of a picturesque South Tyrollean alpine village. About a 45 minute drive south of Bolzano, it sits on the side of a mountain at an elevation of 1,225m, facing southwest. Its population of 1,670 inhabitants is spread over the village itself and several surrounding hamlets. Aldein was first mentioned in official documents during the 12th century.

For those staying in Bolzano, Aldein would make for a great day trip exploring the Alps. And it’s a less challenging drive than to Fennberg, for those interested in a shorter journey.

The Gasthof Krone would be my choice for lodging every time again. The old farm building has been owned by the family Franzelin since 1720 and its original walls and structure has not been changed since. The very thick stone walls are very typical, and in summer keep the the interior of the building nicely chilled; in winter, they act as insulation against the snow. The traditional fixtures and furniture of the region, just like at the Krone, are handcrafted of local pine wood and metal–everything is built to last. The dining rooms of the inn are traditional alpine Stuben – small and cozy wood-paneled rooms with real wood burning cockle stoves.

The view from the village is just spectacular and worth the journey alone. Very interesting to stroll to is the village church and its cemetery with its ornate steel crosses. St. Helena was first mentioned in 1309, which also documents the clergy’s importance as the landowner of the plateau it is located on.

Fennberg / Favogna

IMG_5370Südtirol is always worth a journey. Its wide valleys, high mountains, mediterranean flair and great outdoors activities attract many visitors every year to bike the valleys or ski the mountains.

Located right in the middle of the lower Etsch valley Fennberg or Favogna in Italian is accessible for everyone but not many take the journey upon themselves because the small plateau is high up in the Alps only connected to the Adige valley with a narrow windy road.

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From the centuries old center of Kurtatsch (250 meters above sea level) the narrow road will first take you up the village navigating close quarters around old farms and wineries progressing up into the vineyards of Cortaccia. Ascending the side of the mountain you will start to appreciate the efforts of the vintners having to work the steep and rocky slopes to tend to their precious harvest. Further up the side of the valley the road narrows more as it ascends out of arable land into the alpine geography winding in tight serpentines. Assuming you have a manual car – by then your left foot will start to cramp from all the clutch work between 1st and 2nd gear. Then, after about 25 minutes of hard work you will reach a saddle with a first glimpse of the plateau with the Fennberger lake (1035m) right below.
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Scarcely populated and beautiful! Only a few farms have been working up here for centuries growing whatever plants will survive up here and sell in the valley. The local cheese is spectacular I hear. Besides from the view the major landmarks are the lake (Fennberger See) and the church (Chiesa di Maria Ausiliatrice). Refreshments are provided by two Gasthäuser. Their opening times are heavily dependent on the season, weather and the church service.
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Fennberg was first mentioned in official documents in 1144. Today the hamlets on the plateau are very popular destination for hikers and the road up from Cortaccia is frequented by ambitious cyclists.

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Usedom

Sailing on a beautiful day.

The boat was built circa 1920 and was used for more than half a century as a fishing boat on the island of Usedom. Usedom is an island forming the Stettiner Haff in what used to be the DDR or German Democratic Republic.

The boat is built entirely of German oak and has a Gaffel sail. For low wind conditions, which occurs very rarely there or for very strong wind situations, an archaic single piston Diesel engine with a manual starter mechanism was installed.Photo Jul 16, 2 03 39 PMPhoto Jul 16, 12 19 43 PMIMG_6516

Norway 2016

This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Norway – a country I had never been to before but heard many good things about. My very good high school friend Piotr who moved to the south of Norway several years ago was on paternity leave so we decided to take this opportunity to spend some days exploring the lakes and rivers of Østfold. I visited in mid-June and due to the far northern location of Norway the days were very long. Sunrise was at about 4:00 and the sun only disappeared behind the horizon after about 10:30 or 11:00 which allowed us to spend a tremendous amount of time outside hiking along rivers and lakes.

We mainly fished the lakes of the region with rather mixed results. But isn’t fishing about so much more than catching the most and biggest fish? It was absolutely amazing to explore the Norwegian outdoors and to get away from it all. What really is great about that corner of the world ist the minimum of human interference in nature. Motor boats are few and far between and their use is very restricted which allows for that sound of nature to really be absorbed by all senses. The lakefronts have very sparsely populated – unlike for example in the USA where lakes are lined with mansions and crowded with power boats.

In a separate post I wanted to share our experiences on a rather famous stretch of river known for its salmon annually returning to spawn.

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In a nutshell: We hadn’t caught much for three days. No trout, no pike nothing. So we thought we would raise the stakes a little. This particular river in southern Norway receives migrating salmon and it turned out the season had just started when I visited so we went and got ourselves the licenses to attempt to catch salmon. Emphasis is on attempt. Really what were we thinking? After not even having caught the abundant pike in the region we thought we could catch the elusive atlantic salmon?

Well none of us did. Instead we got to hike along this gorgeous stretch of river and were lucky enough to see the occasional salmon rise just to disappear back into the depths with a splash.

Yet, on our last day together in Norway at about 10:30pm we caught the below shown pike perch. Only through rising water temperatures fish like the pike perch or the hungry pike thrive in the depicted rivers. As the Norwegian authorities are managing this river actively for the return of the salmon it was only fitting that we removed the extremely predatory fish, deboned it and ate it before it could feed on the already scarce salmon spawns.

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